A few changes in the Alameda County voting process meant that Berkeley voters in yesterday’s primary elections had to deal with more than hanging chads.
The Alameda County Registrar of Voters instituted three changes to the voting process this March.
• Districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, the State Assembly and the State Senate have been redrawn. Although Berkeley remains in the same district it always has, the elected official will have to represent a new configuration of towns.
• “Declined to state” voters were able to vote for all candidates in the Democratic, Republican, American Independent or Natural Law parties except for members of the county central committee. In previous years there was either a strictly closed primary, restricted only to party members, or a completely open primary. The Green Party, however, stuck to closed elections.
• Any voter was allowed to apply for permanent absentee ballots by mail. In previous years, permanent absentee voters had to be disabled people or the frail elderly.
Berkeley voters also had some other issues to deal with. Mayor Shirley Dean said that although her office does not have to manage the election, residents called with complaints about accessibility, campaign signs that were too close to the polls and absentee ballots. She managed to resolve the first two with on-site conversations with polling officials and the construction crew, but had to refer the third to the U.S. Postal Service.
Some polling places in Berkeley also changed. Those who used to vote in the California state building on Berkeley Way and Shattuck, for instance, had to vote in Fire Station No. 1, a block over on Henry St.
A security guard at the large state office building said that election officials had moved the polling place after heightened security and fear about government buildings after Sept. 11. Leshaun Yopack, a clerk at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, could not confirm this, but simply said that the state just did not want its building to be a polling place anymore.
The process of consolidating precincts also shifted some voters around, explained Councilmember Dona Spring. A poll worker at the Fire Station said that she did notice that many people had come in slightly confused after being redirected from the state building.
But people still turned out. By 12:30, the poll worker said 112 people had already showed up.
“That’s pretty good,” said the volunteer who has worked elections for more than 10 years.
“It’s obligatory for me,” said Susana Abasolo, who said that she registered to vote the day after she received her U.S. passport.
“I’m living here. I’m part of the community. I want to be able to decide,” she said.
Some voters were not interested in choosing candidates, however. “There was no one I wanted to vote for,” said Ben Blake, who went to the polls specifically to vote on the propositions and the bond measures.
Blake, who studies mechanical engineering at Cal, said he wanted to register his support of Proposition 42 in particular.
Other voters did not show up to the polls today at all. They took advantage of the early voter program offered at City Hall and the Alameda County Registrar of Voters before election day.
Elliot Cohen, who voted two weeks ago, said it was a question of convenience.
“I liked being able to go in when I wanted,” he said. “The only thing was that I did this before I knew who I was going to vote for in the judicial races. So I didn’t vote for anyone. I figured it out a week later and wish I had known.”
The early voter plan also allowed Cohen to take advantage of new touchscreen voting machines. Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that this is the second year that the county has used these machines, though voters in yesterday’s election still had to punch cards.
These touchscreens, good for disabled people and the elderly, could be the new face of voting machines if Proposition 41, the Voting Modernization Bond Act, goes through.
Worthington said the state wants to have these in place everywhere for the next presidential election.
“I think the stories about hanging chads really scared people.”
Indeed, the Florida election made all the voters at the polls wary. They didn’t want to leave anything hanging.