San Diego County received far more mail-in ballots than expected
As San Diegans continued to march to the polls for Tuesday’s midterm elections, some polling places around the county are reporting they are receiving far more mail-in ballots than expected from voters dropping off their envelopes.
The uptick may be partly because of how the California New Motor Voter Program was rolled out. Under the program, which began this year, eligible voters who obtained or renewed driver’s licenses at the DMV were automatically registered to vote, helping contribute to the increase.
One unintended effect of the program: Many voters, not realizing they may have been registered as mail-in voters, showed up at polling stations without their mail-in ballots. Those voters were allowed to cast provisional ballots, according to precinct inspectors.
Felicitas Martin, precinct inspector at Foodland Mercado in National City, said around 1:30 p.m. that the polling place had received more than 40 provisional ballots — about double what she expected — with many coming from voters who hadn’t realized they were registered as mail-in.
“We can’t send them away,” Martin said. “It’s better that they’re able to vote.”
Up the street at Express Laundry, where voters filled in ballots to the hum of dryers tumbling, Iriz Lomeli explained to another voter that she, too, would have to fill out a provisional ballot because she didn’t realize she was registered as a mail-in voter.
The Motor Voter Program has seen several issues since the Department of Motor Vehicles implemented it, including reports of non-eligible voters registered or political party preference incorrectly changed.
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who authored the bill that was intended to bring California into compliance with a federal law from 1993, responded to complaints about the mysterious switches to mail-in ballots on Twitter.
“Still work to do. Even I got confused by the automatic registration options at DMV,” Gonzalez Fletcher tweeted. “Not how I imagined it.”
“It’s a big change,” she added. “We will definitely get it done.”
About 1.2 million of the more than 1.7 million registered voters in San Diego County are listed as mail-in voters, according to Michael Vu, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters.
The Foodland Mercado polling place, nestled between the grocery store’s produce section and pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe, had been busy all day, Martin said. The post-lunch lull was the only time the booths weren’t full.
The measure concerning rent control was on the minds of many voters there, including Andrea Canedo, who happened to be voting there at the same time as her father Felipe Canedo.
Felipe Canedo said he was the first in his family to be able to vote in the U.S. after his parents moved here from Mexico in the 1970s. Already emotional at the privilege of voting in this election and the high stakes he felt in the issues involved, he was bursting with pride when he saw his daughter at the polling place.
The family had a big conversation the night before about how each member was voting and what the different measures meant to them.
Alicia Jennings, another National City resident voting at the grocery store, also felt rent control was the most important issue on the ballot. Rent for her one-bedroom apartment has more than doubled in her 10 years living there, she said.
At the City Heights Weingart Library, a poll worker dropped off two new yellow bags for mail-in ballots around 11 a.m. because the bag that was already there was full. Several other locations were experiencing the same increase in mail-in drop-offs, the poll worker said.
Vanessa Smith dropped off her mail-in ballot at the library around 11:15 a.m. She normally votes that way, she said.
Measures and races related to local schools were important to her, as were congressional races, where healthcare was a deciding factor for her.
“Really, all of them were important,” Smith said.
The polling place, on the second floor of the library, had been busier than expected all morning, according to Victor Castillo, precinct inspector at the library, with a steady stream of people, many holding mail-in envelopes.
Shortly before 11 a.m., a man tried to vote there while wearing a shirt with a political message, which is against polling place rules, Castill said. Per policy, workers asked the man to turn his shirt inside out, and he refused.
He yelled profanity at the workers and had to be escorted out by library security. Castillo, as a poll worker, couldn’t say what message was on the man’s shirt. Observers outside said the message on the shirt supported President Donald Trump and that the man yelled racial slurs before he left.
The rulebook explaining that electioneering, including wearing political messages, is prohibited was still open on the check-in table when the Union-Tribune arrived a short time later.
At UC San Diego Health, nursing staff polled in-house patients on Monday to find out who wanted to vote. Staff made rounds early Tuesday to help patients fill in emergency ballots. Nine were interested, but only three were registered to vote in San Diego County, according to Layah Blacksberg, director of volunteer and spiritual care services at the hospital.
“The hard part is that we often have a lot of patients interested, but not eligible,” Blacksberg said. “They have to be registered voters in the county. They have to live here, but many of our patients actually come to our hospitals for care from farther away.”
Eligible voters in county jails were also assisted in submitting their ballots. The Registrar of Voters and the Sheriff’s Department work together to make sure that those in custody but still eligible to vote have access on election day, Vu said.
As San Diegans headed to the polls early on election morning, some found themselves waiting longer than expected because of the size of the ballots.
The ballot for those voting in the city of San Diego is about 4-1/2-feet long, according to Vu. It is the second time that voters in the county have had a two-card ballot. The first was in November 2016 for during the presidential election.
The polls opened smoothly on Tuesday morning, Vu said.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better start,” Vu said. “We’re always monitoring, particularly as election morning opens.”
Vu acknowledged that his office anticipated voters experiencing longer waits because of the length of the ballot and is prepared to quickly send out extra voting booths to polling locations that need them. He encouraged voters to fill out sample ballots in advance and bring them to the polls as notes to make the process more efficient for everyone.
At Shadow Mountain Grace Campus, a polling place in North Park, about 20 voters lined up before 7 a.m. to be among the first to cast ballots on election day.
Chris Stebbins of University Heights was among those standing in line. He had filled out a sample ballot before arriving, following endorsements from groups that he trusts, he said, so voting didn’t take him much time.
He worried about people getting discouraged by the length of the ballot and wondered how many would take time to research all of the issues before coming to vote.
“Voting days should be holidays,” Stebbins said. “I think it’s kind of a crime that it’s not.”
Teri Hedman of North Park dropped her mail-in ballot off at the church. She and her boyfriend spent about four hours researching all of the issues before filling it out, she said.
“This is the first time I’ve really informed myself,” Hedman said. “I just don’t like the way things are going. We have to participate. That’s what makes democracy work.”
Affordable-housing measures were her top issue.
John Alspaugh of North Park arrived at the church right after polls opened.
“I always vote,” Alspaugh said. “It’s part of living here.”
For him, Proposition 6, which would repeal the gas tax, was the most important issue. He wanted to keep the tax to improve roads and infrastructure.
“All you hear is how bad the roads are,” Alspaugh said. “Finally somebody did something about it.”
As the line at the church split between two voting precincts, one side of the room began to back up shortly before 8 a.m. due to the limited number of voting booths. One man in a hurry filled out his provisional ballot on a piano instead of waiting in line for a booth.
Polls will remain open until 8 p.m. today. Anyone in line by that time will be able to vote, Vu said.
The first results will be released shortly after polls closed. Those will reflect most of the about 430,000 mail-in ballots received through Sunday, Vu said.
More results are expected around 9 p.m. as ballots cast today make their way to the Registrar of Voter’s warehouse to be counted.