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South Bay reports higher than expected voter turnout

By Christina Farr | 2 Nov 2010

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Peninsula Press reporters Erik Silk, Jordan Richard-Craven and Sara Lannin contributed to this article.

Voting booths were full at the Palo Alto High School polling location on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo: Jordan Richard-Craven)

Poll workers in the Peninsula reported higher than anticipated voter turnout on Tuesday, confounding expectations of lower voter participation.

“There’s always less interest in the midterms,” said Debby Maio, president of the South San Mateo chapter of the League of Women Voters.

In the previous Bay Area midterm election, in 2006, only 31 percent of registered voters aged 18 to 29 actually voted. The Bay Area is defined as the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Marin and Contra Costa.

The energetic atmosphere surprised seasoned poll workers with low expectations of voter turnout. “There’s nothing more boring than sitting there with no one coming in,” said Joanne Bruggeman, a poll worker in Redwood City.

On Election Day, however, Bruggeman observed, “far more people have come than I would have expected at this point.” She reported 101 people had turned up before 4 p.m.

Theo Schoby, a poll worker in East Palo Alto, said today’s turnout was far higher than the state special elections in 2009, in which only 15 percent of registered voters in Santa Clara County cast their ballots. Schoby, who began his shift at 6 a.m., said a line had already formed by the time the doors opened at 7 a.m.

Chuck Bernstein, a candidate for the Menlo Park city council, said he anticipated a higher turnout this year because of the important issues on the ballot and the problems of California’s economy. “People are hurting,” he said. “Financial matters are very important in this election.”

Mike Quinn, a 27-year-old student voting in Palo Alto, said several issues on the ballot affected him personally, and would have an impact on many young Californians. These include Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana, Proposition 23, which would suspend the state’s landmark global warming control law, and Proposition 25, which allows the passage of state budgets with a simple majority rather than a two-thirds supermajority.

Rachel Greenwald and Colleen Pham, both 18-year-old college freshmen at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said students at their school went door to door encouraging people to vote against Proposition 23.

Farzana Nawid, whose five children attend Palo Alto schools, said her mosque, the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara, encouraged the Muslim community to vote. “They told us to vote how we feel,” she said, “and that it doesn’t matter who we vote for as long as we vote.”

Many other area voters – in San Mateo County, more than half — chose to vote by mail. Of the county’s 357,000 registered voters, nearly 182,000 requested to vote by mail. Narda Barrientos, the county’s election supervisor, said she expected 63 percent of the mail ballots to be returned. More than 90,000 mail ballots had been received by the close of business on Monday, she said.

Mary Goon, a single mother from San Jose, said she was inspired to volunteer at the Silicon Valley Action Network Saturday afternoon after she received a late night email reminding Californians that every vote counts.

“I can’t give money because I don’t have any,” Goon said, “but I can give them some time.”
Joey Vaughan, director of SVAN’s Palo Alto office, said more than 350 volunteers made 20,000 calls and distributed more than 5,000 pieces of literature and thousands of yard signs.

Some voters said they were relieved the campaign season was drawing to a close.
“I was getting a lot of phone calls and I was receiving a lot of literature on my doorstep as well as things in my mailbox everyday,” said Debbi Jones-Thomas, who voted in East Palo Alto. “I just created a great recycling container for the week.”

Rick Peterson, voting in East Palo Alto, said he was inundated with phone calls reminding him to vote. “I stopped answering my phone,” he said.

Cesar Juarez, a director for Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network, or SIREN, an activist group based in San Jose that focuses on the top three immigrant groups in the county –Vietnamese, Latinos and Filipinos — said he and his team knocked on doors, distributed campaign literature and made phone calls to immigrant households.

Although SIREN promoted such specific ballot items as Measure A, which would impose a $29 parcel tax to finance the “Healthy Kids” program, Juarez said he was just as interested in convincing immigrant voters to let their voices be heard at the polls.

“Immigrant voters make up close to 40 percent of those who could vote in this county, so immigrants have huge, huge power,” Juarez said.

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