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Voting Update From The San Diego County Registrar Of Voters

Audio

Aired 6/8/10

On election day, we'll check in with the registrar of voters to find out how the voting process is going.

TOM FUDGE (Host): I’m Tom Fudge, sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and you’re listening to These Days on KPBS. It's election day, and polls opened at 7:00 a.m. for today's primary election. Political parties will choose their candidates for governor and U.S. Senate and many other statewide offices. Local elections could decide who'll be the next mayor of Chula Vista or the next sheriff of San Diego County, provided one candidate gets fifty percent or more. Typically voter turnout is low during the primaries, but don't listen to me. We want to hear from somebody who has a little more expertise. That’s why Deborah Seiler is joining us this morning over the phone. Deborah Seiler is the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, and she’s here to give us a little update on how things are going so far. Deborah Seiler, thanks very much.

DEBORAH SEILER (San Diego County Registrar of Voters) You’re welcome, Tom. Good morning.

FUDGE: And good morning to you. Good morning to listeners as well. If you would like to ask us a question about voting today, if you’ve voted and you want to describe the experience, give us a call if you want this morning at 888-895-KPBS. Deborah Seiler, polls, as I have said, have been open now for about two hours. Have you received any reports of problems or irregularities at the polling places?

SEILER: No. So far the phones here have been very quiet. We’ve had a few voters come in but not very many. Things are quiet. The reports that I’m hearing from the field are that the voting is occurring but at a fairly light rate. You know, sometimes maybe 10 or 15 people coming in as of about 8:30.

FUDGE: I see. Well, what is your estimate for the percentage of registered voters who will vote in today’s primary?

SEILER: I have been estimating a range, a percentage range of between 35 and 45%. I’m now thinking that it’s probably going to be closer to that 35% range. San Diego County tends to have a higher turnout than most of the other counties in the Southern California area, and so I’m optimistic that we’ll be at least at 35%.

FUDGE: And so 35%, how does that compare to the 2008 California primary or to past gubernatorial primaries? Is that typical?

SEILER: It’s fairly typical. In the 2008 direct primary, which was, by the way, not a presidential primary and didn’t have the governor’s race at the top of the ticket, we had a 34% turnout. By contrast, the February 2008 primary, which was a presidential primary, had a 61% turnout. But going back to the last straight gubernatorial primary, which is the equivalent election, we had a 37% turnout here in San Diego County.

FUDGE: Let’s talk a little bit about the method of voting. What kind of ballots are being used in today’s election?

SEILER: Well, they’re the same ballots the voters have been seeing for the last couple of years. We have the optical scan paper ballots. They’re rather large this time, 19 inches long, lots of candidates and measures to be decided. And the interesting thing, I think, about this election is that when the nonpartisan or decline-to-state voters go into the polling place, they will be verbally and visually reminded of their option to vote either just a straight nonpartisan ballot, which has all the local contests on it, nonpartisan offices such as sheriff, supervisor, city council, mayor, those contests, and then all the measures, or they will have the option of voting either a Democratic or a Republican Party ballot.

FUDGE: Well, being a nonpartisan voter myself, I was wondering about that actually. So today if you are nonpartisan, you can choose to either be a Democrat for a day or a Republican for a day.

SEILER: Yes, that is correct. Those are the two parties that decided several months ago to open up their party primary to nonpartisan voters.

FUDGE: And I’m Tom Fudge. You’re listening to These Days. My guest is Deborah Seiler, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters. It’s election day, primary election day, so we’re talking about how things are going. You say that we’re using the optical scan ballots, now are those the fill in the circle ballots?

SEILER: Yes, that’s correct. We have special pens out there to help the voters mark in those ovals. They’re issued a ballot, they go into the polling place with the – or, into the voting booth with the secrecy sleeve, and mark the ballot, insert that ballot in the secrecy sleeve, and then go over and deposit it in the ballot box. So that’s just the same way that people have been voting here for quite awhile.

FUDGE: The ongoing saga of the electronic touch screen voting machines continues to go on in San Diego County. I know that you have stored them in a safe place since they were decertified about two years ago. Are there any electronic voting machines being used in San Diego County for this election?

SEILER: Yes, there are. By law, we have to put one accessible voting device in every single polling place so we have 1,449 voting precincts for this election and each one of those voting precincts has a touch screen device that voters can use to mark the ballot if they need to.

FUDGE: And as I think I said, two years ago the Secretary of State decommissioned San Diego County’s electronic voting machines and I think she did that with voting machines in practically every county in California. Can we expect to see electronic voting back at the polls anytime soon?

SEILER: Well, that depends entirely on the Secretary of State’s office, so I’m not really looking – I’m not expecting that they will be restored for full usage anytime soon.

FUDGE: And, listeners, once again, give us a call if you have a question about voting today. Give us a call if you have a story to tell about having gone to the polls. Our number is 888-895-5727, 888-895-KPBS. And I think we have a caller on the line who would like to speak with us. Hello, sir, are you there?

FRANCISCO (Caller, City Heights): Yes, hello?

FUDGE: Hi. I’m afraid I don’t have your name. What’s your name?

FRANCISCO: Francisco and I’m from City Heights in San Diego.

FUDGE: Okay, very good. You had a question for the Registrar of Voters?

FRANCISCO: Yes. Good morning. I was curious as to whether the county has some sort of watchdog program that helps prevent or investigate voter intimidation. And my specific concerns are about north county and claims of racism.

FUDGE: Voter intimidation, do you have a method of dealing with that, Deborah Seiler?

SEILER: The method that we have is primarily through a system – we have for this election, we have 182, we call them troubleshooters. They’re basically rovers who go out. We have another 30 field coordinators who are out in the field just looking for any possible issues. So, really, I rely on the voters themselves to call if they have any issues, any questions, any complaints. We have a hotline here. We have a whole call center. So if people encounter any problems, I definitely want them to contact our office or have one of our troubleshooters or field coordinators contact them.

FUDGE: And, Francisco, are you interested in calling one of these troubleshooters? Okay, well, Francisco, I guess, is no longer with us. I hope we answered your question. Deborah Seiler, let me ask you a few questions about another interesting subject having to do with a method of voting: mail-in ballots. And this is something that is definitely going on in San Diego County. What percentage of people are mailing in their ballots as opposed to going to the polling place?

SEILER: Currently about – over 45% of all registered voters in San Diego County are registered as permanent vote-by-mail voters. For this election we issued over 680,000 mail ballots. And, currently, we have over 200,000 of those ballots returned, so that’s about – over 30% return on the mail ballots. For this election, I’m guessing that mail ballot voters, those who cast their votes by mail or voted mail ballot even if they drop it off at a polling place today, will account for over half of all the votes cast. Now, that’s just kind of a guess on my part but that’s based on past elections.

FUDGE: Half of the people are voting by mail and is that – have you seen a sharp increase in the number of people voting by mail?

SEILER: Yes, we have. Over the last couple of years, the number has – the percentage has increased from about 24, 25% of the electorate to over 45%. So that’s been a very dramatic increase in just a couple of years.

FUDGE: There is a trend, mostly in other states—the state that occurs to me is the state of Oregon—where lots of counties, I think practically every county in Oregon does not have polling places, they just vote by mail. Is that something we’re thinking about in California?

SEILER: I don’t think we’re going to see that anytime soon in California. There’s certainly concerns. It becomes a very political question. I think that we would realize tremendous monetary savings if we did convert to all voting by mail but there is a resistance concern about it. I think it’ll be a while before we see this come to California.

FUDGE: We have another call from Shauna, who I think has a question about another type of voting. Shauna, go ahead. You’re on These Days.

SHAUNA (Caller): Hi. I mail in my votes and I’ve been told by people that they’re not counted right away, that they’re treated differently than the walk-in ballots, and I just wanted to confirm whether or not that’s true, if they’re counted and treated the same as a walk-in vote.

SEILER: Yes, when the mail ballots arrive here – We mail the ballots out 29 days before the election. And we start receiving them very soon after that. As soon as those ballots, which are mailed back to our office, come in, they’re processed. Now, by law, we can’t legally open the envelopes and extract the ballot and begin to scan it until about 10 days before the election so – but we do that and those ballots are processed. They’re put through the scanners. Tonight at eight o’clock when the polls close, shortly after 8:00 p.m. when the polls close, we will release the results of those mail ballots. So most of those mail ballots are actually tabulated, ready to go, and the vote results ready to release just when the polls close.

FUDGE: I had a question about the mail-in ballots and I think you addressed it when you said that people with mail-in ballots can drop them off today at the – at your office if they haven’t bothered to actually put them in a mailbox or don’t want to put them in a mailbox.

SEILER: That’s right, Tom. They can drop them off at our office but they can also drop them off at any one of those almost 1500 polling places today, on election day. As long as they drop them off at a polling place that is a San Diego County polling place, they will be counted. We also, you might be interested to know, we also do actually go out to the major post offices. We make arrangements with them so that if somebody has put their mail ballot in the mail and it hasn’t been actually physically received here at our office, which is a requirement under the law, we go out to the post office to make sure that we collect any mail ballots that might be still held at the post office and we bring them in.

FUDGE: And speaking of the Registrar’s office, can someone, if they don’t know where their polling place is, can they come to the Registrar’s office up there on Ruffin Road and vote today?

SEILER: Yes, absolutely. We’re open for voting. We opened up at seven this morning, we’ll be open until 8:00 p.m. And if people want to know where to go vote and they’re not sure, that address, that voting address, is listed on the back of their sample ballot. They can also go to our website, log onto our website and they can just fill in the information and find their location. They can certainly call. We have lots of people standing by to take calls and answer questions about where to go vote today.

FUDGE: We were talking about all mail-in ballots. There are no plans by San Diego County to do that because I think your office could decide or the County could decide that that would be the way to go…

SEILER: Actually…

FUDGE: …in San Diego County, without having to get approval from the State of California.

SEILER: Actually, no, that’s – We would need approval through the state legislature…

FUDGE: Oh, you would?

SEILER: …and the governor. Yes, we would.

FUDGE: I see.

SEILER: We’re not authorized. There are certain restrictions on the jurisdictions that can conduct their elections by all-mail ballots. Special districts like local water districts, the fire districts, would have the option if they had a special election, a stand alone election, to conduct the election by mail. But we do not. As the county, we don’t have the authority under the law to conduct our elections by all-mail ballot.

FUDGE: There are a couple – I understand there are a couple of California counties that do all-mail ballots and I think they’re rural counties, Sierra County is one of them.

SEILER: Sierra and Alpine County, that is correct. Sierra and Alpine County. The reason they can do it is because they’re so small that they – all of their precincts fit under a law that we avail ourselves of at times, and that is for precincts that have fewer than 250 registered voters, we don’t set up a precinct. They’re just too small. In Sierra and Alpine, all of their precincts are under 250 voters so they’re all what we call declared mail ballot precincts or just mail ballot precincts.

FUDGE: You know, we’re running out of time but let me squeeze in one more call. We’ve got Terry on the line who I think has a question. Terry, go ahead.

TERRY (Caller): Yes, I think you answered part of it. It had to do with the fact that you have a lot of personal information that you require on the outside of the envelope for mail-in ballots. And I’ve been a registered mail voter for quite some time and have never mailed it because of the concern I have with all the personal information on the envelope so I just drop it off at the precinct. So I was going to ask you, you know, where to put it, where to drop it off. But I guess my follow-up question is what are you going to do about protecting the privacy of mail-in voters? And I’ll take my answer off the air.

SEILER: Well, the information that is on the mail ballot envelope, when it’s sent back, is the name of the voter, the address and, of course, the signature because the envelopes do have to be signed. We have to verify that signature. If voters are concerned and I understand that on occasion they are, by dropping them directly into the postal service, the postal service has assured us of the privacy of that information but voters could also take an extra step of putting it in another envelope if they so choose. And, as you have done, drop them off at any polling place, drop them off at our office, that also works.

FUDGE: Final question for you, when do you expect to have all the votes counted? When will we know who the winners are?

SEILER: Well, that always depends a great deal on how close the results are. At eight o’clock we’ll have probably 25 to 30% of the entire vote ready to report. That’s my estimate at this point in time. Then we’ll be counting votes, we’ll see those precinct returns coming in ten o’clock, 10:30, eleven, we’ll start seeing lots and lots of precinct returns. We – I expect we’ll be counting votes until probably two o’clock in the morning. But remember that many voters, as your recent caller, drop the mail ballots off at the polling places. Many people come in, they may go to the wrong polling place. They end up voting a provisional ballot. We’ll have over 100,000 of those ballots, I’m sure, by the end of the night tonight. We’ll know, we’ll have a rough count, a good rough count of the number of ballots remaining to be counted. All of those ballots go into the count during what we call the official canvas period, which is the 28-day period after the election. For contests that are very, very close, those razor-thin margins, we won’t know until every ballot is counted.

FUDGE: Right. Well, Deborah Seiler is the San Diego County Registrar of Voters and she talked to us, of course, on today – talked to us today, primary election day. Thank you very much.

SEILER: You’re welcome.

FUDGE: I’m Tom Fudge. You’re listening to These Days. We are going to take a break, and coming up after the break we’re going to talk about green funerals. How do you address death from an environmental standpoint. So stay tuned for that and if you want to give us a call, the number is 888-895-KPBS.

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