Many mail-ins, little drama in Palo Alto election

Empty voting booths are a sign of the times, poll workers say

The fire station on Arastradero Road in Palo Alto had all the trappings of a precinct on Election Day -- a table staffed with poll workers, stacks of ballots, checklists and registries.

The only thing that was missing on Tuesday was the voters.

This may seem a bit surprising given that this precinct is right next to the Maybell orchard site that was the focus on Measure D, the only issue on the ballot in Palo Alto. Yet the serene atmosphere here and at other precincts was perfectly emblematic of recent elections, where the vast majority of voters have mailed in their ballots well in advance of Election Day.

By 3:45 p.m., only 50 people had actually come in to vote at the fire station, though another 150 or so walked in to drop off their filled-out ballots, said Kathy Parks, the precinct inspector. The light showing is not too surprising, she said, given that this is an off-year election with only one issue on the ballot. Even those who do come in, typically do so just to submit their ballots.

"People are usually voting by mail now, but many still like to come in, get their sticker and feel like they voted," Parks said.

A few blocks away, at Palo Alto Christian Reformed Church at 687 Arastradero Road, the numbers are greater though the scene is equally tranquil. By 4 p.m., more than 130 voters actually filled out their ballots at the precinct, while many more came in only to hand in their ballots. Here, like in other precincts throughout the city, the voting booths were completely empty during the late afternoon.

GAHiji Bostic, precinct inspector at the church, said the Election Day has been particularly easy for the workers this year, with only one thing on the ballot.

"This is gravy train," Bostic said.

While the limited scope of the election is one factor that explains the leisurely atmosphere, the changing voting behavior is another factor. Of the roughly 11,500 people who voted in Palo Alto (about 30 percent of the registered voters), 9,000 mailed in their ballots early. When the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters released the results from the first 9,000 at 8 p.m., showing opponents of Measure D leading by more than 1,000 votes, it was apparent to both campaigns that there will be no late-night comebacks. These days, there simply aren't enough voters on Election Day to make up the difference.

Even so, some poll workers said they were impressed with the turnout. At Walter Hays Elementary School, close to 90 voters filled out ballots by 5 p.m., a number that exceeded the expectations of poll clerk Reo Haynes.

"I think this is a pretty big turnout, more than I thought," Haynes said.

Even so, things weren't too frantic. Haynes idled the way the time by working on a crossword puzzle. Next to her, fellow poll clerk Joyce Tavrow was reading an old issue of the New Yorker.

At the Channing House, a housing development for seniors, things were also peaceful on Election Day. With no voters in the booths, poll clerk Bert Laurence was musing about the disproportionate field on the American flag hanging outside the precinct. Someone should do something about that, he said.

Then, at around 5 p.m., five people came in, two to drop off ballots and three to fill them out. This was the third such spurt of activity, Laurence said, one around noon and another at around 1 p.m.

Bostic also said there were a few small waves of voters, though for the most part things at the church were quiet. A minute later, the two poll worker sitting next to them turned their heads as someone walked inside the church.

Anticlimactically, it turned out to be another poll worker.

"We get so excited when we see a human being," said one of the workers at the table, smiling.


Like this comment
Posted by Baroness
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2013 at 10:57 am

Many thanks to all the volunteers for their generous donation of time and energy on election day.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 6, 2013 at 2:24 pm

One of these days something scandalous will be revealed a day or two before election day and all those people who mailed in their ballots will be asking how to change their votes.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 6, 2013 at 2:47 pm

I voted at the Buddhist Church. This was the first time where there was a cheerful person who clearly knew what was going on because I had a situation which required knowledge of procedures. In past years, there were a lot of clued-out senior citizens who worked slowly. People just want to get in and out. It's already tough getting people to show up to vote - if they have to wait long, they might not be back - sad but true.

Like this comment
Posted by Turnout was NOT light
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2013 at 4:41 am

Turnout on Measure D was 14,540 ( so far (there are ballots still to count).

Turnout on Measures D and E two years ago was 15,559 (43.9%), not much more.

Turnout in the last odd-year City Council election in Palo Alto in 2009 was 14,802 (40.8%).

So turnout was quite respectable for an off-year election.

On this election, turnout by precinct ranged between 30% and 55%.

So ignore the BS about light turnout making the outcome not representative.

It is no less representative than the election in 2009 in which Karen Holman exceeded the totals of Greg Scharff (the current Mayor) and Nancy Sheppard (the current Vice Mayor) and Gail Price. Hopefully, Karen Holman will be chosen as Vice Mayor for 2014. She deserves it, and our city will be better for it.

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2013 at 7:40 am

Hi there junior resident, CLUED OUT senior citizen, slow? Probably more expereince voting and knowing the rules than you. Blatant age assumption, blatant ignorant comment. Guess we know how you voted, don't want any old, slow folks living in PA.

Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2013 at 10:48 am

@Member -Thank you and @Resident: Just an FYI...
There are so many rules that have to be followed. Age makes no difference in how long it takes.
Many people come to a polling place they went to "before" only to find out they have been changed to a different location. The rule for that is they can still vote there, but it will be a Provisional Vote. It has to be handled differently. There are people who are "mail in voters" and go into their polling place with no ballot. They too, have another circumstance that obviously slows down the line.
The people who volunteer, don't do this every day - what like once every two or so years? Even once a year isn't enough to memorize every situation that arrises. Give them a break and expect delays, but hope for speed.
I appreciate the 15+ hours they put in for a day (6am till at least 9pm sometimes later).

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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