Vote by mail voters should receive their ballots by the end of next week. KAZU’s Erika Mahoney spoke with Gail Pellerin to talk about what voters should know, but might be afraid to ask. Pellerin is the Santa Cruz County clerk and registrar of voters. She’s been serving as the county’s chief elections official for 27 years.
Erika Mahoney (EM): What are the deadlines for voters leading up to the California primary?
Gail Pellerin (GP): The first thing to be aware of is that on February 3rd we're going to start to mail out the vote by mail ballots. After that, we ask that voters get registered by February 18th. That's the deadline to make sure your name will be on the voter rolls and that you'll be able to vote by mail. If you miss that deadline though, we do have same day voter registration in the state of California and people can exercise that.
WAYS TO VOTE
EM: What are the different ways people can vote?
GP: So lots of different ways. People can vote early by voting by mail. They could vote in person early. So both our office and the Watsonville City Clerk's office will open on February 3rd at 8 a.m. issuing ballots to voters. Doing it early is a really wise thing if you don't like lines and lots of opportunity to do that either Monday through Friday when we're open. But we're open Saturday, Sunday, Monday before the election here (and in) Watsonville. And we're going to have eight other locations in Santa Cruz County for people to go on those three days prior to election day and, of course, election day as well to take care of their voting.
EM: Because the primary has been moved up in California. Are you seeing more interest?
GP: I think there's just more interest overall. So I think voters are much more engaged and involved and they understand the importance of voting and how it does have, you know, long term effects on how your community and your government is being run.
HOW TO REGISTER
EM: So if someone has never voted before or isn't registered yet, how do I go about doing that?
GP: The easiest thing to do is either on your phone or computer, go to registertovote.ca.gov. And that's if you have a state ID or a California driver's license because it pulls your signature from that record and then we get it. But if you don't have that, then the system will ask you to print out a form that you have to sign and mail it to us. So if you don't want to go through that mechanism, you can pick up a voter registration card at any post office, library, city hall, our office. Call us, we'll mail you a voter registration card. So there's lots of opportunities to get connected and get registered.
VOTING IN THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY
EM: If you're registered as an independent, can you vote in one of the presidential primaries?
GP: Sure. So lots of different words for independent. People call it independent, people call it decline-to-state, people call it nonpartisan. And if you're registered with one of those, you're in this bucket of voters that we call 'no party preference'. So no party preference or independent voters may crossover and vote a party ballot if the party has adopted rules allowing you to do so. Only three of the six political parties have allowed that – Democratic, American Independent and Libertarian. If you do want to vote, let's say with the Republican Party, you want to vote in that primary, you need to be registered with the Republican Party. The same goes for the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party.
Note: If you pick no party preference when registering at registertovote.ca.gov, the next step is to go Santa Cruz County’s Elections Department website at votescount.com. There, you can let the department know which party ballot you want if voting by mail. If you’re planning to vote at the polls, there will be a handout with a picture of the party ballots you can choose from.
EM: What's your advice to people who are maybe intimidated to vote or are thinking about not voting because they don't know every candidate or measure?
GP: Voting is not a test. So if you're overwhelmed by what's on the ballot, you don't have to vote on every single issue. I leave things blank sometimes. So, you know, just vote what you want to vote for, that you're informed about, and then leave the rest. But if you are a new voter, you know, go with a friend if you want to go to the polls or go alone, because our poll workers are well-trained and they'll be able to welcome you. Voting by mail is a nice way to do it. You just do it from the comfort of your couch and be able to cast your vote there. I know a lot of people do ballot parties where they get all their friends together and they talk about what's on the ballot and just kind of pros and cons and that's a fun way to get involved as well.
EM: We will also see other races on the ballot, such as city council, county supervisors and congressional representatives. How does voting for those work?
GP: So that’s a top-two primary. It’s different than the presidential primary, which is closed or modified, where you get to crossover if you’re independent, no party preference. But for Congress, State Senate, State Assembly, that is called a top-two primary where all candidates from all parties appear on the same ballot; everyone votes the same slate of people. You pick one and then the top two vote getters will show up on the November ballot. It gets a little confusing in some races because there are only maybe two people running. And those same two people will be back on the ballot in November. Then you have another primary at the local level for our county offices, county supervisor, judge, where the top vote getter, if they get 50 percent plus one, will be elected. But if somebody does not get a majority, then the top two vote getters will go into the November runoff.
EM: What is Santa Cruz County doing to secure its election process?
GP: We have a lot of brain power here to combat any kind of hacking or infiltration of our system. It's being watched 24/7. I feel very secure in the setup we have here in Santa Cruz County. So, I mean quite frankly, I think the easiest way to hack a vote is really to hack somebody's mind by putting out false information and spreading it easily through social media. And these are not new practices. People spreading lies and deceit during election time is not something new. But now we have a mechanism where that information can get spread quickly through social media. And when people don't take the time to check the facts, then they believe it. And, you know, it can impact people. It's very divisive and people find that these foreign and domestic actors that are trying to sway elections, you know, want that division. They want the confusion. They want to create that. So, you know, I stay off social media this time of year.
NEW VOTING SYSTEM
EM: And isn't there a new voting system?
GP: The system we had is no longer certified. So we had to replace it with the new system that our vendor is offering. And so it is a little different where the voting target area, instead of connecting the head and tail of an arrow, you'll be filling in an oval to the left of your choice versus the right of your choice. So I think it's actually more intuitive and user friendly. If you want to vote on electronic means, there's a tablet. You touch your choices and then it actually prints a ballot that you can look at and verify your choices and then you deposit that in the ballot box. So it's all paper based and not connected to the internet. There's no data being stored on the tablet. So they're just basically fancy pencils to mark a ballot for somebody. And it has all the accessibility components. So a voter with a disability can vote independently and privately, do an audio ballot. We’ll also have Spanish on the tablet as well if someone would like their ballot in Spanish.
SERVING AS A POLL WORKER
EM: How can people help out with the March 3rd primary?
GP: The best way to get involved, of course, is to serve as a poll worker. So we need 900 plus people to be working out in the polls and our voter service centers for the same day, voter registration. So if you're interested in giving back to your community, earning a little extra cash, then give us a call or go online to votescount.com and apply to be a poll worker.
For Monterey County voters, early voting also begins on February 3rd. You can vote early at the Monterey County Elections office.