http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2008/12/19/voter-turnout-highest-in-two-decades


Danville Express

Newsfront - December 19, 2008

Voter turnout highest in two decades

Election wrap-up shows smooth sailing in Contra Costa County

by Geoff Gillette

A truism in politics is that passionate voters go to the polls on election day. Going by that axiom, Danville voters are more passionate now than they have been since the days of Richard Nixon.

Results from the Nov. 4 election have been finalized and Contra Costa County Clerk Steve Weir said Danville's voter turnout numbers are the highest they've been in more than 20 years.

"Danville voter turnout was 89.65 percent. For modern history, after the mid '70s, this is a record," Weir said.

He explained that due to the way voter registration was set up and maintained in the '50s, '60s and early '70s, turnout numbers were always high because only those people truly dedicated to voting would still be on the rolls.

"For instance, if you didn't vote in an even-numbered election you were dropped from the voter rolls," he explained. "So turnouts were higher. Now that registration is easier and much harder to purge, the frequent voter is only a percentage of the rolls."

Countywide, the turnout percentage was slightly lower at 86.87 percent. Weir said they saw turnout numbers in the 90th percentile in Clayton, Lafayette and Orinda, while Richmond was behind with an 84 percent turnout, and Pittsburg had only 81 percent.

Two issues received a great deal of media attention nationwide regarding the election: problems for those who attempted early voting, and long lines at polling places. Weir said his county Elections Department saw some minor snafus but nothing as serious as was reported elsewhere in the country. Prior to Election Day, it was possible to vote at his office in Martinez.

"We had two-and-a-half to three times the normal number voting in our office," he noted. "There were around 8,500 people who came to take advantage of early voting. We think they were worried about lines at their polling places, and they ended up making lines here."

Weir and his employees were hard pressed to keep up with the surge of voters, going from only four or five voting booths open to having 29 booths.

"We had them in our lobby, we had them in our hallway. We had to scramble. Fortunately we were at our office so we were able to bring all the equipment out. Most of my senior staff, myself included, ended up working the line," Weir recalled.

On Election Day, they received few reports of issues at the polls. In one instance, a Danville precinct had a very long line.

"I sent staff out there to see what the problem was," Weir said, "and we worked it out."

Weir said he believes the reason there were few line problems in Contra Costa County was that they had a large number of vote-by-mail ballots turned in. "We had 1.2 million fewer voters at the polls but 2 million more vote-by-mail. We were pretty sure we weren't going to have those kinds of problems you hear about," he said.

There were some reports of signs close to a polling area in Alamo, but they were not found to be closer than 100 feet so they were not taken down. Weir said that those types of issues are fairly mild compared to some things that were happening around the country.

"We try not to have signs associated with any polling place," he said. "We want to create a safe haven for our voters."

Weir's employees scrambled to rectify one situation, where incorrect vote-by-mail ballots were sent out to around 100 residents. Weir said they set up a system to handle those cases and immediately dispatched employees to make sure the resident had the correct ballot.

"Our philosophy," he stated, "is if you make a mistake, identify it, confess to it and fix it."

Overall though, Weir said things went very well. "This was a very smooth election," he said, "especially considering it was such a high profile election with record-breaking turnouts."

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