Thursday, October 30, 2008

Registrars predict record voter turnout in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties

It's no presidential battleground, but East Bay election officials are bracing themselves for a record-high turnout in Tuesday's general election.

Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano county registrars predict an 85 percent turnout, a figure well above the 2004 record.

The registrars cite enthusiasm for the presidential race coupled with high-profile state ballot measures such as Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage proposition.

"It's unbelievable, I know," said Alameda County Registrar of Voters Dave Macdonald, whose turnout rate in 2004 was 76 percent. "But our registration numbers have increased dramatically. I think turnout will be 85 percent and I would be shocked if didn't go higher."

Contra Costa, which historically sees some of the highest voter participation rates in the state, will top its 2004 turnout of 83 percent, said Registrar of Voters Steve Weir.

"People seem to be very, very interested in voting," Weir said.

The registrars based their projections, in large part, on the flood of new registrations.

As of Monday, Contra Costa and Alameda voter registration rolls had grown by nearly 89,000 voters, a 7 percent increase over 2004. Solano County election staffers were still entering registrations into a computer system but it expects to exceed its 2004 numbers, as well.

Alameda County stayed open until midnight Oct. 20 — the registration deadline — and processed 3,000 new voters in seven Advertisementhours, Macdonald said.

"It was amazing," he said. "We had people coming on bicycle and on foot."

In Solano County, Assistant Registrar Lindsey McWilliams figured his office saw foot traffic of 11/2 people per minute that day.

"The number of people who woke up at the last minute and decided to register really surprised me," McWilliams said.

The influx has left McWilliams scrambling to catch up with voter registration data entry at a time when he would typically have started opening and counting the vote-by-mail ballots.

"Wow? Yeah, I say that a lot these days," McWilliams said.

Despite worries around the country about voter registration fraud and voting machine woes, East Bay election officials say they are ready.

No election is glitch free, but they say they have taken numerous steps to avoid known troubles such as running out of ballots and excessive waits at the polls.

They ordered extra ballots, expanded the number of precincts and will deploy extra poll workers and troubleshooters on Election Day to handle equipment problems or other things that come up.

They have also opened their offices to early voters on the weekends: Alameda County's Oakland election office will be open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Contra Costa will allow early voting from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

But if you prefer the traditional route and head to your neighborhood polling place Tuesday, give yourself extra time.

"People should be prepared to wait at the polls, like going to a movie or a long Starbucks line," Weir said. "But it shouldn't be too bad."

The growing numbers of people voting by mail has reduced the demand on precincts, which should help ease crowding at the polls, Weir said.

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