Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Contra Costa 13

MARTINEZ — Kerry Jacquet found a last-minute baby sitter. Selin Khayatan took time off from work. Danielle Bullock missed a math exam. Dan Eaton forked over $50 to a cabbie.

And you thought dragging yourself down to your local precinct to vote was a chore. Thirteen Contra Costa residents braved an early morning drizzle Monday and jumped through legal and bureaucratic hoops to cast likely the most well-earned votes of their lives.

In a little-known procedure performed the Monday before elections, Contra Costa Registrar Steve Weir sues himself on behalf of residents who think they have been incorrectly left off registered voter rolls.

"Mail gets lost. Someone from a voter drive drops off registrations but leaves a couple in the trunk by accident," Weir said. "This is a way voters can have a little more of a safety net."

On Monday, the 13 petitioners swore before Judge Barry Baskin that they indeed registered to vote and were quickly granted a court order allowing them to cast a ballot. The group then marched about five blocks from the courthouse — led by Weir, who wielded a red, white and blue umbrella — to the clerk's office, where they had their registration processed. All 13 voted.

Pacheco resident Scot Hampton, 38, moved to Contra Costa earlier this year from San Francisco and thought he had re-registered to vote when he renewed his DMV paperwork. When neither his sample ballot nor polling notice came in the Advertisementmail, he called the registrar's office. Turns out he was never registered. Hampton figured he could at least vote in San Francisco, but that election office had already dropped him from its rolls.

"A lot of people won't have to go through this process, but I think it's great," Hampton said as he walked to the polling station, documenting his hectic morning on a flip camera. He plans to upload his experience to his Web site. "I'm more than happy to go through this process and get re-enfranchised."

His story mirrored many of the other petitioners.

Jaquet found a sitter to watch her 18-month-old so she could finalize her registration.

"It's a very historic election, and I'm very much involved as a citizen. I'm waiting to see the results of this and wanting to be a part of it," said the 34-year-old Walnut Creek resident. "It was alarming to hear (I wasn't registered). In the press you always hear about foul play and rigging elections, and that thought did come up and I got angry."

The oldest petitioner was Frank Ingram, a 54-year-old Martinez resident. The veteran missed his first chance to vote when he turned 18 during his tour of duty in Vietnam.

"I was disappointed that I didn't get to vote, so I haven't missed one since," he said.

Bullock took two days off work to sort out her voting privileges.

"I've been more involved with this election than any others in my life," the 29-year-old Brentwood college student said. She anxiously awaited her ballot so she could rush to a math test.

Petitioners aside, Weir and his staff have been busy. More than 900 voters cast early ballots Sunday in about seven hours. As of Saturday night, Contra Costa had a 33 percent voter turnout among early voters and absentees. The county's total turnout for the June primary was only 38 percent.

Pleasant Hill bartender Dan Eaton was the first petitioner to cast his ballot.

"I'm going to go get an early morning beer," the 28-year-old said, stepping out of the voting booth. "I'm finally done, and I'm going to wave my 'I Voted' sticker with pride."

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