By Bob Highfill
San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters Melinda Dubroff is excited about the recent election – not about who won or lost but about the process.
Dubroff said voter turnout for the 2018 mid-term election held on Nov. 6 could approach 55 percent when the final vote-by-mail ballots are certified and counted. If so, that would be about a 14 percent increase from the previous mid-terms in 2014.
Dubroff said engagement was high this election – voters, volunteers and officials alike.
The county voters’ office in downtown Stockton was full of last-minute ballot casters on election day. Dubroff said voters were patient as they waited for a booth at some of the polling locations. There were a couple inevitable, unforeseen, minor glitches but generally, all went well, she said.
“It was really very good turnout,” Dubroff said. “I was impressed.”
When Dubroff accepted her current post in May 2017, succeeding Austin Erdman, who retired after serving as registrar for eight years, she hoped to continue the effective processes already in place and encourage more young people to vote by further embracing technology.
Dubroff put her 18 years of experience with the San Mateo County Registrars office to good use, juggling myriad responsibilities to ensure a fair, transparent, honest and accurate election. She has initiated social media and advertising campaigns among a litany of projects to bring more information and opportunities for all voters.
The county office held several voter registration, candidate and vote-by-mail workshops geared for people trying to get the vote out in their communities. Close to 200 people attended the workshops.
“That was kind of a tell-tale sign about how people were interested,” Dubroff said. “We saw a lot more people engaged and motivated to participate.”
Another tell-tale sign and a hopeful sign for the future was nearly 600 students worked the polls.
“They are fantastic,” Dubroff said. “These aren’t kids just sitting on their phones. They’re there to learn and help and they have a lot of energy, so a lot of poll workers are really happy to have that on such a long day.”
Some of the students provided bilingual assistance at the polls, which was in line with Dubroff’s goal to assist as many non-English speaking voters as possible. The county not only distributed voting information and materials in different languages to agencies, such as the League of Women Voters and El Concilio, efforts were made to stimulate vote-by-mail participation among minority communities.
“These organizations were clamoring for information,” Dubroff said. “We can’t go door-to-door and to every farmer’s market and every flea market to register voters, so in an election like this we want to empower people with information and make sure every vote counts.”
Dubroff initiated the Drive-Up Democracy campaign where 13 locations throughout the county were set up to accept vote-by-mail ballots over the four days leading to election day. In the primary election, such voter drop-off points were set up at the city halls in San Joaquin Country for 29 days leading to the election. In this mid-term election, officials collected 4,000 ballots in the four-day period. In the June primary election, just 2,000 ballots were collected at the city hall drop-off points over the 29-day period.
“It was really successful,” Dubroff said. “People really like handing the ballots to an election official, making sure it gets directly to the registrar. They don’t have to worry about going through the post office. It really exceeded my expectations.”
Though there aren’t any official elections yet scheduled in 2019, Dubroff said she and her team have plenty of work to do, including holding feedback sessions to improve and fine-tune procedures.
Dubroff has been passionate about the Democratic process since she was young. She was involved in voter registration before she was old enough to vote and applied for a job with the San Mateo County Registrar of Voters after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, with a political science degree.
Dubroff worked in various capacities in San Mateo and was the elections specialist supervisor for the two years prior to joining San Joaquin County. Dubroff said San Joaquin County has different needs than San Mateo County, but she has enjoyed the challenge.
“I have had a steep learning curve, that’s for sure,” she said. “But to me it’s fun. I love new situations and I haven’t minded the learning curve at all.”
By Bob Highfill