By Bob Highfill
When elections roll around people often say it’s the most important election in their life time.
They might be right about the upcoming November election. If nothing else, it certainly will be most unusual election to date.
Not only will local, county and statewide races and measures on the ballot, including the Stockton mayoral and heated Presidential races, this will be the first election in the COVID-19 era, making voters’ safety and access to ballots and materials a huge priority for Melinda Dubroff, Registrar of Voters for San Joaquin County.
“In an effort to protect the public from the spread of the coronavirus, the state legislature, governor’s executive orders and funding from Congress are allowing us conduct this election in different ways,” Dubroff said. “The most important changes are that every registered voter is to be mailed a ballot and voter service centers replace neighborhood polling places.”
In the past, voters had to request a mail-in ballot, but because of the coronavirus, every registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail that can be returned by mail or dropped off at the registrar’s office, any of 34 voter service center locations or 25 official ballot drop box locations or the seven city halls throughout the county. Never before have so many options been available for voters.
Dubroff wants all registered voters to be on the lookout for their mail-in ballots and voter information, which will go out on Oct. 5. “We need to make sure everybody know that ballot is coming,” Dubroff said. “We don’t want them to throw away their vote.” Hispanics and Latinos have a major part to play in this election. There can be power in numbers. Hispanics comprise 41% of the population in San Joaquin County, the largest of any racial or ethnic group, and about 70% are of legal voting age, according to the San Joaquin Council of Governments. In 2016, Latinos registered in record numbers – an 86% increase compared to 2012. However, they accounted for only 20% to 23% of the people who voted, lower than that of whites and lower than it should be, according to Michael Madrid, a Sacramento-based political consultant and partner at Grassroots Lab, during his keynote address for the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Leader’s Luncheon on Business, as reported by The Stockton Record on Aug. 4, 2016.
Dubroff said the LatinX community has lower permanent vote-by-mail ballot usage, according to studies of those counties in the state that have gone to all mail-in balloting.
“That was a concern,” she said. “We are aware of that.”
Dubroff said advertisements on multiple platforms, bi-lingual voting materials and voter workshops hopefully will help bring awareness and get Latino voters to cast ballots. She also wants to get the word out to the 20% of San Joaquin County’s some 326,500 registered voters who traditionally do not vote by mail and prefer to cast their ballot in-person at their polling place. Dubroff wants those voters to know safety measures consistent with statewide and San Joaquin County guidelines related to helping stop the spread of the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 will be implemented, including face coverings and hand sanitizer available for voters and workers, and plexiglass barriers will be set up.
Dubroff and her team spent weeks trying to find spaces large enough to allow physical distancing at polling stations and voter service centers.
“These are going to be school gyms and places like that, so we can really spread out and people can feel safe casting their ballots,” she said.
Still, Dubroff said, “We need to gear everyone toward the idea of stay at home and vote at home.”
“Most people who vote by mail do it because it’s convenient and they like to take their time with the ballot and talk with their family about things and talk to their family about the issues and candidates,” Dubroff said. “And not everybody returns it by mail.”
Dubroff said vote-by-mail is a misnomer.
“It’s a ballot that’s mailed to you,” she said. “We think vote-at-home is more descriptive.”
Dubroff and her team are in regular contact with the United States Postal Service to ensure swift and accurate ballot processing and county employees will pick up the ballots from the central post office in Sacramento and bring them to the county facility.
Voter service centers will accept ballots beginning Saturday, Oct. 31. Voters can drop off their ballot at any service center, even if it isn’t located in the city where they reside.
“So if you live in Manteca and work in Sacramento,” said Dubroff, “there are quite a few voter service centers along the way where you can vote.”
Studies of the counties that had voter service centers in 2018 showed an increase in voter turnout among Black and Latino men under age 25.
“It’s possible they had a higher turnout than they had in the past because they were going to voter service centers,” Dubroff said.
The voter registration deadline is Oct. 19, but anyone who misses the deadline can register at the county registrar’s office at 44 N. San Joaquin St., Stockton, or obtain a ballot at any voter service center.
“Every election is important but the passion and interest in this one is even greater than we’ve seen in a long time,” Dubroff said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of new people to the voting booth, as it were, so we want to make sure they know where to cast their ballots.”
Information: www.sjcrov.org or (209) 468-8683.