SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, Calif. — Whether you prefer to vote in person or vote by mail, the San Joaquin County elections office is trying to give people a little of the best of both worlds for the 2020 election.
Registrar of Voters Melinda Dubroff and her crew have been navigating their path to a smooth election day on Nov. 3, but due to coronavirus restrictions and protocols, the 2020 General Election won’t be business as usual.
“We don’t want a voter to have to choose between protecting the health of their family and participating in democracy,” said Dubroff.
As such, they’re swapping out neighborhood polling centers for drop boxes, drive-throughs, and Voter Service Centers. They’ll also have their election staff trained in all coronavirus protocols, wearing masks, and spaced out to make things safer for in-person voting.
All registered voters will automatically be getting a vote-by-mail ballot, which Dubroff said is a norm for 80% of the voters in San Joaquin County. For those who have never handled one, they’ll be getting some informational mailers to let them know what will be coming in their mailbox.
Here’s everything you’ll need to know about how and where to vote in San Joaquin County.
Voting in Person
Just because you have a vote-by-mail ballot, it doesn’t mean you have to submit your ballot through the mail.
“If you’re a San Joaquin County voter and you want to vote in person, you can come to our office or to any voter service center and vote in person there,” Dubroff said. “You don’t have to vote by mail. You can vote in person.”
Despite it by a vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot, it is perfectly normal to drop it off in person. Dubroff said 40,000 people dropped off their VBM ballots at polling centers during the last election.
The main difference now is that the neighborhood polling places that were in your church or neighbor’s garage won’t be around this time. One of the key reasons was space for social distancing.
These new Voter Service Centers are mostly in schools, school gyms, and large halls. The commonality they all share is that they are big enough to accommodate social distancing for everything the election workers will need to do.
34 of them will be up and running in the county from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 until 8 p.m. You’ll be able to vote in person, register and vote through “Same Day Registration”, and get a replacement ballot if needed.
You can also drive up to any city hall in the county and drop off your ballot directly to an election worker on Election Day. If the thrill of drive-through voting is calling to you, then you might be able to vote a little earlier at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds. They’ll be offering contactless drive-through voting with an appointment-only area to pick up a ballot, cast a ballot, and to register and vote in the same day.
To find a Voter Service Center near you, click HERE. These locations will be open from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3. Hours will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. between Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 and from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day.
You can also return your ballot at the Registrar of Voters office between Oct. 6 and Nov. 3 by 8 p.m.
Voting by Mail
Some people won’t want to vote in person, but there’ll still be plenty of opportunities to participate in the election and cast your ballot in safe ways.
For the 20% of San Joaquin voters that will be new to the VBM system, Dubroff said California has been refining the VBM process for decades, so there will be plenty of ways make sure your ballot gets where it needs to go and gets counted.
You can check your registration status, mailing address, vote status at voterstatus.sos.ca.gov and their ballot status at WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov. You can sign up for text, email and even phone notifications.
Dubroff said people can even call the Registrar of Voters office and her crew can help you sign up for the services if needed.
As far as dropping off the ballot, you can do so via mail, official ballot drop boxes, the voter service centers, and at the Registrar of Voters office.
There’ll be 26 ballot drop boxes at local businesses that’ll be ready to take your ballot between Oct. 6 and Nov. 3. Times will largely depend on the business’ operating hours, but on Election Day, you’ll have until 8 p.m. to drop off your ballot.
If you have a penchant for the lauded “I Voted” sticker, you won’t be missing out simply because you chose to vote by mail.
“In this setting, we know that people are avoiding congregate settings and… they’ll be returning their ballot through the mail or they’ll be dropping it off, so we’ve included the I voted sticker with the Vote-By-Mail packet,” Dubroff said.
Staffing for a smooth election
Typically, there’d be 1,500 to 1,800 poll workers for an election in San Joaquin County, but with Voter Service Centers taking the place of neighborhood polling, the demand is less but still there.
“The number of people that we need in this election is definitely reduced in order to conduct the election on Election Day because of the fewer numbers of sites that we’ll be staffing, but we still will need quite a few workers,” Dubroff said.
She said a lot of the poll workers who have helped out year after year aren’t returning because of their own health concerns. San Joaquin County is still taking applications for workers who can use computers, wipe down voting booths, and monitor the voting rooms for social distancing.
The mold for this election will also require different kinds of staffing to tend to the ballot drop boxes.
“We never leave a live ballot alone with one person,” Dubroff said. “There’s always two people, and so staffing those drivers that’s a different level of staffing than the volunteers that you see with a traditional neighborhood polling place.”
You can apply for the position of Elections Technician, Elections Technician Assistant, and Elections Technician Trainee by clicking HERE.
Safety for in-person voting
If you head to Voter Service Centers, you’ll be seeing election workers wearing masks or face shields. Dubroff said all the workers will be trained on coronavirus protocols and will also be wearing gloves and aprons and sanitizing surfaces after voters use a voting booth.
With social distancing in place, Dubroff said no voter will be turned away for not wearing a mask.
“We can’t turn a voter away just because they’re not wearing a mask… we’re creating enough social distance in the facility itself that voters will be spread out,” she said. “It’s up to the voters to take some responsibility on protecting each other by wearing a mask and we’re going to make sure our staff are using the highest level of precautions possible…”
“Voters should pay attention to where they’re getting their information, make their own choices, [and] mark the ballot. Once they’ve made those decisions, turn that ballot in as soon as possible…,” said Dubroff.
She encourages people to get their information from trusted sources, take time research the ballot, and to visit legitimate sites from the state and county to find out where the Voter Service Centers are and to find out the status of your ballot.
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