SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — (CN) Despite fears of election-related chaos and the presence of a raging pandemic, all was well at the Santa Cruz County Election Department on Election Day 2020.
“I wasn’t worried because I have the best team,” said Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin.
Pellerin is in charge of the election in the small coastal county located about an hour and a half south of San Francisco, situated along the picturesque cliffs of California’s Central Coast.
The vote was orderly, and more so than in past years because the polling station inside the county building was quiet.
“There was a small line at midday,” said John Beck, the elections program coordinator with the county. “But overall it was a lot smoother than normal.”
Outside, people queued up in their cars and dropped their ballots into an official drop box located in front of the county building.
Also, many people voted early.
In fact, the final tally for early voting in Santa Cruz County was 111,805.
Santa Cruz is a heavily liberal place.
The early voters went for Joe Biden over Donald Trump to the tune of 94,251to 19,871, with assorted votes allocated to the lesser candidates.
The Democratic candidates for U.S. Congress also did well.
Anna Eshoo, the Democratic incumbent, leads Rishi Kumar, a Democratic challenger, 15,712to 8,318. Eshoo shares the county with Jimmy Panetta, another Democratic incumbent running well ahead of his Republican challenger Jeff Gorman, 74,716 to 14,343.
The state races told the same tale.
Democrat John Laird was walloping Republican Vicki Nohrden as the pair vied to represent Santa Cruz County in the state Senate. Laird earned 90,682 votes while Nohrden garnered 23,764.
In the two assembly races, Mark Stone, a Democrat, led Republican Shomir Banerjee 77,728 to 19,872. And Robert Rivas, the Democrat, was beating Repbulican Gregory Swett by a count of 12,847 to 2,975.
About 65% of registered voters have voted as of this printing. All results are unofficial.
Many of the voters who dropped off their ballots outside the county building described the process as easier and less stressful than years past.
“I liked voting at home where I could research the ballot initiatives,” said Ashleigh, a Santa Cruz resident who declined to provide her last name. “In years past I would get into the voting booth and wish I could do more research.”
Courthouse News interviewed about a dozen voters, all of whom cast their votes for Biden in the presidential election.
After the polls closed at 8 p.m., Pellerin gave Courthouse News a glimpse behind the scenes of the voting process. First, all ballots are scanned in by computers and signatures on the ballots are matched by those the elections department has on record.
While the county could elect to have computers compare signatures, Pellerin prefers to have a human analyze each signature. If there are discrepancies in any signature, it goes up the department hierarchy all the way to Pellerin.
If she determines irregularities are present, she contacts the voter in question and provides them an opportunity to “cure” their ballot.
“In some cases, the signature is missing altogether, in which case we always contact the voter,” Pellerin said.
It’s not a lengthy process, as irregularities are rare.
“We had 70,000 people vote in the last election and of that we had about 95 that were challenged,” Pellerin said.
After the signature verification phase, the ballots are taken to the basement where the tabulation machines are housed. They used to be counted on the third floor in a room in the elections department, but Covid-19 meant election workers had to spread out more, so it was off to the basement.
Santa Cruz County has 19 different polling locations, so the ballots collection on Election Day will be brought, analyzed for correct signatures and then put through the tabulation machines.
There is little anxiety about most of the state and national races, though the race for county supervisor may have an upset or two.
“Thank you to everyone,” Pellerin said to the gathering of election workers just seconds after the polls closed at 8 p.m. “This was a historic election and we couldn’t do it without you.”
The speech was met with cheers.
“But we still have a lot of work to do,” she said.
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