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Excitement still in air as voting slows midday

on November 4, 2008


Nov. 4 — It seemed more like a sporting event than Election Day to Lewis McCutcheon, who had a front row seat as voters flocked to the Church of the Good Shepherd Baptist. McCutcheon, who works at the Children’s Hospital and Research Center valet parking lot that abuts the church on 52nd and West Street, said this morning’s crowd was clapping as they came out of the polling place.

“It’s almost like a game or something you know?” he said. “People were cheering. If it’s McCain or Obama or whoever, they’ve been really enthusiastic. They just want some change.”

Though McCutcheon said he spent most of his morning turning people away from the parking lot, which is reserved for the hospital, he said he had a chance to chat with a few voters on the way to the polls. He said he met a 76-year-old woman who asked her daughter to bring her to the poll to vote. “Everyone wants to be a part of this, for real,” he said.

Voters line up early this morning outside St. Augustine Catholic Church.

Around the corner, Leslie Arnold and her daughter, Eliza, held up “No on Prop 8” signs, a last-ditch effort to get out their message against the proposition that would rescind California’s approval of gay marriage.

“We’re both straight – I’ve been married for 22 years,” Leslie Arnold said. “I think it’s a religious rights issue. It’s about treating people equally.”

The mother-daughter team commuted from San Francisco to Oakland for the day and were originally assigned to Piedmont Avenue, they said, but they decided to move further west to find more foot traffic.

“We heard that the African American community was mostly ‘yes’ on Prop 8, but coming out here, 95 percent are ‘no’ on 8,” Leslie Arnold said. “They honk, they say yes they’re voting ‘no’ on 8.”

By noon, voters at the church walked into the polling station without waiting in line. Poll worker Kenneth Smith, who had been at the church since 7 a.m., estimated that more than 700 residents had cast their votes. Most of the action was in the morning, poll workers said.

The count was far less at Oakland Technical High School, according poll worker Tom Weston. Of the 600 voters in precinct, 139 cast their votes in person this morning. He attributed the sparse turnout to the fact that nearly half of all residents had requested to vote by mail. 

At other polling places in Temescal, workers likewise saw turnout slow to a trickle at noon after a busy morning. They anticipate it would pick up again by 4 p.m.

At the bifurcated line waiting to vote at the St. Columba Catholic Church this morning, both arteries trailed out the exit doors, a fifteen-minute wait. A few chatted quietly, but most stood hushed inside at 7 a.m., waiting to take their turn.

It was an orderly start to an election day morning that follows unprecedented voter turnout–even before the polls opened today. At the Alameda County Registrar’s office, for example, spokesman Guy Ashley said that when he came to work Monday, he saw a stretch of about 100 early voters circling the building, waiting to cast their vote. Reaching the head of the line to cast a ballot Monday took an hour, Ashley said. It was barely 8 a.m, and the lines had been continuous all week.

“Usually we see this in the last two days,” Ashley said. “We’ve never seen a week of it like we did this year.”

This election comes after a February primary in which high voter turnout caused a countywide ballot shortage, with several polling places remaining open later, largely because they had run out of provisional and Democratic ballots. A superior court judge advised the office to take the unusual action to keep polling places open until all waiting to vote had cast their ballots, the Alameda Times-Star reported. Most polls closed by 9 p.m.

Special preparations were made for this Election Day, Ashley said. The county has added 31 more polling places, for a total of 831, and 750 extra poll workers this year for a total nearing 4,000. In other years, Macdonald said, he would ordinarily put the word out about needing volunteers. Not this year, though. So many asked to help out that each polling place will be staffed with five workers instead of the traditional four.

Alameda County Registrar of Voters Dave Macdonald has predicted in news reports that 85 percent of registered voters will turn out to vote—nearly ten percent more than in 2004.

Many will also have already voted before Tuesday by mail, Ashley said, and that also should reduce stress at the polling places. Of those registered to vote, 46 percent, or 370,000, opted to send in their ballots. Ashley said he expects more than half of the turnout for the election will be vote-by-mail.

Significant numbers will still be coming in at 8 p.m. on Election Day, he said. With many absentee ballots yet to be counted — often people come by the office to drop them off — the final tally won’t be known until next week.

At St. Columba, volunteer Lester Meredith said he wasn’t just helping direct folks to their respective sides of the room. “I was here early, so I’m helping people find their name and address,” he said, pointing to a list pointed outside one of the main doors. “It’s hard to read because it’s not in alphabetical order.”

An African American and an Obama supporter, Meredith laughed with a woman who joked with him that she didn’t need him to tell her anything. She knew what side she was on already, she told him–“the Democratic side.”

“You’re on Obama’s side,” he said after breaking out into a wide grin.

But Meredith said he wasn’t ready to celebrate yet.

“The big word is ‘if,’ he said. “If Obama gets elected.”

The same quiet at St. Columba was present from 8 a.m. at Humanity Missionary Baptist Church, where voters said they barely waited a minute. Once in a while, the silence was a silence broken up by cheerful chatter between neighbors who hadn’t run into one another in a long time, including one parent who reconnected with a retired school principal. Vanita Colding introduced her grown son, now old enough to vote, to five friends at the church’s steps.

“All my friends are coming out to vote today,” Colding said. “I have a lot of nephews who are 18 and 19 who had never voted and my son made sure that they were all registered to vote and so they all voted today.”

Colding, who is also African-American and an Obama supporter, said she was feeling both excited and nervous. She said her son’s grandmother sent an e-mail to her yesterday that featured the music of Sam Cooke and a slideshow.

“Things flashed across the screen and brought back memories,” she said. “1968 was the year Martin Luther King was killed actually. I was seven years old and I remember the day my mom started crying out. It took me back to that time. You know, things have changed, but some people haven’t changed.”

David Barry, 16, also accompanied his mother to vote, though his age prevented him from participating in this election.

“There are a lot of big decisions being made – you got people standing in the rain on proposition eight,” he said. “You got people who’ve got what they really care about on the line.”||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

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