East Bay voters took to the polls Tuesday to decide races that will affect their community and their checkbooks, affirming one of the best customs of Western democracy while avoiding the snafus that have come to plague modern-day elections.
The Asian Law Caucus, a San Francisco group that monitored poll sites throughout Northern California, reported some problems in Alameda County, including a nearly one-hour delay in the opening of a polling place in the city of Alameda.
Some county volunteers were unable to access a few voting locations, said Dave Macdonald, the Alameda County Registrar. In those cases, volunteers improvised and set up voting booths outside the regular polling place,
"We have almost 800 polling places and 4,500 volunteers countywide, so there's always going to be something," he said. "That's why we have paper ballots; it didn't really slow the process down."
Federal observers from the Department of Justice were watching and recording activities in at least nine county voting precincts, joining the Asian Law Caucus' volunteers in monitoring more than 50 sites in Oakland Chinatown, East Oakland, Hayward, Union City and Fremont.
Alameda County is now required under the Voting Rights Act to provide language assistance to Latino, Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino voters, and had pledged to do a better job staffing bilingual poll
Kristen Sajonas monitored three South Hayward polling places on Tuesday morning for Union City-based Filipino Advocates for Justice and said one, a seniors-only mobile home park, still hadn't taken the alternate language ballots out of the box when she arrived late in the morning.
"They're supposed to display all the languages they have available," Sajonas said. "We told them that and they took them out."
Other than that, Sajonas said the poll workers she observed were more aware of voting rights requirements and less resistant to election monitoring than in 2010, when one Fremont poll worker questioned the legality of her being there.
"They're more accommodating and understanding this year," she said.
As of Election Day, the county had received about 100,000 ballots from those who voted by mail, little more than one-fourth of the 380,000 ballots mailed to voters this spring, county officials said.
Officials said they expected voter turnout to be less than 40 percent, close to the predicted 35 percent statewide turnout. That would be significantly lower than the 61 percent who voted countywide in the last state presidential primary in February 2008.
That hotly contested presidential primary pitted Hillary Clinton against eventual winner Barack Obama, Macdonald said.
Turnout was not a problem in Berkeley's Francis Albrier Community Center at San Pablo Park, which was busy with voters streaming in before noon Tuesday.
Poll worker L.C. Stephens said many voters come to get the red, white and blue "I Voted" stickers even if they already voted by mail.
"It's something about this little sticker that lets other people know that I participated in the democratic process of the United States," Stephens said. "The sticker is what they're after and it's one of those things people seem to love."
Donna Graves of Berkeley said she was motivated by Proposition 29, the state ballot measure that adds $1 to each pack of cigarettes to fund cancer research.
"There's an argument that the money should go to the state's general fund, but I think it's appropriate the money go to solve that particular problem," Graves said. "My mother died of lung cancer."
East Oakland resident Gina Austin echoed the sentiment, saying she voted partly to support Proposition 29 because several of her relatives had died from cancer. "I'm here to do my piece, to make my stand," Austin said. "We need the help."
In Walnut Creek, Charlotte Darius -- who's been volunteering to help run the city's voting for five years -- said turnout at the polling place at Bancroft Elementary School was pretty average.
However, some voters complained of being confused by recent redistricting and consolidation of polling places.
"Hopefully, we can get some energy back in the next election," said Marsha Schwartz, a Walnut Creek resident. "People are just feeling down this time around; they're not enthused about it."
Staff writer Sean Maher contributed to this report.