Early voter turnout in Santa Clara County breaks records
Voters at Levi's Stadium have the option of voting electronically or on paper ballots. Levi's Stadium was one of 100 vote centers to open in Santa Clara County on Oct. 31. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert..

More than half of the registered voters in Santa Clara County have already cast a ballot, shattering records and surpassing national and statewide early voter turnout rates.

According to data from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters (ROV), 53% of eligible registered voters countywide voted early, surpassing those in the state (41.9%) and nation (35.5%). On Oct. 31, nearly 5,000 voters turned out during the first three hours of in-person voting.

As of Oct. 31, 540,000 ballots were received by the Registrar of Voters, more than double the number from 2016.

“What we’re seeing are early unprecedented voting rates,” said Rachel Massaro, director of the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies at Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

About 71% of the total ballots received in the 2016 election have already been cast countywide. The high number of early voters can be attributed to people being more civically engaged following Trump’s presidency and the rise of issues of racial and ethnic equality, Massaro said.

“In this election, there’s so much more on the ballot than just the candidates, like racial and ethnic equality issues,” Massaro told San Jose Spotlight. “People want to make sure their voices are heard.”

A record high of more than one million people registered to vote in Santa Clara County this year, which is 83% of the total 1,204,687 eligible voters countywide according to the ROV.

Massaro said the jump of more than 200,000 eligible voters is incredible.

“We haven’t seen a jump like that between two presidential elections ever,” she said.

This year, the ROV used social media to urge people to vote safely from home, said Registrar of Voters spokesperson Ryan Aralar.

“This year is very different because of COVID-19,” Aralar said. “We hope people will get their ballots in early.”

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez kicked off the opening of the vote center at Levi’s Stadium on Oct. 31. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Every registered voter in Santa Clara County received a ballot in the mail and in-person voting was allowed at any vote center countywide to comply with the Voter’s Choice Act. The county opened 100 vote centers Oct. 31 for in-person voting, including Levi’s Stadium which will be a vote center for the first time.

“You can go to any vote center in the county and they’ll have a ballot customized for you if you don’t have your ballot,” said Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez, who kicked off the opening at Levi’s Stadium Oct. 31. “At the same time, you can register and vote. It couldn’t be any easier.”

Chavez was joined by a steady stream of voters, including April Trevena who said she felt it was her civic duty to make her voice heard. Without any lines, Trevena and her husband, James, walked right in and voted after being checked in electronically through a closed circuit iPad.

Trevena said since women had their voices suppressed for years, they are suppressing themselves if they don’t take the opportunity to vote.

“Women went out and fought for our right to vote,” Trevena said. “If you don’t vote, you’re nullifying their marches, commitment and sacrifices. They sacrificed a lot for us to have this right to vote… and the freedoms we have.”

Voter April Trevena was among the first at the Levi’s Stadium vote center. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Massaro said those who have traditionally cast their ballots in person will do so this year despite the pandemic. She said this, as well as peoples’ distrust of mailing in ballots could increase the number of in-person voters.

“Some voters will want to vote in-person due to fear,” she said, “because of all the talk out there trying to scare people out of voting by mail without any substantial evidence of vote-by-mail fraud.”

About 53% of the early ballots were from registered Democrats and 43% from registered Republicans in Santa Clara County.

The states with the greatest number of early voter turnouts include California, Florida and Texas. In Texas, about 8 million people have already voted, Massaro said, which represents 80% of the total 2016 ballots.

Nationwide, voters have already returned 73 million ballots, which is 31 percent of the eligible voting population. About 650,000 Silicon Valley voters have returned their ballots, which represents 2/3 of the ballots cast in 2016.

Lines form

State law permits voters to cast their ballots on Election Day or up to 29 days before Election Day by mail or in-person. But even so, some areas have more ballot drop boxes and vote centers than others. Long lines have formed at polling stations in Maryland, New York, Ohio and Virginia. In Georgia, people stood in line for up to 12 hours.

The number of ballot drop boxes and vote centers are based on population. For every 10,000 people registered in Santa Clara County, there should be a vote center or drop box, Aralar said.

To find a vote center of ballot drop box near you, check our voter guide.

San José Spotlight is a local partner with ProPublica’s Electionland collaboration.

Safety precautions

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department recommends the public take COVID-19 safety precautions while voting such as social distancing, wearing face masks and using hand sanitizer.

Vote centers have been re-designed with one-way routes and social distancing between voting booths and machines. Health guideline posters will be on display and protective materials such as disposable masks, gloves and self-serve hand sanitizer will be provided. Poll workers will wear face shields or disposable masks as well as disposable gloves and use disinfectant sprays.

Machines and other equipment will be sanitized after each use, officials said. In addition, curbside voting will be available for voters who cannot leave their vehicles.

Officials are urging everyone to make their voices heard.

“People have marched and fought and died for the right to vote,” said Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey. “If you don’t vote, you’re letting other people make your decisions for you.”

Chavez said people should now understand how important their votes are because they’ve seen what’s possible on a state and local level.

“Income inequality, racial inequity, climate change; the number of issues that matter from the top of the ballot to the bottom are deeply held and felt by many Americans,” Chavez said.

Vote centers will be open Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Nov. 3 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ballots must be placed in drop boxes by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 or postmarked by Nov. 3 to be counted. This year, officials will accept ballots up to 17 days after Election Day as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 3.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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