A crowd of people gathered around a podium at a news conference
County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz (left) encourage East San Jose residents to vote. They also want more voting centers on the east side. Photo by Brandon Pho.

East San Jose leaders say their neighborhoods face a shortage of voting locations for the March 5 primary election — a problem worsened by language and transportation barriers.

There are almost twice as many places to cast your vote in San Jose’s Council District 5, which has no local race, than in District 8 where there’s a seat up for election. County election workers say it’s too late to add more voting centers for the primary, but will account for the feedback in November.

San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz, who represents District 5, is pointing out two particular voids in the Mayfair and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods.

“I think it’s silencing the community. It’s not giving the community a voice and then we get elected representatives who don’t have our best interests at hand,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who represents East San Jose, spoke alongside Ortiz and others at a Thursday rally to increase voter turnout in the area, where groups including Gardner Health Services and Community Health Partnership launched their participation in a statewide campaign where doctors encourage their patients and families to vote.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Chavez asked officials to take a different approach with how they’re placing voting centers.

“The main concern about the east side of San Jose is that it has the highest level of people who are transit dependent, so having access is critical,” Chavez told San José Spotlight.

She added that constituents who contacted her office had specific areas in mind to add ballot drop boxes, and that she connected them directly with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters. The registrar handles elections for the county.

Map of San Jose
District 8 (shaded in teal) which has a San Jose City Council seat up for grabs  has fewer voting centers than District 5 (shaded in purple). The green pins are voting centers. The yellow pins are ballot drop boxes. Map courtesy of Google MyMaps and created by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Matt Moreles, assistant registrar, said his office has exceeded the number of vote centers and ballot drop boxes than required by state law, across the entire county. For the primary, 104 vote centers will be open on Election Day, with some open 11 days leading up to March 5. The state requires 103 centers based on the county’s voter registration numbers. The county also set up 102 ballot drop boxes, while the state requires 70.

“We do our best to ensure an equitable distribution of vote centers throughout the county and do take into account a lot of things like population density, proximity to neighborhoods with historically lower turnout, as well as transportation routes,” Moreles told San José Spotlight.

Moreles said there are several considerations — and challenges — elections officials have to weigh on where to put a vote center, such as capacity to hold electronic equipment, minimum parking spaces and ease of transporting the equipment after Election Day.

“It’s a significant time investment and these are, for the most part, community facilities that the county doesn’t own — we’re partnering with other facilities,” Moreles told San José Spotlight. “We may want to put a center in a particular location, but just can’t find one that’s willing to work with us in that exact area.”

Drop boxes, however, are not as resource-draining.

“It’s easier for us to go beyond the minimum requirement for drop boxes,” Moreles said.

But he said the window has closed for any changes to voting options in the primary.

“It’s not logistically feasible to realistically add additional ones for the current election but are definitely open to feedback and have not finalized the list for the November election and are certainly eager to get public input,” Moreles said.

Welch Park resident Rosa Muniz said in past elections, people could walk to cast their votes at places such as Overfelt High School or Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church. For this election, she said residents in the neighborhood will have to travel more than a mile to vote somewhere else.

“This is disappointing and will have an effect on civic participation amongst east side residents in the Welch Park neighborhood, Meadowfair and the Tully-Ocala-King neighborhood,” she said.

Ortiz said East San Jose — an area with some of Santa Clara County’s highest rates of poverty and overcrowding — has been neglected for years. He said the area’s many woes, including issues like parking, are often ignored.

“We need to be doing everything we can to make it easier for this community — especially our immigrant families who may not be as involved in civic life as much as other communities,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight.

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected]m or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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