Major changes coming to San Jose’s upcoming elections
Advertisements like the one seen here on a shopping cart are just one of the ways Santa Clara County is increasing outreach before the March 3rd elections. Photo courtesy of the County of Santa Clara Registrar of Voters’ Office.

WASHINGTON. D.C. —  Preparations are underway across California for the upcoming March 3 primary election, which for the first time since 2008, will allow California voters to participate near the beginning of the presidential primary process.

Plus, a new law called the California Voter’s Choice Act takes effect in Santa Clara County this year. That means every voter in Santa Clara County will receive a ballot in the mail and they will be able to choose where to cast their vote in person.

The traditional model tied every voter to certain a polling place. If they didn’t go to their designated polling place, they’d have to use a provisional ballot. But that’s all changing this year.

“Any voter can go to any vote center to cast their ballot. They can even go there without the ballot in hand and have a ballot printed on demand,” said Eric Kurhi, a spokesman for the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.

Beginning on Feb. 29 until Election Day, more than 120 voting centers will open in Santa Clara County. About 25 other locations will open 10 days before the election. According to the county, nearly three-quarters of the ballots cast in the Nov. 2016 election were vote-by-mail ballot.

Santa Clara County is increasing its outreach to voters in several languages before the March 3rd elections. Photo courtesy of the County of Santa Clara Registrar of Voters’ Office.

The Santa Clara County registrar’s office is ramping up its outreach before the historic election with multi-lingual advertisements. Teenage activists with the March for Our Lives San Jose chapter are planning a voter registration drive on Saturday that will feature workshops from Californians for Justice and the gun violence team from Archbishop Mitty High School’s advocacy project.

Since 2016, 16- and 17-year-olds have been allowed to pre-register to vote. As of Oct. 2019, there are 155,954 teenagers pre-registered to vote in California, and 9,722 of them are in Santa Clara County.

“The youth group has been historically underrepresented at the polls,” said Cassidy Chang, media coordinator for March for Our Lives San Jose. “We wanna show why it’s important for teens and young adults to be able to vote and why their vote matters.”

Voter registration and turnout in Santa Clara County and California at large have reached historic highs. As of Oct. 1, there are 20,328,636 Californians registered to vote. According to the California Secretary of State’s office, that’s 80.65 percent of all eligible voters in the state, making it the highest rate of registration since 1952. According to figures from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, as of this week there are 483,989 voters registered in San Jose.

Registration data from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.

Santa Clara County had its highest turnout rate in the 2016 presidential election, with 724,596 voters participating. According to Kurhi, although there was an 86 percent turnout rate in the 2008 election, there was a higher volume of voters in 2016.

The past two presidential primary elections in California took place in June, toward the end of the nominating process. But this time around Californians will vote on Super Tuesday along with thirteen other states, including Texas. Recent polling by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 27 percent of likely voters in the state would choose Bernie Sanders, followed closely by Joe Biden with 24 percent.

“We have a much bigger operation this time around. I think in California in 2016 the campaign didn’t really turn its attention to the Golden State until much later in the primary season,” said Anna Bahr, a California spokesperson for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

Bahr says the campaign has 80 full-time staffers working across the state, three of them based in San Jose.

“I think many of the other campaigns are still operating on a first four basis which is Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada,” Bahr said. “That’s not how we’re thinking of it.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo endorsed Michael Bloomberg back in December. Since Bloomberg entered the race late in November, his team has decided not to campaign in the first four states voting in the primaries.

“Obviously our campaign has made California a priority,” said Chris Masami Myers, the California director of Michael Bloomberg’s campaign.

The Bloomberg campaign says it’s working on hiring a total of 300 staffers to work in the state, 200 of those will be field organizers.

“We’re running the biggest presidential primary operation here in California history,” said Myers.

Another stand out issue to consider: 32 percent of Santa Clara County registered voters are registered as no party preference, making ours the county with the highest percentage of NPP voters in the state.

If no party preference voters want to participate in the primaries, they must request a ballot that features Democratic, Libertarian and American Independent candidates. No party preference voters must change their political party affiliation if they want to vote for Republican, Green party or Peace and Freedom candidates.

Voters can alter their registration all the way up through Election Day. For more information about registering to vote, please contact the county registrar’s office. The deadline to register to vote is Feb.18, although  in California, eligible residents are permitted to register on Election Day and cast a provisional ballot.

Contact Elizabeth Mendez at elizabeth.ambriz@gmail.com or follow @izziemae on Twitter.

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