Voting snarls trouble Belle Haven | November 14, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - November 14, 2012

Voting snarls trouble Belle Haven

by Sandy Brundage

Thousands voted in Menlo Park on Nov. 6. But not without facing crowds and confusing directions that left some Belle Haven voters heading home without casting a ballot.

The Boys & Girls Club served as a voting station for residents from precincts 4403 and 4404, according to observers. Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson, out in Belle Haven encouraging people to vote, was troubled enough by what she saw while at the polling station from about 4:30 to 6:10 p.m. to file complaints with both San Mateo County and the California Secretary of State.

"There were long lines like many places, but the level of disorganization really exacerbated the situation," Ms. Fergusson said. "In the line outside the building, there was no way for people to know there was a shorter line inside for the 4403 precinct. People arriving with completed ballots had no way of knowing they could drop them off inside without waiting in line. Instead of helping people determine their precinct, a poll worker, when he did briefly come outside, scorned people for not knowing their precinct number.

"Worse, there were two disabled people that clearly could not stand in line, but were not being accommodated."

Ms. Fergusson said she approached the chief poll worker, only to be told, "This is normal."

"In addition, I personally found it confusing that there were only two voting lists outside the building to look up which voters had voted — for 4403 and 4404. However, the 4404 list seemed to contain the 4405 voters. Why wasn't there a separate list for each precinct?"

Belle Haven resident Eva Cuffy agreed, saying that set off "a long tedious process of finding one's address off of two different precinct lists by street name, then number. Many committed voters went home rather than stay in the long line."

Ms. Cuffy described a scene of chaos. Volunteers arriving to assist voters were thrown out of the building, she said. "I personally saw them disrespected for the service they were trying to supply. The voter manager was ill equipped to deal with two precincts. He didn't even know the boundaries of the precincts."

But the scene looked different from the county's perspective. Deputy Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder David Tom was on the scene during the early afternoon. When asked about reports that voters were sent away from the Boys & Girls Club to a station on the other side of U.S. 101, he said he didn't witness any of that, and the confusion may have stemmed from inexperienced voters going to the wrong precinct. "The poll workers are very knowledgeable; they live in their neighborhood, know their precinct and who should be voting in their precinct."

He thought the longest wait was about half an hour. "Belle Haven was busy, certainly, but not busier than other places."

As for disabled voters, Mr. Tom said voter machines designed for their easy use were available, but not set aside the way handicapped parking spots are. "So that may be an issue ... to tell you the truth this is the first time we've ever heard of this; we may need to revise the policy."

Most counties report only four to five voters using the handicapped-accessible machine, according to Mr. Tom, as many disabled citizens prefer to vote by mail.

By 6:50 p.m. on election night, according to the county's records, field technicians were on site in Belle Haven and reported "things are moving smoothly."


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