Something in which I have taken great personal pride over the years is never having failed to vote in any election of any kind in my community. I know I am not alone. I’m sure there are many others who feel as I do: Voting is a civic obligation not to be taken lightly.
Come November 8, I will be casting a ballot in my 16th presidential election, in addition to voting on every other office and each of the 17 propositions. I no longer visit a polling place, having opted several years ago for an absentee ballot on which I am now labeled “permanent mail voter.” My first presidential election? That was in 1956 – 60 years ago! I had missed by two months being old enough to vote in the 1952 election, as I did not turn 21 until January 1953 (today, the voting age is 18).
In that ’56 election, I voted for Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate and former governor of Illinois, running for the second time against the popular Republican incumbent, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Stevenson that second time around had about as much chance of winning as the sun has of rising in the west. But both political parties must nominate a candidate, and we go through the process every four years.
As a young reporter with the Daily Times-Advocate in 1956 (I had been with the paper four years)¸ I was given the opportunity to cover a Stevenson campaign speech in San Diego. I really don’t remember anything about the talk, except that it was the only time in my 40 years in the newspaper profession covering a speech by a U.S. presidential candidate.
As the Times-Advocate’s city news reporter in those early days, another of my responsibilities was to report on the outcome of local city council and school board elections and school bond issues. During such elections, we arranged for the inspectors of each of the local voting precincts to telephone the T-A with results of the balloting. In those days, the ballots were counted by hand at each precinct before they were sent to the county registrar of voters; unlike today when ballots are boxed as soon as the polls close and taken to a drop-off point in town for transport to San Diego.
Those election nights frequently were all-night work sessions for me. For some reason, many of the precinct workers didn’t finish their count until well after midnight, even though the polls at that time closed at 7 p.m. (poll workers had to account for every ballot used, necessitating double-checks). I often would visit some of the precincts in those early a.m. hours to check on the count. My work wasn’t finished until all the vote count was received and I had written my story for the next day’s edition, which usually had me leaving the office about 7 a.m. the morning after the election.
That leads me into some notes about voting. You are eligible to vote if you are a U.S. citizen living in California, you are at least 18 years old, registered where you currently live and are not in prison or on parole for a felony. As a voter, you have certain rights, some of which you may be unaware. Let me share them with you. This is the Voter Bill of Rights (which applies to any election) as it appears in the Official Voter Information Guide. You have the following rights:
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To vote if you are a registered voter even if your name is not on the list. You will vote using a provisional ballot. Your vote will be counted if election officials (not the precinct workers) determine that you are eligible to vote.
To vote if you are still in line when the polls close.
To cast a secret ballot without anyone bothering you or telling you how to vote.
To get a new ballot if you have made a mistake, if you have not already cast your ballot. You can ask a precinct worker at your polling place for a new ballot; exchange your vote-by-mail ballot for a new one at an elections office or your polling place; or vote using a provisional ballot if you do not have your original vote-by-mail ballot.
To get help casting your ballot from anyone you choose, except from your employer or union representative.
To deliver your completed vote-by-mail ballot to any polling place in the county where you are a registered voter.
To get election materials in a language other than English if enough people in your voting precinct speak that language.
To ask questions of election officials about election procedures and to watch the election process. If the person you ask cannot answer your questions, they must send you to a person who can. If you are disruptive, they can stop answering you.
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I served as the inspector on precinct boards here in Escondido for several elections some 15 years ago. It is an experience everyone should undergo. The registrar of voters is always looking for poll workers. I am familiar with the voters’ bill of rights, and it brings to mind two incidents with voters that I recall, both of which occurred at the precinct poll at Conway School: help in casting a ballot and questions about election procedures.
During the special election in 2003 on whether to recall Governor Gray Davis, a Latino gentleman indicated he needed help in casting his ballot. He was unable to speak very well in English, but he kept pointing to the ballot and saying, “Davis, Davis.” I showed him how to mark the ballot; that was all he wanted; to vote for the governor (who was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger).
In the other incident (during another election), a gentleman said he did not live in the Conway School precinct, but he lived in Escondido. It was explained to him that he could vote a provisional ballot. As the inspector, I told him to return the folded ballot to me after voting rather than inserting the ballot in the ballot box. When he finished, he asked why he couldn’t put the ballot in the box. He said he wanted assurance that his vote would be counted.
I began to explain that, because he did not live in our precinct, he could still vote, but it was what was called a “provisional ballot,” and his eligibility would be determined by the county registrar of voters. That was the reason for placing his ballot in a special envelope, on which I would print his name, before putting the envelope in the ballot box. He apparently wasn’t willing to accept this explanation, and kept insisting that he wanted his vote counted. He began to get belligerent, but I was finally able to convince him that there was no intent to deceive him. Things did get testy for a while.
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Ever wondered who represents Escondido and its residents in the state and federal governments? More people are familiar with their federal representatives than those in state government, perhaps because of media publicity. I thought I might pass along the names of those political representatives and the political districts in which Escondido is located.
Marie Waldron of Escondido, a former member of the Escondido City Council, represents the state’s 75th Assembly District; Joel Anderson of El Cajon represents the state’s 38th Senate District; Duncan Hunter of Alpine represents the 50th Congressional District; and Diane Feinstein of San Francisco and Barbara Boxer, formerly of Marin County, but whose residence now is in the Coachella Valley of Southern California, are the two U.S. senators.
Waldron, Anderson and Hunter are Republicans; Feinstein and Boxer are Democrats.
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Ron Kenney was a reporter and editor for the former Daily Times- Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the editorial pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.