Registration Confusion at Polls Disheartens Student Voters
Thursday, November 4, 2010
When UC Berkeley sophomore Karl Soelter went to the polls Tuesday expecting to cast a ballot for the first time in his life, he was told that nobody at his address was registered to vote.
Soelter's predicament was not unique, as several students who registered to vote on campus reported that they either never received a vote-by-mail ballot or were not recorded as registered voters at their polling place.
However, all students whose names were not found on the roster indexes were still able to submit provisional ballots, a move strongly encouraged by campus organizations that work to register students. Therefore, if his registration went through, Soelter's provisional ballot was most likely included in the statewide ballot count.
"If I had know if it was a problem, I would have just registered online," he said. "I still don't even know if I'm registered."
ASUC Vote Coalition Director Jeremy Pilaar said he wasn't certain how many of the 5,076 individuals who registered on campus were not listed on the roster indexes, but he mentioned that while tabling on Upper Sproul Plaza Tuesday, roughly two to three peers an hour approached him with complaints that they had not received their vote-by-mail ballots in time.
The exact number of provisional ballots cast is not available yet, according to Dave Macdonald, registrar of voters for Alameda County, though he said Alameda County had a "heavier volume" of provisional and vote-by-mail ballots in Tuesday's election than in past years.
Courtney McDonald, the co-coordinator of CalPIRG's New Voters Project and a CalSERVE ASUC senator, said she did not receive her vote-by-mail ballot in time for the election even though she had registered by Sept. 21, well before the Oct. 18 deadline.
However, despite criticism, Macdonald defended the county registrar office and said that often in large registration drives, organizations do not turn forms in to the county right away. He added that the office must process "thousands upon thousands of registrations" to be included in roster indexes.
District 7 Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he visited nine precincts in his district on election night and that he ran into three students who were not able to vote because their names did not appear on the roster indexes.
He blamed the problem on the county, which he said has failed to input voter registration data accurately in the past, resulting in lawsuits.
"We've got to demand that they fix this and end the confusion and unfairness to new registered voters," Worthington said. "Whether you registered on the last day or the last week, your vote is as important as someone who's been registered for the last 60 years."
Pilaar said that budget cuts to the county registrar's office may have slowed vote-by-mail ballots from getting sent out in time. However, he said that on campus, student groups did a "fantastic" job to make sure that every registration card was filled out accurately and submitted to the county by the deadline.
Regardless of his assurance, the registration mix-up did damper the excitement of election day for some student voters, even if they were able to cast provisional ballots.
"Since it was my first time voting, I was pretty excited about it," Soelter said. "And then I wasn't registered for it even though it was a supposedly well-run student organization that registered me."
Contact Victoria Pardini at [email protected]
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