On election Tuesday in November, the County Registrar becomes the single largest employer in San Diego County for that day. That and a myriad of other election insights were offered by County Registrar Michael Vu at a recent Zoom meeting sponsored by the San Diego Taxpayers Association and moderated by SDTA president/CEO Haney Hong.
With the Nov. 3 General Election less than a month out, Vu presented on this one-of-a-kind election, before answering questions about election-process fundamentals. He said there will be numerous changes this year due to COVID.
“The pandemic has shifted the entire model for us at the Registrar of Voters,” said Vu. “We are sending a mail ballot to every single one of the approximately 1.9 million registered voters, and nearly 2 million sample ballots, which is a significant milestone. This is a really important election. We anticipate we’ll need 4,500 seasonal staff members including 1,200 seasonal poll workers to assist our 65 permanent employees.”
The election process has already begun.
“We actually have already started getting ballots back from people in the military and overseas,” Vu said adding, “Now is the time to get prepared and make sure all our ducks are in a row in terms of updating residents correct mailing addresses.”
Organizing and running a presidential election process is staggeringly complex.
“We have about 196 election contests and 37 local measures on the County ballot with lots of jurisdictions overlapping including City Council, Congressional, State Assembly and Senate, community college, high school, and healthcare districts,” noted Vu. “We have 842 ballot types with 4,210 variations on the ballot that have to go out in five federally covered languages.”
Turnout for presidential elections every four years is typically high.
“A presidential election is the largest in the four-year cycle,” said Vu. “The highest percentage turnout was in 2008 with 84%. In the 2016 election, we had 81.5%. We have been preparing for this for years. And then the pandemic happened.”
New health protocols including required social distancing have significantly altered the in-person voting equation, noted Vu.
“In the past, we’ve had 1,549 voting precincts and 69% of those were reporting to private facilities: garages, pet grooming stores, pizza parlors, funeral homes,” he said. Vu added his office wanted to avoid a “level of uncertainty” this time around in terms of the potential for a private entity denying access at the last minute to a polling station due to the pandemic.
“We had to really think, ‘How are we going to be able to facilitate this election?” asked Vu. “And we couldn’t use a lot of the smaller spaces, like a person’s garage, because it’s just too small to facilitate any level of social distancing when you know there’s going to be a surge of voters.”
Regarding mail-in ballots, Vu said San Diego was already ahead of the game. “Seventy-eight percent of our electorate are already permanent mail-ballot voters,” he said. “That means we still had to provide for the other 22% who go to the polls. And when you talk about 22 percent of 1.9 million registered voters, that’s still a big number, upwards of 400,000.”
So how the Registrar solved that problem this year was to shrink the number of polling places.
“We now have fewer polling places condensing them down to 235 super polling locations for a longer four-day period,” said Vu. “Those are are much larger in size, and more of them are in public facilities.”
Vu is confident that the U.S. Postal Sevice can handle the extra load for the upcoming deluge of mail-in ballots that are coming. He concluded, “The bottom line is people should have confidence in the elections system, and it’s our job at the Registrar to demystify the election process and dispel uncertainty and misinformation.”