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A few glitches, but election day has generally gone smoothly in California

Despite a few hiccups, California has largely breezed through election day with brisk lines, peppy poll workers and rave reviews from voters, many of whom are calling it “the best voting experience” of their lives.

“Voting is going smoothly across California,” Sam Mahood, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said early in the day. “We have been urging Californians to vote early this year, and they responded in record numbers.” A few glitches emerged later in the day, but they were isolated cases.

Indeed, more than 12.8 million Californians had already cast their votes ahead of Tuesday, including almost 3 million Angelenos — an extraordinary show of enthusiasm in an election expected to shatter voter turnout records across the country. But many still flocked to the polls on Tuesday, if only for the classic election day experience.

“I like going in there and being in that environment where I’m with other people voting — it just makes me feel very inspired,” said Mark Yoshida, who cast his ballot at the La Mirada Public Library. “I was expecting a little more chaos, just because it is election day. I was kind of hoping to see a little more drama.”

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By early afternoon, a few problems had begun to emerge. In the city of Westminster in Orange County, activists found what appeared to be a fake voting center at City Council candidate Dr. Kimberly Ho’s campaign headquarters. A campaign advisor said the campaign was collecting completed ballots. But Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said there was concern that some people had arrived with blank ballots, and that signs in English and Vietnamese may have misled some voters.

Elsewhere across the state, officials saw scattered reports of electioneering and “partisan poll watchers” intimidating voters. A woman in Sacramento County marched up and down a line of voters in Citrus Heights, trying to stoke pro-Trump chants and telling people to take off their masks. Men draped in Trump flags were spotted at a polling place in Orange County.

“We had a couple of people try to vote with Trump material on, but we negotiated with the voters, and we were able to get them to take them off or turn them inside out,” said Neal Kelley, the Orange County registrar of voters. “We did quite a bit of [poll worker] training on that — we worked on de-escalation techniques, we did role playing. I’m just not seeing those being widespread issues, which, to be honest, I was expecting a little more.”

By early afternoon, there were reports of long lines in Riverside County. Spokeswoman Brooke Federico said more electronic ballot marking machines had been sent to those locations to help speed up the process, but hours later many were still reporting lengthy waits.

“People are waiting on average between an hour and a half and two hours to cast their ballot,” said Michael Gomez Daly, executive director of Inland Empire United. “Most of the folks I spoke to in line were there because they had lost their ballots or the ballot had misspellings in their name. They were there to register and vote at the same time.”

Even those who were registered found themselves delayed by other problems, including an “antiquated” check-in process to ensure they hadn’t voted twice — something every county must do this year, but that only Riverside did by hand, said Jonathan Mehta Stein of California Common Cause.

“They are having every voter fill out a reissue form, and then they have to type the person’s full name and address into a laptop, and that enables them to confirm that voter has not voted,” he said. “Other counties have modernized technology, you walk in and your check-in process takes 15 seconds.”

Mehta Stein said between 5:30 and 6 p.m. that at least five sites in Riverside were reporting waits of more than 45 minutes.

“We have heard of some lines at Riverside voting locations, possibly caused by same-day registration being processed,” said Mahood, the state spokesman. “We’ve reached out to the county elections office to check in with their poll workers.”

But things were “still moving smoothly statewide,” he said.

Despite the relative calm at the polls, Tuesday was still a dramatic introduction to the franchise for those who had never voted before.

“I’m definitely glad this was my first time voting,” said AuDrya Clayton, 19, who voted with her mother and grandmother at St. Bernadette Catholic Church. “This is a pivotal time. Not just the president but the D.A., the propositions. It can make a significant change.”

Poll worker Brian Sonia-Wallace said the Huntington Park Public Library site where he worked saw an early morning rush on Tuesday, followed by a steady flow of voters — among them many first-time voters with birth dates after the George W. Bush-Al Gore election.

California allows same-day voter registration, so you can still cast a ballot on election day today. Here’s how.

“A lot of folks I’m checking in, this is their first election,” the poll worker said. “There’s a huge amount of folks who were born in 2000 and after.”

Such voters got a hushed welcome at the library, but at many other sites around the Southland, they were greeted with cheers and applause — and in the case of those who cast their first vote at Dodger Stadium, a serenade from the band Mariachi Ausente.

“I was watching the news this morning and they said there was a band,” said Robert Flores, 26, who drove with with his neighbor, 23-year-old Alexander Anguiano, from the city of Bell to the iconic ballpark to cast the first ballots of their young lives. “I said let’s see what’s up.”

Dominque Thomas, a first-time voter from Santa Ana, had planned to skip this election. But when the 18-year-old college sophomore stepped out of his chemistry lab class at Santa Ana College on Tuesday morning, he got a text from his mom: “Happy Tuesday. I know you are busy at school. But quick … request — please vote.”

His mother’s pleading worked.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that societal pressure” wasn’t a factor in why he voted, Thomas said. “But the main reason I voted is … to say that I at least tried to make an impact.”

Even regular voters like Crystal Frost of Mid-City said election workers made a concerted effort to welcome those who might be new to the polls. Frost said she’d heard worries about Super Tuesday-style lines, which stretched on for hours during the primary election in March. But for much of Tuesday, the average wait time to vote in L.A. County was less than 10 minutes.

“I definitely saw a lot of younger people who were working the polls — it was a very encouraging environment for first-time voters,” she said. “There were people walking around while people were voting and asking you needed anything. It was great experience.”

President Trump and Joe Biden battled into Wednesday morning with no clear winner, as major contests remained too close. Biden urged patience, while Trump called the election into question.

Poll workers got heaps of praise from other local voters, who said they were more helpful, more informed and more energized than in previous elections.

“Normally the poll workers are a bunch of old people who are just sour,” said Alan Renshaw, who voted early in Venice. “But it just seemed like everyone was really friendly this time. They did a good job of training and building the enthusiasm.”

Among those plucky young poll workers were 17-year-old Jasmine Hercules and 16-year-old Sarah Jauregui, of Bell Gardens, who said they stepped up this year to take the mantle from older, more vulnerable volunteers.

“I think it’s really important, especially in a pandemic when older people don’t really want to be out,” Jauregui said. “It’s our future, even though we can’t vote yet.”

Times staff writers Cindy Carcamo, Adam Elmahrek, Gale Holland and Julia Wick contributed to this report.


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