• Ballot Box Ballet at Pacific Grove City Hall

    Monday morning a citizen named Tom came to Cedar Street Times to tell us the ballot box at Pacific Grove City Hall was so full he could not get his ballot into the box. He went on to say that the many people trying to vote there could not.
    This reporter has actually been to places in this fine country that, through District gerrymandering and genuine racial intimidation have changed the way the actual ballots are utilized toward the count. Or, stifled with modern day racial gauntlets, thwarting the vote entirely in others.  Texas and Florida are common places for this sort of thing, still. Many other states share similar circumstances. But what I found right here in Pacific Grove was surprising, indeed. 
    I left the CST going upstairs through the museum, across the street to Pacific Grove City Hall. I arrived at the entrance to City Hall and looked for direction to the ballot box. There were none. In fact there were zero directional signs outside or inside.  The main hallway on the first floor is fairly short in length, so I found the ballot box after just a few tries. I carefully examined it in order to determine its condition without touching it.
    This moment is when I realized I should not touch it and when the importance this ballot box and the human sacrifice to ensure its wellbeing. The sacred nature of the American vote, and the privilege to do so, enveloped me with pride and concerned me to the very marrow of my existence. There are countless dead bodies on the road to this greatest American institution. I was going to honor them. I knew that this process at this place, Pacific Grove City Hall had absolutely broken down. I knew I was standing there alone. So there I was alone in the Pacific Grove City Hall, with just my personal integrity and patriotism, when the torrent of voters arrived one after another to deliver their early ballots. Sometimes four and five deep. Without exception they were each and every one upset and confused and disappointed, with bent and damaged ballots. Wave after wave relentlessly intense Americans trying to do their duty. The older most mature voter seemed particularly disappointed. With well more than a few sternly expressing this to me for publication in this paper. There were no instructions what to do. Only an excuse.
    A voter had discarded a city guide to polling places. On it was information about early ballot delivery. The nearest collection point was the library in Monterey. More and more of people commanded my attention. I was in a carnival of horrors. Now every single voter was physically wrestling with the ballot box. Old and young alike sought resolution by force. I broke away enough to gather my thoughts and call my editor. I conveyed my concern that what looked was happening was tampering with the ballot box, manhandling it; anyway.
    Many people had already called the election department, thank you. They received the same response that both the City Clerks did and I did as well. Essentially, let’s see what happens.  I became less sure that a solution was at hand. By this point I had called the Elections Department twice. I called again and was very literal. I pointed out that on behalf of the newspaper Cedar Street Times I was asking formal, actual questions that were to be answered: now. The main question was, exactly when was this situation going to be resolved? I was moved up the chain of authority until I spoke with a person who could affect change. She did. They were on their way. From where I asked? They did not know, probably another box somewhere. “After all there are more than 14 that are scheduled for pick up today.” Frustrated with some of the more aggressive behavior and anger from these normal people in an abnormal and frustrating situation, I called Police Chief Christey to report or not report the dysfunctional ballot box and high tension amongst the locals. I called my editor to see if she could find out if they were jammed up at any of the other ballot boxes. With remarkable speed Marge Ann did so. It was smooth sailing everywhere else. While wave after wave of frustrated citizen came and went I called the Elections Department for the fifth time and spoke with the helpful honcho and suggested to her that, since all the other ballot boxes were ok, she should expedite her crew here, now. I could hear the sense of relief in this stranger’s voice as she told me “that is right. They are the way and will be there any time now.” In fairness our heroic ballot box recovery team arrived less than an hour and a half after my first call to them. Under these circumstances, that’s pretty good. 

    We weren’t out of the woods yet. There is no way to know if the many people who left without delivering their vote went on to do so elsewhere. I had been doing the best I could to explain their options. Mail it, go to the Library in Monterey, City Hall in Carmel, etc. 
    As it unfolded during the close to three hours I spent by the ballot box, only one City Official waded into see what was going on. One of the first things said to a frustrated citizen by this City Official was “this happens all the time.”
    I spoke with more than 50 people about this situation while I was there. I repeatedly heard that, this phenomena was recurring. Pacific Grove, after all, has one of the highest percentages of early voters of any place in the county. Recurring is just plain not good enough to this reporter and resident. 
    An elegant calmness covered the hallway when the crew arrived and handled the situation with intense professional confidence. It was reassuring to all there to see the voting system work again. Within five minutes of arrival the crew was receiving ballots officially. 
    By the time the day was done I had been formally invited to go and watch the Election Department do the actual counting of the ballots on Tuesday. I accepted the invitation, I went; and it was mind-blowing. Full transparency and security in this cyber world. This is an amazing place at the heart and soul of our beloved democracy. Well worth a visit, or support. While there in the Monterey County Elections building I met Mr. Claudio Valenzuela, the Registrar of Voters. A charismatic and clearly highly intelligent professional. I felt the inherent warmth and strength of a genuine everyday patriot. Mr. Valenzuela and I have agreed to meet next week to discuss the resolution of the consistently overwhelmed ballot box in the Pacific Grove City Hall.
    In closing, it seems there is often an apology due after I write most things. This time I’ll let you the reader decide. As the crew arrived to straighten things out, I naturally; politely and professionally asked more than a few questions in my caricaturist laid back, easy going way. Out of the blue a well-meaning though clearly naïve City Official gleaned the best condescending voice available and told me “You are not allowed to ask them any questions. You shouldn’t talk with them.” I responded swiftly and firmly. “According to the Constitution of the United States of America, as an American; I enjoy free speech. Furthermore as a journalist with a free press right across the street, I am going to continue now.” It looked like this all grown up City Official was starting to cry.
    I apologize to that person for not being more patient. I also apologize for hurting their feelings.
    Otherwise I am quite happy how this is turning out.
    I have to ask why has it taken years for this situation to be resolved?
    Your local Fourth Estate got it handled in an afternoon.
    *UPDATE*
    Monterey County Elections is in the official 30-day election canvass period. The canvass is required by law to conduct a full accounting and tabulation of all ballots cast in the election. The ballots cast include provisional ballots and vote-by-mail ballots delivered on Election Day or received within the three days after the election.
    As of Thursday, June 7, approximately 29,000 ballots are left to process, countywide. 
    The number of ballots left to process is greater than the number of ballots processed in the early voting period. According to Claudio Valenzuela, Registrar of Voters, “This is a trend that we have observed in the last few elections. More people are holding on to their vote by mail ballots until the last minute. Voters are dropping them off at the polling places and return locations on Election eve and Election Day or sending them in the U.S. mail in the last week.” 
    The next report of results will be posted by close of business day on Friday, June 8, 2018. Additional reports will be released through the canvass period. The Registrar of Voters will certify results by July 5, 2018.
    For election results visit MontereyCountyElections.us or call the Elections Office at (831) 796-1499. 

    posted to Cedar Street Times on June 7, 2018

    Topics: Front PG News

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