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Trickle of voters show up at polling places
Dennis Cowan, a 15-year veteran as an election polling official, holds up an election poster he drew in between attending to the trickle of voters who came in to the precinct Tuesday at the Boys and Girls Club in Manteca. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

The roster at the Boys and Girls Club polling place in Manteca had 1,018 registered voters. Around noon on Tuesday, Election Day, only 50 have come in to cast their ballots.

Dennis Cowan, one of the four polling clerks at this precinct, was not surprised at the trickle of voters they were seeing on Tuesday. In the 15 years he has been working as a precinct official at various locations in Manteca and Lathrop, he has come up with his own statistics gathered through the years. His observation that “only 10 percent of people (voters) show up” to vote was being proven again on Tuesday.

But that’s just as far as the actual people who come in at the precinct, he opinioned. They don’t include the absentee and mail ballots that are sent via postal service. He pointed out, though, that some of those ballots are also dropped off at the polling places. Still, his observation about the low voter turnout during elections is in line with actual numbers coming from the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters. That is especially the case during a midterm election, said clerk Gail Bledsoe who was working with Cowan at the Boys and Girls Club along with East Union High School seniors Erely Beltran and Jessica Valenzuela who were having their first experience working at a precinct during election.

“The presidential elections are a blast. There are people everywhere,” Bledsoe said, noting the voter-traffic differences during the two elections.

“A lot more (voters) are expected to (how up) in 2016”when the next presidential elections will take place, she said.

At least, “I hope so,” she quickly added.

Other observations by Cowan at the polling places on Election Day:

• In the last 15 years, “I never saw any crowd (of voters) waiting in line to cast their votes. It’s a shame. It really is. It’s a shame. Nobody cares, I guess. Everybody wants to complain, but they don’t care to vote.”

• He has seen some voters coming in as early as 7 a.m. which is when the polls open. Some cast their votes on their way to work, but their busiest time is “right after work, from 3 to 6 p.m.,” said Cowan whose regular job is as a machinist.

• He has also learned that it takes 28 days after the polls close to make the ballot count official.

• He has begun to wonder if mail ballots are cost effective, having “learned somewhere” that it costs $60 “to do that – there’s paper work, handling, processing; maybe more now than before.”

Cowan and other poll clerks receive a $185 pay check for working on Election Day. That’s a job that starts at 6 a.m. – polls open at 7 a.m. but they need the extra time to set things up – and ends at 10 p.m. Polls close at 8 p.m., after which they have to tear down the booths or partitions and put things in order before they take all the marked ballot boxes to the Cabral car dealership on Union Road and West Yosemite Avenue where a big truck, with police guards present, will take all the boxes and ballot machines for delivery to the Registrar of Voters office in Stockton for the final counting.

Beltran and Valenzuela, working for the first time as election clerks, noted the job was not that hard. They had their teachers’ blessing to work that day at the polls.

Commenting about her first-person experience watching and working during an election, witnessing democracy in action, Beltran smiled and said, “It’s interesting. It’s a simple process.”