Bay Area breaks election turnout records, officials are thrilled

Entering countdown mode, elections officials are thrilled that voter registration and early turnout are breaking records.

"In Contra Costa, the mood is festive and we're seeing a lot of smiles," said Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder-Registrar Debi Cooper.

Monday evening, Cooper was surveying activity at the Civic Auditorium in Richmond, one of 17 early voting sites across the county.

A line in the lobby moved steadily toward voting booths, while other voters opted to drop their ballot in a box, or hand it directly from their car to a staffer at the curbside.

"I want to vote, no matter who was running I'd definitely vote," said a teenager named Kenia, voting for the first time.

"Especially because my parents were immigrants, I think my voice needs to be heard."

Another voter said she never misses any election, big or small.

"I hope everybody comes out to do their civic duty," said Janice Grant, "because if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem and this is one way to be part of the solution."

Tuesday night at 8 p.m., the registrar's office will be poised to start tallying.

Over the weekend, what Cooper calls an "extraction event" was held to slice open ballot envelopes, examine, and scan stacks of ballots already submitted by mail, drop-box, drive-by or in-person voting. 

About 140 people worked to ready the ballots.

"I think we've received about 420,000 ballots so those will all be included in the initial count," said Cooper.

"It should be the largest initial count we've ever been able to post on election night."

And those first numbers should pop up just a few minutes past 8 pm Tuesday.

"I have a lot of ancestors who couldn't vote, so I take this as a privilege," said Donell Jones, striding up to the outdoor drop-box to cast his ballot.

"I voted for my children, I voted for my church, for my community, and I voted for you, all of you, and me as well." 

Three in four Contra Costa voters already opt for vote-by-mail, but poll workers have noticed some are choosing to mark their ballot at the booth, or at least hand it off where staff are present.

Voters say they feel more confident doing so, and the experience becomes more communal. 

"All of the county's lock ballot boxes are secure, they're safe, they haven't been tampered with," said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who also arrived to vote in Richmond on election-eve.

"Our county population is 1.1 million people and for the first time in our history we've gone over 700,000 registered voters, we're at about 703,000."

Gioia is thrilled at breaking registration records.

As for the possibility of a disputed presidential outcome? 

"There's obviously a lot of tension and angst around this election, but we haven't heard anything specific about civil unrest, and we don't have that history here."

As elections staff, seasonal workers and volunteers gear up for their big night, Cooper admits there's a lot of adrenaline. 

"Yes we are kind of election geeks but it's exciting, and all about our civic contribution," she smiled.

"We make a difference and I'm so proud of everyone who works here."