Presidential campaign draws SLO County voters to the polls

Christopher Chun casts his vote at the polls at the Zion Lutheran Church in San Luis Obispo.
Christopher Chun casts his vote at the polls at the Zion Lutheran Church in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Updated at 6:25 p.m.

Primary voters hit the polls on Tuesday throughout San Luis Obispo County, where presidential politics and mail-in ballots had an early impact.

Election officials at county polling places said voters had steadily but slowly been coming to cast their ballots. Many residents were eager to vote for Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, even though The Associated Press and other news organizations reported Monday night that Clinton had secured the number of delegates needed to become the presumptive nominee.

The Sanders campaign called the announcement premature, since the count includes superdelegates now committed to Clinton who can change their minds at the convention in July.

SLO County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong said polling was going “pretty smoothly” as of midday and by about 5:30 p.m said voter turnout appeared to be “a little bit busier than normal.”

“The voting has been fairly steady with a pretty strong turnout, moreso than we’d usually see for a primary,” Gong said. “We don’t have the numbers yet, but from the feel of it, it’s a little busier.”

Gong said he’d picked up about 3,200 mail-in ballots Tuesday morning and expected more would be arriving to count tomorrow.

Tommy Gong, San Luis Obispo County clerk-recorder, shares advice for Election Day voters, including how to find your polling place and what to do with your vote-by-mail ballot.

Confusion over American Independent Party

He also said his office had encountered some confusion from independent voters who’d registered as American Independent Party voters instead of marking “no party preference” on their forms and were handed ballots that showed American Independent Party presidential candidates.

Gong said they were allowed to re-register with their intended “no party preference” affiliation and cast their ballots (including for a Democratic presidential candidate with a crossover ballot, though Republican ballots don’t allow votes from independent voters).

Their paperwork will be submitted to a judge to determine whether to allow their re-registration after the May 23 registration deadline.

“We’ve taken in quite a few of those,” Gong said.

By mail or at the polls

More than 107,000 ballots were mailed to voters in San Luis Obispo County for the June 7 primary. Here's what happens when they're turned in to the county election office.

Many residents chose the convenience of voting by mail this year, and quite a few of them stopped by polling places to drop off their ballots instead of mailing them. SLO County sent out a record 107,602 mail-in ballots to 69 percent of the 155,804 residents who are registered to vote.

Members of SLO Quilters staffed the Veterans Memorial Building polling place Tuesday. Election officials said about half the voters who had come in by midday came to vote in person while the other half dropped off their mail-in ballots.

Many Cal Poly students visited the building to vote, some for the first time. Adam Massini, a 20-year-old Cal Poly student, was one such voter.

“A lot of my friends are talking about politics right now,” Massini said. “You can’t look at the news without hearing about the races. I think it’s a really important election, and people I know from school are voting this year.”

Another Cal Poly student, Jen Welton, said that she initially thought she’d vote by mail, but opted to vote in person because she didn’t get her request filed in time.

She said that one of her primary considerations this year is how candidates are looking at education.

“I think college is too expensive, and students across the board aren’t getting what they need,” Welton said. “That was a main concern in who I’m voting for this year among the candidates.”

Bernie versus Hillary

Savannah Sinclair, a San Luis Obispo resident, said that she prefers the feel of voting in person. She cast her ballot, walking to the Ludwick Community Center on Tuesday morning.

“I like the experience of coming out and voting at the booth,” Sinclair said. “It just feels right. I think this election is extremely important. I’m a huge Bernie Sanders fan, and I think for young people he’s consistently sending out the right messages to change the country in the right direction.”

Ellen Smilovitz cast her vote for Hillary Clinton, who she thinks is the most qualified presidential candidate.

“I think she has critical thinking skills, for sure,” Smilovitz said.

Even though Smilovitz said she has concerns about Clinton’s connections to Wall Street and big corporations, said she there’s no other candidate she’d consider voting for.

“Who else really is there?” she asked.

What San Luis Obispo County voters need to know about the June 7 presidential primary. A quick look at what's on the ballot, who gets to vote in the Democratic and Republican party primaries and more.

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