Voter turnout high in county, officials report

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comNovember 7, 2012 

Mercedians seem to be heading to the polls with uncharacteristic enthusiasm.

Polling places were packed Tuesday in downtown Merced, as well as at the University of California at Merced, according to election officials.

"The polling places are really busy right now," Kent Christensen, Merced County's registrar of voters, said Tuesday. "I see hundreds of vote-by-mail ballots coming in, and lines waiting to vote."

Voter turnout is historically very low in Merced County, with only about one in four people voting. About 38 percent of county residents are registered to vote — roughly 99,000 people.

County officials estimate about 68 percent of registered voters typically come out to the polls, but this year's presidential election could be different. At the Sun-Star's deadline late Tuesday, officials had counted ballots from 65 percent of registered voters, and more than 40 percent of precincts remained uncounted.

"This one's been busy," said Leona Steck, a poll worker at the Merced County Administration Building, who has volunteered for the past four years. "This is busier than we've every been."

There was a line of people waiting to vote outside the building starting at 7 a.m., Steck said. "And we haven't been without a line or somebody at the tables or in the voting booth since then. It's been great."

Rhiannon Heim, 29, who voted at the county building polling place Tuesday afternoon, said she didn't vote in the primary or the last presidential election.

"I regretted not voting the last time," said Heim, who brought her 2-year-old son with her. "So I felt like I needed to come."

Josh Martinez said he voted in the last presidential election but not in this year's primary contest.

"When it comes down to it, I want to be there for the one that really counts," said the 32-year-old Merced resident. "It's not any one issue, I feel like I'm doing my civic duty."

There were three universal polling places in the county that were equipped with ballots for every location. This year, officials added UC Merced to the list, which includes the county administration building and the Merced Mall.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2468 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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