Polling stations across Merced County saw steady flows of voters on Tuesday, with some sites running short of ballots, pens and “I Voted” stickers.
Students at UC Merced formed a long line to vote on campus. Elsewhere, voters gathered at schools, churches and community centers to cast their ballots on Election Day. As the workday ended, lines became longer and parking lots filled up faster.
With the presidency at stake and California voters face a long list of initiatives and candidates, poll workers reported strong turnout. While there were temporary supply shortages, Merced County Registrar of Voters Barbara Levy reported there were no serious problems.
“Everything has gone pretty smooth,” Levy said shortly before polls closed. “Voter turnout has been tremendous, so we have replenished ballot supplies at numerous locations.”
Christian Life Center on Olive Avenue had to find more seating for voters, and ran out of pens twice and stickers once, according to poll inspector Birdi Olivarez-Kidwell. Thirty people were waiting in line when the doors opened in the morning, she said, and turnout has been “incredible.”
Santa Nella voters arriving after work had to wait about an hour for new ballots to arrive after the community’s lone precinct ran out.
A record number of Merced County residents were registered to vote for the 2016 election. Levey said the more than 99,220 registered voters was about 330 more than were registered for the last presidential election in 2012, she said.
Merced resident Patricia Ocampo, 50, made her way to the Christian Life Center after her shift at Costco, and said she voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton mainly because of her stance on immigration. Ocampo was born in the United States, she said, but her ancestors weren’t, and she hopes having Clinton as president would improve the lives of Hispanic immigrants.
Clinton’s email scandal left Mark Lewis feeling “very bothered,” he said, and is what pushed him to vote for the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. He said he wasn’t fond of either candidate, but chose to vote for the “lesser evil.” Although he is a Republican, he said his ballot was split evenly between both parties.
“It’s been one of the nastiest campaigns I’ve seen,” said the 64-year-old who works at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
Being Catholic, Lewis said, it’s important for him that the presidential candidate is pro-life when it comes to abortion legislation, also why he leaned toward Trump.
For some voters, such as Maribel Hernandez, 25, it was her first time deciding to vote. She said a lot of encouragement came from her parents, who are undocumented and unable to vote. Hernandez said she voted for Clinton because she couldn’t support a president who has made the type of “hateful” remarks Trump has made.
“I felt it was very important for me to vote this time,” she said. “Maybe because I’m a little older now and I want what best for my and my children’s future.”
A voter who wasn’t impressed with any candidate, Jarrod McMillion of Atwater, decided to write in his own candidate for president, Bernie Sanders. He thought the propositions and local measure were the most important things he voted on.
For UC Merced history student Giovanny Menchaca, voting Tuesday meant feeling empowered, he said, because not every election is as historic as this one. It was the 19-year-old’s first voting experience, he said, and he chose to support Clinton.
Menchaca said having the chance to vote for a woman during his first voting experience felt “amazing.”
“It shows that we are getting more open-minded,” he said. “It was a great experience.”
The presidential vote and the choice of a new mayor for Merced were the two most important races for Renee Parker, who was among the steady flow of citizens casting ballots at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church hall.
Casting her vote for Clinton and mayoral candidate Necola Adams, the 55-year-old Parker said that, in choosing candidates, she was looking for “something that represented me.”
Speaking of Adams, Parker said: “I think she’s someone I can identify with personally and she’s going to do things for everyone.”
At Margaret Sheey Elementary’s polling station, Gilbert Mendez said his mayoral vote went to Mike Murphy, whom he described as a “family man” who will “well-represent” the community.
Merced resident Christina Soliz, 66, said the issues most important to her were education and criminal justice. Soliz said she voted for Proposition 62, which would repeal the state’s death penalty. She also said she supports efforts to help local youths stay away from crime.
“We need more programs for preteens to keep them busy, and more community involvement,” she said.
Soliz declined to name whom she voted for, saying “it’s better kept to yourself.”
In any case, she said, “I’m glad that it’s over and it will all be decided tonight.”
Mendez, who declined to name his presidential choice, also said he was happy to see Election Day come.
“I’m glad it’s going to be over,” he said. “I don’t like either candidate, but we have to do what we have to do.”
Brianna Calix, Vikaas Shanker and Thaddeus Miller contributed to this report.
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486