Central Valley

It's prime time for early voters

The California primary election still is almost a month away, but Francisco Castro of Fresno couldn't wait until Feb. 5 to vote for the candidate of his choice.

Castro voted at the Fresno County Elections Department on Kern Street in downtown Fresno on Monday, the first day voters could cast ballots in the state's primary race.

Juan Garcia, who brought his two daughters into the elections department to register to vote, interpreted for Castro after he finished voting.

"I just registered and I wanted to vote right away," Castro said. "I knew who I wanted to vote for."

Castro, a registered Democrat, only smiled and shook his head when asked who he voted for.

"But it was an easy decision," he said.

Fresno County Clerk Victor Salazar said that voters had been arriving "in a steady stream, but not overwhelming" to take advantage of the first possible day of voting. By 2:30 p.m. Monday, 35 people had voted at the office.

"There's a heightened interest. The races truly are wide open. We fully expect a big turn-out" for the primary, Salazar said.

But there hasn't been a flood of registrations, Salazar said. "We have 10,000 more [registered voters] than a year ago. But for a county our size, that's not dramatic."

The last official count on Oct. 26 showed 345,543 registered voters in Fresno County, which has a population of 917,515.

Garcia's daughter, Maricela Rangel-Garcia, 20, a student at the University of California at Merced, was registering to vote absentee.

"I'm flip-flopping between two [candidates]," Maricela Rangel-Garcia said. "But the debates have really helped."

Her sister, Analicia Rangel-Garcia, 18, was registering to vote for the first time Monday, but also was waiting to vote.

Garcia, a registered Democrat, said he still is making up his mind as well. "But for now I'm leaning toward Obama."

Salazar also is waiting to vote.

"I haven't decided yet," he said.