Justice Department monitoring local voting

November 4, 2008 12:47:19 PM PST
In Santa Clara County, U.S. Justice Department observers are watching for signs of any problems at the polls. Those observers are keeping an eye out for abuses and intimidation in 60 counties across the country -- two here in the Bay Area.

So far, so good says the Registrar of Voters here in Santa Clara County. ABC7 visited four polls in the county and haven't come across any long lines, just yet. Officials here know the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice has federal observers monitoring some of its 785 polls -- and say they welcome the government watch.

With such a popular presidential election expected to draw record-making numbers of voters. Some seasoned precinct workers woke up today nervously anticipating the day ahead.

"I woke up at three last night and couldn't go back to sleep, but that's pretty common, I have to make sure everything's right in the room and on and on and on," said Tom Atkins, precinct inspector.

Tom Atkins has worked six elections at Santa Clara County polls. He says he's seeing one of the biggest turnouts ever.

The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters says it set records with more than 3,000 people showing up to vote early just this past weekend. And today at the county office, voters lined up this morning - waiting no more than 10-15 minutes at the polls.

"I wanted to beat the crowd. I wanted to make sure I got in and out quick," said Aaron Wade, McCain supporter.

"I figured if you didn't come out today you're in trouble because the way our country's been run the last eight years we need to do something to change everything," said Jeff Hardy, Obama voter.

Santa Clara County is the biggest county in the Bay Area. And with an expected 80-85-percent voter turnout, officials ordered extra ballots and added more pollworkers; with many on standby bracing for a busy election day.

The county is working to avoid past problems, like not providing ballots in multiple languages and being thousands of ballots short, like during the February Primary election.

"Last time we ran out. We were running around trying to photocopy them ballots. It was a mess last time," said Mary Castillo, precinct worker.

The Department of Justice is look for any of these types of voting problems today in Santa Clara and Alameda Counties -- these are the only two Bay Area counties included where federal observers and Justice Department personnel are looking for any discrimination based on race or language; and they're watching whether disabled voters, such as the blind, have access to touch screen machines.

"We routinely have observers from a lot of different organizations, and we welcome that. Our elections are an open and public process and we want voters to be completely confident that everything that we do is transparent," said Matt Moreles, Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.

Federal monitors will also be looking into allegations of voter intimidation and ballot fraud in both Santa Clara and Alameda Counties. The monitors are visiting designated counties in 23 states across the nation today.


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