While concerns about long lines at the polls worried many, Election Day in Berkeley went smoothly, with minimal wait times according to some voters and election workers.
Rather than the typical neighborhood polling locations, 100 accessible voting locations, or AVLs, large enough to accommodate COVID-19 precautions were established throughout Alameda County for this election.
“I’ve been here for the last three days, since Saturday, and it’s definitely been a lot busier today,” said Angie Chen, a clerk at the Berkeley High School AVL. “It’s been stronger than I would have thought given that so many people in Berkeley have already voted.”
While voters had to cast their ballots at polling locations specific to their neighborhood precincts in previous years, for this election they were able to access their ballot at any AVL throughout Alameda County, according to Chen. AVLs also have touch-screen voting, which allowed voters to select their choices on a digital screen that printed vote selections to be turned in.
Chen added that these changes, which were implemented to making voting easier, had been in the works since before the start of the pandemic.
“I thought this was going to be a lot tougher,” said Melissa Fabros, who voted in person. “Berkeley is small enough to understand how to get a handle on it, and there’s an awareness by the city that this is important. You can’t have people waiting in line for four hours.”
Alba Tomasula y Garcia, a clerk at the Willard Middle School AVL, estimated that voters had been able to cast their ballots in an average time of 15 to 20 minutes, even during the busier morning hours.
Though many Berkeley residents voted early, in-person turnout was high at local voting locations. According to the Alameda County election site, more than half of mail-in ballots have been returned as of press time.
Dianne Kudisch, a volunteer at the Willard Middle School AVL, said a line had already formed by the time she arrived at 6 a.m.
“It’s been very nicely busy,” Kudisch said. “People dropping off ballots, others wanting to vote in person, take pictures with their dogs with their voting stickers.”
Even given the challenges posed by COVID-19 protocols, AVLs in Berkeley remained well-staffed and equipped with the necessary tools to limit transmission.
According to Tomasula y Garcia, the Willard Middle School AVL had 17 volunteers and “stacks” of personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks, that had been more than enough to accommodate voter turnout.
“At times it has felt like we’re more overstaffed than anything,” Tomasula y Garcia said. “I think that’s good just in terms of showing the willingness of people to come out and make sure everything’s running smoothly.”
Contact Maya Akkaraju and Jacob Souza at [email protected].