Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

By Jim Sanders

Long lines at the ballot box, overly aggressive poll monitors, malfunctioning machines - hundreds of complaints were reported about voting today, but generally they were minor and affected only a small fraction of Californians.
"By all accounts, everything is going very smoothly," Shannan Velayas, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, said about 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The election hotline manned by the secretary of state's office had received 6,700 calls by mid-afternoon, but only about 200 of them were complaints, Velayas said.

The most common complaint, sparking about 50 calls, was that a pollworker had acted rudely or did not perform satisfactorily, Velayas said. Fewer than 15 calls targeted electioneering at poll sites, with some callers not knowing that such activity is barred only within 100 feet of the entrance.

A more serious problem was noted at a Southern California election problem center manned primarily by nonpartisan lawyers and other volunteers, including Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.

Feng said their "election protection hotline" received numerous complaints of overly aggressive affiliates of a conservative political group -- some of them monitors, others pollworkers -- who were intimidating voters in ways ranging from demanding identification to standing close to them while they marked ballots.

At least one voter from 20 polling sites complained of being asked to show identification unnecessarily, Feng said.

Complaints about overly aggressive monitors or pollworkers tended to occur at polling places with large percentages of youth or minority voters, raising the possibility of an organized campaign to discourage voting, Feng said.

"In some of these races where there may be a close election, either involving a proposition or a candidate, you wonder whether that type of intimidation could skew the result," Feng said.

Nicole Winger, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Debra Bowen, said she knew of no widespread complaints about poll workers or monitors. About a half-dozen callers complained that a poll worker had glanced at a ballot, and a spattering of voters said their poll worker had made a remark about President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, Winger said.

Thousands of calls were simple questions, many of them from people wondering the location of their polling place, whether they were registered to vote, or what to do with a mail-in ballot, Winger said.

There were occasional complaints that a polling place was not open precisely at 7 a.m., or that some type of supply had run out, or that translation of some document was not available in a particular language, or that some facility needed more parking spaces for people with disabilities, according to Feng and elections officials.

One Elk Grove polling place was at a Raley's store, where workers went on strike Sunday. Strikers did not attempt to keep anyone from entering the store to vote and elections officials acted as liaisons in an attempt to assist in any way possible, including bringing ballots to the curbside if any voter felt uncomfortable, said Alice Jarboe, Sacramento County assistant registrar.

In Monterey, a fire near one polling place forced relocation to another facility, Velayas said.

In Sacramento County, there were about a dozen reports of a malfunction involving ballot machines.

Lines at some polling places in the four-county Sacramento region stretched to 30 or 40 people when voting began this morning, which is not uncommon for a presidential election, officials said.

Placer and El Dorado counties, like Sacramento, reported no incidents of fraud or violence at polling places.

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Photo caption:Poll workers at the Johnson Ranch Racket Club in east Roseville. At 10:45 a.m.


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