While the first San Diego County votes in this election were cast nearly a month ago, many voters opted to wait until Election Day to go to the polls to fill in the bubbles on their ballots. 

Five inewsource journalists traveled throughout the county on Tuesday to capture the scene and conversations at polling locations from Oceanside and Escondido to Alpine and El Cajon to San Diego and Chula Vista.

Election officials cut the number of polling places dramatically this year to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Polling sites went from about 1,600 in the 2018 general election to 235 this year. 

People were strongly encouraged to vote early — and they did. The Registrar of Voters Office reported an unprecedented 1.2 million county voters cast their ballots as of Tuesday morning.

Why wait until Tuesday to vote? Some told us they didn’t trust the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their ballots to the registrar, and they wanted to be sure their votes would be counted. Others said they have always voted on Election Day and this year was not going to be any different for them.

As in past elections, the registrar’s office expects to begin releasing results shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday. It will include mail-in ballots and those cast from Saturday through Monday at polling locations. All of the ballots cast at the polling sites Tuesday may not arrive until midnight because they have to be driven to the registrar’s office in Kearny Mesa.

Some races may be decided early, but close contests could take days or weeks to decide, with the registrar required to certify the election by Dec. 3.

We know security questions have swirled around this election. That’s why we’ve been visiting polling locations since Saturday to monitor the voting process. 

But even with only 235 polling locations this year, we couldn’t visit every polling site in this county of 3.4 million people. So please let us know if you saw or heard something concerning when you were voting, or have a positive experience to share. You can help power our reporting by emailing us at vote@inewsource.org.

Now here’s what our reporters heard and saw at the polls on Tuesday.

San Diego

Dolores Magdaleno Memorial Recreation Center – Logan Heights

As construction equipment roared next door, voters filed into the Dolores Magdaleno Memorial Recreation Center to cast their votes. The center is surrounded by piles of dirt and construction crews, but big signs pointed any confused voters in the right direction.

Longtime voter Lawrence Barra, 45, said he had trouble following the directions to the site, but once he arrived he had no difficulty voting. 

Barra, who splits his time between El Cajon, Logan Heights and Tijuana, said he came out to vote to support President Donald Trump’s reelection, and he believes the president has done the best he can during the devastating pandemic. 

“It’s a privilege as a U.S. citizen, as an American, and as a Native American,” Barra said. “I believe that passing up the privilege to vote in the United States would be a disrespect for it, because so many people have died for this country.”

First-time site manager Ray Vasquez said the nearby construction fortunately hasn’t interfered much with voting. The registrar’s office told the construction crews to keep the roads clear during the four days the polls were open, and the crews have obliged, he said. 

Vasquez, 64, was drawn to working at the polls because this election season felt different than ones before it. Plus, he said, he finally retired and had time on his hands.

“It’s the times. It was the right time to do it,” he said. “At first it was something to do, but primarily I wanted to make a difference.”

– Jill Castellano

LGBT Community Center – Hillcrest

Voters and workers at the LGBT Community Center were enthusiastic about casting ballots on Election Day. Around 8:30 a.m., the workers cheered on the 100th voter of the morning as he dropped his mail ballot into a secure yellow bag.

Site manager James Ingram said it was the busiest day since the polls opened Saturday. Ingram, who has worked at San Diego polling centers for more than a decade, is a political science professor at San Diego State University who studies American politics. 

“I feel like a lot of people in my field only talk about elections in the abstract, but here we’re really there helping people get their votes in,” said Ingram, 57, of Del Mar. “I mean, this is as real as it gets.”

Some voters at the community center expressed concerns about mailing in their ballots, saying voting in person would ensure their ballot would end up at the registrar’s office.

“It’s the way I always do it. I just don’t want to do the mail ballot,” said Matt Martis, a 55-year-old voter from Hillcrest. “There’s never any problem when I do it this way.”

Despite all the changes this year, polling site inspector Julie Byrd said voting had gone smoothly at the location. She and the 12 other workers there received intensive training at the San Diego Convention Center in the weeks leading up to the polls opening.

“It feels like they really wanted to get it right,” Byrd said, “and I foresee every election from here on out being even better.”

– Jill Castellano

Ocean Beach Recreation Center

Election anxiety was one reason Ocean Beach resident Sam Alvis, 65, decided to get involved and become a first-time poll worker this year.

“I’m a retiree, live here, and had some strong opinions about things, and decided to just do what I could to participate in the process,” said Alvis, who was working at the Ocean Beach Recreation Center.

He commended county Registrar Michael Vu who he said, in light of new procedures to protect voters from COVID-19, “has done a pretty fantastic job” preparing election workers to handle a complex new voting process.

Several voters expressed concerns about ballot security, Alvis said.

“There’s been a significant amount of just worry that there’s something amiss about the process, and there’s a lot of questions to reassure them that their vote is going to go to the correct place and be counted,” he said.

Rod Conwell, 56, said he wasn’t worried about those concerns. He showed up to vote with his wife and their dog Tuesday morning. “It’s just kind of fun,” Conwell said, to wait until Election Day.

Conwell said he lives in a divided house: He cast his vote for former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife voted for President Donald Trump. 

Asked whether the split political opinions had become intense at home, he sighed and said, “You have no idea.” 

– Mary Plummer

UCSD RIMAC Arena – La Jolla

A lot of the voters casting ballots at the RIMAC Arena on the UC San Diego campus were first-time voters, said polling site manager Kira Finkenberg. For each one, she rang a bell to commemorate them voting. She said the bell she brought from home was rung quite a few times.

Sophia Larsson, 20, and Michelle Huang, 20, both first-time voters in a presidential election, are roommates on campus and came to vote in person because it was the most convenient for both of them. 

But their biggest concern: What comes after the election and whether there will be a “non-peaceful transfer of power.”

“I don’t think it’s that probable, but it’s there. It’s on my mind,” Huang said.

Jenna Mercer, 18, another first-time voter, said she was happy with the convenience of the entire voting process — same day registration and mail-in ballots sent to everyone. But she decided to drop off her mail-in ballot in person on Election Day.

“That way I’ll know it’s safe,” she said, instead of taking the chance of mailing it and it not getting delivered.

– Cody Dulaney

La Jolla Elementary School

The lunch crowd started rolling into the La Jolla Elementary School polling location around noon on Election Day. About a dozen or so people were there at any given time. Site manager Genevieve Bromley, 58, said the turnout had remained steady since in-person voting began on Saturday.

“I think this is a very important election, and I wanted to be a part of it. And I wanted to ensure there was lots of integrity in this precinct,” said Bromley, a first-time poll worker.

The importance of this election is what pushed Brittany Grennier, 36, to ensure her vote was counted on Election Day.

“You just read so much in the news, you don’t want anything to get messed up by whatever mail garbage that they’re saying, so I just brought my mail-in ballot with me,” she said. “I just wanted to do everything the normal way in hopes it’ll somehow count more.”

– Cody Dulaney

East County

La Mesa Arts Academy

The La Mesa Arts Academy is a new spot for voters this year and the only polling location in the 91941 ZIP code this election. 

Francisco Linares, 40, said even though his polling site changed this election, it was still within walking distance of his home. He and his wife dropped off their mail-in ballots at the academy around lunchtime Tuesday.

“I think it’s very important as a citizen here to put in our voice,” Linares said. “We have a right to make our vote and choose the people that we think serve us best.”

Voters entering the building passed by a security guard who the registrar’s office hired to monitor the site. Site manager John Kurko, who has worked San Diego elections since 2000, said the guard was there to help “keep the peace” if any disputes occurred.

Wearing his mask and face shield, Kurko explained that one of the difficulties is making sure voters can hear the workers’ instructions through their protective equipment.

Another voter at the academy was Denise Smith, a 32-year-old La Mesa resident who moved to the West Coast from Georgia two years ago.

“I voted because I’m an American. It’s my right,” Smith said. 

“And my grandma actually marched with Dr. (Martin Luther) King and burned her bra in the ‘60s for women and blacks to vote, so I’m voting,” she added with a laugh.

– Jill Castellano

Shadow Hills Elementary – Alpine

Children wearing masks played outside at Shadow Hills Elementary School on Tuesday morning as voters arrived to cast ballots in a separate, fenced-off building on the campus. Alpine Union School District is one of the few districts in the county offering hybrid learning during the pandemic, with some students attending school in person.

Site manager Ann Ravitch said her team of poll workers was forced to make adjustments following a positive COVID-19 case at the school that occurred during training a couple of weeks ago. School facilities that would have been open to workers, such as restrooms, were cordoned off and portable toilets and washing stations were trucked in.

“Everything’s being worked out,” said Ravitch. “We have to adapt. We have to be flexible.”

She said there had been a steady number of local voters who experienced little to no wait.

– Camille von Kaenel

Alpine Elementary School – Alpine

Raymond Patino, who has worked the polls before and was the site manager Tuesday at Alpine Elementary School, said this election has been the smoothest he’s experienced.

Unlike past elections, Patino said, previous bottlenecks like having to manually verify someone’s identity have been removed as part of this year’s modifications to limit the spread of COVID-19.

But Melissa Henry, a 32-year-old voter from Alpine with two young kids in tow, said she found this election season confusing and stressful because she wasn’t sure what information to trust. 

She’s been trying to fact check social media posts and sort through neighborhood stories about ballots being stolen, but said it’s hard. Eventually, she decided to do what she’s always done: drop off her ballot in person on Election Day.

“I like voting the day of because I feel more secure with my ballot actually going out,” she said.

– Camille von Kaenel

Grossmont College – El Cajon

There are 25 steep stairs from the parking lot to the polling place at Grossmont College in El Cajon, and the accessible ramps are steep or located elsewhere. Poll site manager Irma Cosgrove said she and her team adapted by increasing the use of a mobile ballot tracking device, which poll workers could bring out to people in their cars.

Martha Coad, 77, of Fletcher Hills, uses a walker and said the access was “a little inconvenient, but not too big of a deal.” She made her way up the steep ramp to cast her ballot in person because she felt like her vote would be more secure.

“It didn’t stop us,” chimed in her granddaughter Catlyn Coad, 19.

– Camille von Kaenel

South County

Norman Park Senior Center – Chula Vista

Chula Vista resident Jorge Molina said he trusts what he’s done since 2010: voting in person.

Because of concerns about his vote being tampered with in the mail, Molina walked to the Norman Park Senior Center near downtown Chula Vista with his ballot in hand. But the 45-year-old surrendered his mail ballot and voted in person instead.

“(The poll worker) told me the process and I was more relieved,” Molina said. 

Two other in-person voters at the center said they had concerns about putting their ballots in the mail.

The center saw a short line when it opened its doors. Sitting between Third Avenue and a residential neighborhood, much of the center’s surrounding parking is paid meters.

Parking enforcement, which had been suspended because of the pandemic, restarted Monday. Workers also had the center’s closest parking spots slated for closure from  11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for tree trimming.

– Jennifer Bowman

Eastlake Middle School – Chula Vista

Eastlake Middle School saw 150 in-person voters by the time it closed Monday. By mid-Tuesday, that number had already reached 161.

First-time voter Jordan Stafford said the process was “very smooth.” The 23-year-old had received his ballot in the mail but decided to cast his ballot at the polling site around the corner from his home.

Stafford said he didn’t have any concerns about putting his ballot in the mail and “definitely would do mail-in in the future.”

Site manager Tim Gauss said while some voters expressed security concerns when voting, the process overall had been smooth. He said poll workers were eager to help and ensure things were done correctly.

“A lot of people believe in civic duty and want to see it done the right way,” Gauss said.

– Jennifer Bowman

Rancho del Rey Middle School – Chula Vista

Voters at Rancho Del Rey Middle School were greeted by what the workers affectionately dubbed their poll watchers: Two owls, permanent residents of the school’s pavilion, quietly perched above the auditorium’s entrance.

The polling site in eastern Chula Vista saw a slight bump in traffic around lunchtime, as manager Stelle Andrade worked through the short line and set up curbside voting for two vehicles — an option available for voters who are immunocompromised or have a disability, she said.

“We want to make sure they can vote,” Andrade said.

– Jennifer Bowman

North County

Central Elementary School – Escondido

The line outside Central Elementary School Tuesday morning was longer than it had been during the previous three days of voting, site manager David Park said. 

About six people were waiting in line before the polls opened at 7 a.m., and as the morning unfolded the line grew to more than a dozen. It moved quickly with the help of a line manager who collected drop-off ballots and answered voter questions in advance.

A broad spectrum of emotions were at play among voters here, with Josefina Amezola, 47, having absolute confidence in the system and Brad Blackson, 58, feeling as though his ballot could wind up in a ditch.

Amezola said she only came the morning of Election Day to make sure her 18-year-old niece, who had missed the deadline for online registration, was able to register in person and cast her ballot. Amezola, who voted in person last presidential election, said she filled out her ballot when she received it weeks ago and put it in the mail. She liked having that opportunity because of the pandemic, she said, and she has complete faith that her vote will be counted.

“I believe that everybody who is doing this job is putting in an effort to do things right,” she said.

Blackson, who has voted in every election since President Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, said he would have waited a couple hours to cast his vote on Election Day but was surprised it only took about 20 minutes. Either way, he made a point to show up on Election Day to ensure his vote is counted.

“I’m a news junky and I pay attention to what’s happening in society and I want my vote to count,” he said. “Too many brave people have given their lives and limbs so that I have the right to vote, and I’ll be damned if my vote ends up in a ditch somewhere.”

He said he’s heard too many stories about people having 300 ballots in their car or finding 1,500 ballots in a ditch somewhere.

Cody Dulaney

El Corazon Senior Center – Oceanside

A steady stream of voters trickled in and out of the El Corazon Senior Center late Tuesday morning. Site manager Mark Thompson said the only issue had been voters wearing apparel specific to a candidate.

“Being that it’s a contentious election, there’s a lot of passionate voters,” he said, adding staff had already asked three voters to remove campaign apparel at the door.

“It wasn’t met with difficulty, but they weren’t happy that they couldn’t support the candidate that they were supporting,” Thompson said.

The reduction in polling locations made it difficult for Shirley Bankosh, 70, who lives in the Oceana neighborhood in eastern Oceanside and votes in every election. Someone had to bring her to the polls because she didn’t know how to get to the senior center, she said.

For voter Heather Manley, 47, she didn’t have to go to a different site. The senior center is her normal polling location, and she dropped off her family’s mail-in ballots just like in every other election. Her only concern was with the outcome.

“I am emotional and nervous,” she said “I have so much hope for the country and I just hope it goes in the direction we need it to go,” she said.

Cody Dulaney

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Bella Ross was a web producer and social media specialist for inewsource, where she ran the website, social media accounts and produces newsletters. She is also a former inewsource intern. Ross holds two degrees from San Diego State University in journalism and political science, and has interned and...