Exercise Your Right to Vote!

Election season is coming up, so don’t miss your chance to vote!

While driving to the beach in my childhood home of Hawaii a few years ago, I saw a hand painted sign in the town of Waimanalo. It quite simply stated, “NO VOTE, NO GRUMBLE!”   The sentiment was straightforward, reinforcing the principle that voting is a privilege each of us, as United States citizens, has, and we should take advantage of it.

In January, the youngest of my six children turned 18. As I had done with each of his siblings, I encouraged him to immediately register to vote. It was easy to do online at http://registertovote.ca.gov/.

In this upcoming election your vote counts. For California voters, that hasn’t always been the case when it comes to our role in the national presidential scene. In fact, by the time the calendar usually rolls around for Californians to cast their vote in the primary election, the candidates for President have long since been selected.

However, there remains intrigue in the Golden State this year among the two major political parties and their choices for president. Election officials, including those in our county, are now bracing for higher-than-normal voter participation as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are still duking it out to head up the Republican ticket, while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are still jockeying for the Democratic nomination.

Despite all of the political wrangling and questions about voting access in other states, our staff at the Contra Costa County Elections Division is prepared to run a smooth election. In fact, they’ve shared with me and my fellow County Supervisors that they’re excited to be adding even more new ways to make it more convenient than ever to vote.

First, however, they asked me to share a quick tutorial on the rules for voting for president in the primary. If you belong to a particular party, you get that party’s ballot. Simple.

This means that if you want to vote for Trump, Cruz or Kasich, you must be a registered Republican. If you want to vote for Clinton or Sanders, you must be a registered Democrat with one exception.

If you are registered under “No Party Preference,” (or “Declined to State”) you will not have any Presidential candidates on your ballot. However, you are allowed to request to vote for president for the political parties which are not closed. This year, that is the Democratic, American Independent and Libertarian parties.

The Republican, Peace and Freedom and Green parties all have closed primaries, in which only party members can vote for their presidential nominee. If this all sounds a little confusing, there will be a clear explanation on the back of your Voter Information Guide you will receive in the mail from the Elections Division later this month.

If you’re being kept from voting for a candidate because of your current party affiliation, you can re-register with the party of your choice online at http://registertovote.ca.gov/.

While much of the spotlight is on the national race for the White House, there are many important local issues that have more of an impact on our daily lives. The open U.S. Senate seat currently held by the retiring Barbara Boxer, two Contra Costa Board of Supervisor seats and several local tax measures are all slated for the June 7th ballot.

In fact, it may be a bit of a surprise, but there are 34 candidates for US Senator. Keep in mind that even though it takes up so much space, you can only vote for one candidate. If you vote for more than one in that race, your vote will not count.

I’m excited to share that the San Ramon Valley, more specifically the San Ramon Community Center on 12501 Alcosta Blvd., will be one of the sites for a Regional Early Voting program Contra Costa Elections is launching in late May.

The program will debut on May 31st, a week ahead of the June 7th election. All registered Contra Costa voters will be able to vote at any of 6 locations around the county.

The Election Division’s goal is to allow you some flexibility when it comes to managing to fit voting into your busy schedule. No more having to rush on Election Day.

These Regional Early Voting sites will be open from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm Tuesday May 31st through Friday June 3rd, and 9:00 am to 3:00 pm Saturday, June 4th.

In addition to these sites, vote-by-mail voters can continue to drop off their ballots at “CoCo Vote-N-Go” drop-off boxes at all 19 city and town hall buildings and the County Administration building on 651 Pine Street, Martinez.

Your vote-by-mail ballots will be mailed out on the week of May 9th. Voting has become much more convenient than it used to be, so please take the opportunity to vote this June and November.

A special thanks to Scott Konopasek and Paul Burgarino of the Contra Costa Elections Office for their contributions to this article.