Primary election voting has started in San Diego

Antonia Hutzell, spokeswoman for the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, with Registrar of Voters Cynthia Paes
Antonia Hutzell, public relations coordinator for the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, demonstrates the process for completing and submitting a ballot at one of the county’s new Vote Centers, as Registrar of Voters Cynthia Paes looks on.
(Deborah Sullivan Brennan)

Early voting for the June 7 gubernatorial primary started Saturday at 39 vote centers throughout San Diego County, with a total of 218 sites open the following weekend.

This marks the county’s first election under California’s “vote center” model, which replaces nearly 1,600 neighborhood polling places with a smaller number of regional vote centers open for a longer time before election day.

“We do have fewer locations than the traditional model, but they will be open more days and will offer more services,” San Diego County Registrar of Voters Cynthia Paes said.

Vote centers offer extended days of voting, including weekends, as well as ballot drop-off, same-day registration and language translation services. San Diego voters got a taste of this system during the pandemic, when the county held several special elections during lockdown periods using a similar model.

The vote centers will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting with the initial sites this weekend. On Election Day June 7, all vote centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

What makes these sites different is not only the hours but also the use of electronic registration roster, which enables any San Diego voter to vote at any site. Under the previous model each voter had to vote at a designated neighborhood polling place, or request a provisional ballot to vote at a different location.

Using the electronic roster, poll workers at any county vote center can pull up voters’ registrations and their specific ballots for all races including all local seats. Voters then enter their selections, print the completed ballot and place it in the ballot box.

Voters can also drop off completed mail ballots at the centers, or at one of the Registrar of Voters’ 132 ballot drop boxes or any U.S. Postal Service mailbox.

“What led to this decision to go to the vote center model is San Diego voters prefer voting by mail,” Paes said, noting that 80 percent of voters in the county already cast their ballots by mail.

For any eligible voters who missed the deadline to registrar, the vote centers offer same day conditional registration, which allows voters to complete the registration form and enter a provisional ballot on the spot, Paes said. The registrar will then validate the registration and count the ballot.

The vote centers also offer ballot materials and translation assistance in languages including Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin and Filipino, Paes said.

Election officials expect a turnout of 30 to 40 percent of registered voters for the June primary. The September 2021 Gubernatorial Recall Election drew nearly 60 percent of voters. However, the gubernatorial primary in 2014 saw just over 27 percent voter turnout and the one in 2018 brought in just under 40 percent of voters, according to the registrar. The past two presidential primaries in 2016 and 2020 drew about 50 percent voter turnout each.

There are more than 1.9 million registered voters in San Diego, the registrar’s office stated, and each of those people was sent a mail ballot. As of Friday, 186,051 people had returned those.

“We’re asking our voters to have your voice heard,” Paes said. “Turn out, vote. It’s easy.”

To find locations and hours for vote centers and ballot drop boxes in your community, visit the Registrar of Voters website.