San Mateo County takes action to overcome new challenges presented by in-person voting


Hudson Fox

A voting station stands alone in the Redwood City Assessor/County Clerk Office.

Leading up to one of the most consequential elections in American history, San Mateo County’s innovative election strategies are helping ease the adaptation to a challenging new reality. 

Amid uncertainty surrounding the upcoming elections, San Mateo County opened select polling centers on Monday, Oct. 5, in Redwood City, San Mateo, and South San Francisco. The early opening of voting centers aims to mitigate the influx of voters expected on Election Day and provide flexible options for in-person voting.

These in-person voting centers are accessible to the public from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. on weekdays until Friday, Oct. 30. From Oct. 31 until Nov. 3, all 45 polling locations in San Mateo County will be open to the public. 

“We are taking every possible precaution to assure that people can vote in person if they wish,” said Peter Hanley, the head voting center representative for the Assessor/County Clerk Office in Redwood City. “We are going to the maximum extent possible to make [the voting process] safe and make voters feel safe.”

In light of concerns related to the transmission of COVID-19, San Mateo County has employed new strategies to ensure voter safety.

According to Hanley, precautions such as greeting stations with temperature checks, Plexiglas barriers between voters and employees, and limits on the voting center’s capacity have drastically lowered the risk of transmission. 

With these added precautions, San Mateo County officials feel that voters will be adequately protected from the spread of coronavirus. For those who do not want to vote in-person, other viable options remain available.

“Voting by mail is a great option, and [San Mateo County] was one of the first to vote by mail,” Hanley said. “San Mateo County is very experienced in voting by mail, and we will ensure that the ballots are processed correctly.”

Even with county officials’ assurances about mail-in voting, some voters feel the need to cast their ballot in person. 

“I think mailing from home in the state of California is great because we’ve done it so many years, but it was just that little inkling. I did not trust putting [my ballot] in the mail because of all the controversy. There have been times when I have mailed it, but this time I felt compelled to come [vote in person],” said Florence Finley, a local East Palo Alto resident who cast her vote at the early voting center in Redwood City.

Despite increased distrust by voters in the election process, due in part to misinformation about the election process, poll workers and others continue to endeavor to provide the public with voting options. 

With nonprofits and organizations working around the clock to provide a fair and equitable election process for the American people, student democracy groups have taken on an increasingly visible role in their efforts to encourage others to vote. Students have utilized social media platforms, calling campaigns, political internships, and other outreach programs to spread the word.

“Student advocacy groups, in my opinion, are essential to promoting democracy in our community,” said Anitej Suklikar, a sophomore. “I think that, under these circumstances, San Mateo County is doing a great job of accommodating in-person voting.”

According to the Bay Area Equity Atlas and the County of San Mateo, with the aid of outreach programs, voter turnout in San Mateo County during the 2016 presidential election stood at 81%. To reach that same level of voter participation this year, officials at the county office encourage early voter participation in the upcoming presidential election to lessen Election Day crowds.

Hanley said, “We strongly encourage voters who want to vote in-person to come now. Come before Nov. 3.”