USA–– After a large brush fire forced the evacuation of a Prunedale polling place, Monterey County officials said the rest of Tuesday’s high-turnout election appeared to go smoothly for most voters.
The 10-acre fire on Frisch Road began around 2 p.m., Cal Fire said, forcing the evacuation of about two dozen residents and the closure of the American Legion Hall polling place.
“I haven’t heard one complaint,” said poll worker Manny Garcia, who was working at the precinct when the fire broke out, forcing closure of Prunedale Road North.
He and Jonah Tellez were among those evacuated who set up shop for the closed precinct in the Prunedale Grange, about a mile away.
A California Highway Patrolman who stood watch over the road closure said he had to turn away about 20 voters by 3:30 p.m. It took about an hour for the address of the new voting location to filter out to officers manning the road closure, so some voters weren’t sure where to go.
Some expressed anger, but said they would vote in Salinas or Castroville.
Tellez said voters coming to the grange from the closed precinct told him they learned of the new location from postings on Facebook.
County Registrar of Voters Linda Tulett said officials at first wanted to move the polling place to a nearby church, but it soon became clear that location was also within the closure zone.
“We said, ‘Let’s pick a place where you’re not going to evacuate,'” Tulett said, pausing during a busy night at the county elections office in Salinas.
She said the elections office has a Facebook page, where it posted news of the move as soon as a new location was approved.
Tulett said some voters were notified of the move by text message and phone calls from the county’s Emergency Services Office, a system that was in place in 2010 when storms forced the move of a Big Sur polling place.
Elections field inspector Nicole Campoli said at the Prunedale Grange that although voting at one’s home precinct is preferable, “any voter is able to vote at any polling place.”
By 5 p.m., the grange parking lot was filling up, due to both high voter turnout and the American Legion Hall relocation, Campoli said.
As a block-long line of voters snaked out of Tulett’s office in Salinas, 18 rental trucks were poised outside, ready to dash off to collect ballots when the county’s 81 voting locations closed minus one because of the Prunedale evacuation.
A field inspector walked in and told Tulett that other Salinas polling places were also packed.
“That’s what we’ve been hearing all night just busy, busy, busy,” Tulett said.
She called Tuesday’s a “typically extremely busy” turnout. “We do have a record number of voters now,” she said. She said the county also issued more vote-by-mail ballots this year than ever before.
One field inspector walked in with an American Flag tucked under her arm and handed it to Tulett.
“It has 48 stars,” the woman said.
A voter had apparently noticed that the almost-antique flag, which appeared well-worn, was not the current version of the stars and stripes. Poll workers found the correct version and quickly replaced it.
While Tulett said she couldn’t tell yet if turnout was better than the 2008 presidential election, it was clear the night was going to be a long one.
The first release of election results, slated for 8:30 p.m., was delayed for more than half an hour as officials waited for the last voter to leave her voting booth at the elections office.
Linda Guzman of Salinas said she had to take off three back braces to make the drive to the office on South Main Street.
Voters who are in line when polls close at 8 p.m. are allowed to stay and vote, although the office is closed to anyone arriving after the cutoff time.
Guzman said that while the ballot measures and presidential election were important, she was especially concerned about early childhood care, saying there has to be more safety and less violence in Salinas.
She said the gang violence problem “makes me want to go back to school and start again with local politics.”
Guzman made local news in 2004 when she accused her ex-boyfriend, a former prison warden, of kicking her already injured back. The man was acquitted of the misdemeanor charges after his first trial ended with a hung jury.
Late in the day, a power outage left a Las Lomas precinct in the dark, but Tulett said voting continued anyway.
She said poll workers were prepared with flashlights and the machines had battery backups.
“We did OK with our flashlights and the tools that we have,” she said. “You gotta love the tenacity of the voters who showed up with their own flashlights.”
Despite the delays and curveballs, Tulett said, voting appeared to go without many hitches.
“The fire threw a wrench into our plans, but that was resolved in an hour,” she said. “We have a pretty well-oiled machine.”
Herald staff writer Elizabeth Devitt contributed to this story.