Handful of La Jolla voters have been without a polling place for 10 years

By Pat Sherman

Rebecca Schulman Havemeyer was looking forward to walking with her two young children to the polls on Election Day, so they could watch their mother cast her ballot.

“We were so excited to vote here,” the recent Massachusetts transplant said, noting that she accompanied her parents on Election Day as they cast their ballots and plans to carry on the family tradition with her own children.

“I really wanted to be able to go with (my children) on Election Day and … show them what an important privilege and a responsibility it is to vote,” she said. “There are certainly a lot of important issues to vote on locally, federally and statewide.”

However, the Bird Rock resident was surprised to learn that her tiny neighborhood precinct, which has only 71 registered voters, has been without a polling place for the past decade — despite the fact that it is just steps from Bird Rock Elementary School, the registered polling site for others in the area.

Schulman Havemeyer’s precinct (126390), which lies between Midway and Colima streets, and Bellevue and Linda Rosa avenues, is one of more than 530 precincts across the county where voters are required to cast ballots by mail.

Residents within these mail-only precincts are not without options. They also may vote in person at the County Registrar of Voters’ office in Kearny Mesa, drop off their mail-in-ballot at any polling site on Election Day, or vote at a nearby polling place via a provisional ballot.

Each year the county receives anywhere from 50,000 to 75,000 provisional ballots.

However, a provisional ballot (offered when there is some question as to the voter’s eligibility) is not counted on Election Day, if at all, offering a less meaningful lesson in civic engagement, Schulman Havemeyer said.

“It’s a personal disappointment, but we are also sort of concerned about the implications for the rest of the people in our precinct,” she added, noting her fear that the lack of a polling site in her precinct and in others in some 240 densely populated areas of San Diego County could lead to voter disenfranchisement.

“In an important election … we want as many people to be engaged (as possible),” she said. “It seems really crazy to have this situation, and it’s something the registrar has know about for years and years and hasn’t made much of an initiative to change.”

In response to an email query from Bird Rock resident Joe LaCava, county precinct planner Anthony Eastman said precinct 126390 has “traditionally” been a vote-by-mail precinct due to the fact that portions of it were located in different Congressional and state Assembly districts.

However, recent redistricting has changed that.

“With the new redistricting that was implemented, we can see that it (precinct 126390) now falls within the same (political) district boundaries as its neighboring precinct,” Eastman said. “In the future, we will be consolidating it with one of the surrounding precincts.”

County Registrar Deborah Seiler said her office reviews precincts and their boundaries each election cycle.

“For 10 years that was a redistricting issue (in precinct 126390),” she said. “It crossed two different … political jurisdictional lines. They were split by those districts for 10 years.”

Seiler assured that residents in Bird Rock’s precinct 126390 will have a polling place by the next election cycle, in June 2014.

However, given their options, residents of precinct 126390 “could in fact still have the voting experience” this year, Seiler said.

“We have so many ways (to vote),” she said. “These people are not being disenfranchised. Sixty-two percent (of them) are already voting by mail. … They’ve been doing this for 10 years, and this is the first complaint I’ve had.”

Seiler said of the 71 eligible voters in the Bird Rock precinct, 44 of them are already “permanent, vote-by mail voters.”

Per California law, Seiler said, when there are fewer than 250 registered voters in a precinct, the Registrar can declare the precinct a vote-by-mail precinct.

Such precincts are common across the state, she said.

“Every single county that we know of in the state has these types of precincts that are just really little,” she said. “In the more heavily populated areas, they get carved up.”

According to Seiler, La Jolla has one other precinct without a polling place, No. 125040, near the intersection of La Jolla Shores Drive and North Torrey Pines Road. That precinct has 111 registered voters, 54 of which are permanently registered mail voters.

Following 2011 redistricting, it falls within a different county supervisorial district than precinct 125000, where these residents previously cast their votes on Election Day. The Registrar’s office said 125040 could be consolidated with UC San Diego precinct 120050, though “it would be an inconvenience to voters.”