By Julia Prodis Sulek and Matt O’Brien
It’s so easy to get discouraged, disillusioned and downright disgusted by elections. Even a video of a 4-year-old Colorado girl crying to her mother because she’s “tired of Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney” touched a universal nerve.
But on this Election Day, we celebrate those who power though the negative ads, the dizzying campaign mailers and the incessant robo-calls and cast their ballots just the same. From first-timers to veterans, Bay Area voters who have taken the time to decode the complicated propositions, research local candidates and — bonus points here — watch the presidential debate during Game 7 of the National League baseball playoffs, we commend you.
The reasons are often as simple as a civics lesson.
“I like to say I did my part,” Gloria Dy, 48, a quality assurance analyst in Santa Clara said Monday. “If you don’t do your part, you can’t complain.”
And for new citizens, it can be as passionate as a surge of American pride.
“I’m excited and nervous at the same time,” said Filipino native Nigel Remis of Pinole, who will vote as an American for the first time Tuesday after taking his citizenship oath last month. Drowsiness will tug at Remis, who works the graveyard shift registering patients at Stanford Hospital, but nothing will stop the 31-year-old from getting to his neighborhood ballot box before he goes to bed Tuesday morning. “I was born as a Filipino, but I feel in my heart a loyalty to the U.S.,” he said.
“I feel patriotic.”
Sambath Ros, 77, no longer feels too nervous to vote.
He is one of more than 100 Cambodian elders in East Oakland who fled the violent Khmer Rouge three decades ago and are now voting in the United States for the first time. A community group worked to register the elders, who don’t speak English well and have felt disconnected to get involved until Khmer-speaking activists reached out to them.
“This country helps the people,” Ros said.
Not everyone can be motivated. Almost 18 percent of the registered voters in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties cast no ballot in the historic 2008 presidential general election; one-third of the region’s registered voters ignored the 2010 general election for governor.
But really, there should be little excuse in this fair weather state for avoiding the polls, considering the extraordinary lengths voters on the storm-ravaged East Coast are going through to fulfill their public duty: They’re slogging through sand and downed trees, rustling up battery packs to power voting machines and spending as much time finding their displaced polling locations as tanks of gas. With another storm barreling toward the region Tuesday, New Jersey voters, for the first time, can email or fax their votes. And New Yorkers will be allowed to vote at any polling place in the state and might get an extra voting day if turnout falls below 25 percent.
In the Bay Area, there is little on this election day to hinder time-honored voting rituals, where neighbors gather for ballot parties, mothers send out handwritten cheat sheets to their too-busy grown children and parents walk their school-age kids to the polls to see Democracy in action and get an “I Voted” sticker.
“I think the government is so removed from the people — it’s Democrat vs. Republican and Republican vs. Democrat and they forget who put them in office,” said Larry Moretti, 63, who owns an auto repair business in Santa Clara and who — like more than 800,000 voters in the Bay Area — already sent in his mail-in ballot. “This is my way of letting them know how I feel.”
Denise Miller, a 27-year-old Santa Clara University Law student, also sent in her ballot — to her home state of Arizona, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who made headlines about his harsh immigration stand is up for re-election.
“I hope my vote in Arizona might be more of a swing vote there,” said Miller, who is encouraging her reluctant younger sister to vote, too. “If we become apathetic, that’s not helping anything.”
On Tuesday morning, more than 1,000 immigrants will emerge from a swearing in ceremony at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre as new citizens. Although Oct. 22 was the state’s deadline to register for this election, California offers a grace period for the last batch of newly naturalized citizens, who can go directly to their county election office, register and vote on the same day.
Jessica Guan and Kiran Bhogadi, who both became American citizens this fall, will head to the polls in Millbrae. Guan hails from China, the world’s largest communist country. Bhogadi, her husband, comes from India, the world’s largest democracy. While their newborn daughter slept, the couple spent hours studying the propositions and candidates.
“It is a right, and also a privilege,” said Guan, a financial analyst who learned about the American political system as a schoolgirl in Beijing, where voting was an abstract concept. “I’ve done my homework. I’ve made my choices. I take it very seriously.”
And like all Americans, new and old, the importance of the voting experience is passed to the next generation.
David Ortiz of San Jose, who drives a tour bus for Royal Coach and is especially concerned about measures that fund road improvements, said he’s spent time with his 26-year-old daughter discussing the issues.
“I’ve told her it’s important and will affect how we live and how our money is being spent,” Ortiz said. “If you want to make some kind of impact, start with issues that directly affect you, like your community and schools, things you want to change.”