BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Tuesday's primary election brings changes that worry some voters. People in one neighborhood say they didn't find out soon enough that their polling place has changed. Other voters question a card recently mailed to them by the Kern County Elections Department.
Bob Kapler lives in a central Bakersfield area off California Avenue. Ever since he's live there, he's always been a "mail-in" vote. It was only last Thursday that he and his neighbors discovered that's no longer the case.
Voters in his area must now go to a polling place, they can't just mail in a ballot that had been sent to them.
"They had been wondering, like me, why we didn't get our ballots to vote," Kapler told Eyewitness News on Monday. It was Thursday that one of Kapler's relatives noticed a polling place was now listed on the back of his sample ballot.
A neighbor noticed that change about the same time. "But, she said a lot of times she wouldn't look at the back of (the sample ballot), so she wouldn't notice that," Kapler complained.
Turns out the change from a "mail-in" precinct is because the boundaries of many voting areas have just been moved.
"The new census requires redistricting," Kern Auditor, Controller and County Clerk Ann Barnett said. With new population numbers every 10 years, the precincts are redrawn to make sure every one has an equal number of voters.
Barnett said Kapler's neighborhood had been in a very small precinct, so it was an all "mail-in" precinct. The new precinct has more voters, so they now have a polling place.
Kapler thinks there should have been more notice, he says some of his neighbors have voted by mail for more than 20 years.
"There should have been another, separate piece of paper that would have caught your attention," Kapler said. He also said that by the time they figured out there was a change, it was too late to request an absentee ballot.
Kapler is blind, so as a mail-in voter it was convenient that he could fill out the ballot at home, and not make a trip to a polling place. But come Tuesday, he will still find a way to cast a ballot.
"Somebody will probably help me to go to the poll I'm supposed to go to," Kapler said. But, next he'll sign up to be a "permanent mail-in" voter.
Actually, the elections department hopes more voters will do exactly that. It's one of the reasons cards were sent out a couple weeks before the election.
The card folds out in three sections. The top lists a voter's polling place, the second part asks for a signature update.
"A lot of people don't update their voter registration for years and years," Barnett said. "Over time, your signature changes, and we want - if people vote absentee - we want to check their signatures."
Barnett said her office got a complaint the box to sign is too small, but she said it's the same size as the box on the voter registration form.
Having an updated signature will also ensure the department has a "good copy" of it, Barnett said.
Some voters have also questioned the safety of mailing that updated signature back to the elections department. "If people are uncomfortable with that, they can put it in another envelope to mail it, or they can simply drop it off at any polling place," Barnett said.
Sending in an updated signature is an option, it's not required, Barnett said.
The bottom section of the card lets voters sign up to permanently cast mail-in ballots.
"It saves the county money," Barnett said. "And one other thing to remember, when you vote by mail, you always have your signature checked."
On Tuesday, polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Permanent vote-by-mail voters can bring ballots to the Elections Office at 1115 Truxtun Avenue, or hand deliver it to any polling place on election day before the close of polls, according to county officials.
The Elections Department also says voters can get more information on their website or by calling (661) 868-3590 or toll free at (800) 452-8683.