By Donna Europa for South Kern Sol
ARVIN, Calif. – In the wake of the July 23rd special election pitting Republican Andy Vidak against Democrat Leticia Perez for the State Senate District 16, South Kern Sol asked Kern County residents what kept voter turnout at a low 4%. According to the Secretary of State website Kern County has a total population of 486,996 people that are eligible to vote and only 17,595 people residing in Kern County voted in the special election. Residents interviewed said they didn’t vote because they were either not registered, they felt as if neither candidate was what they wanted, or they didn’t have the time and forgot.
“People in these communities simply do not have the time to worry about politics and voting because they are too busy trying to support their families. They do not see how voting can help them put food on the table or pay this months’ rent,” said Octavio Garza, a volunteer who helped register voters for the special election.
Many Kern County residents interviewed did not know about their voting rights, including the right to vote during the workday.
Taylor Graham, a 20-year-old Arvin resident said he didn’t vote because he “had to work on that day.”
While election polls are open outside of working hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Californian voters have the right to vote during the workday for two working hours. The Secretary of State website states, “If you are scheduled to be at work during that time, California law allows you to take up to two hours off to vote, without losing any pay.” It continues to note that “these two hours can be only at the beginning or end of your regular work shift, [and] you must notify your employer at least two working days prior to the election.”
Kern County has only about 60 out of every 100 of its eligible voters registered to vote, according to the Secretary of State website, contributing to the low voter turnout problem.
Reynaldo Leal, a 45-year-old Weedpatch resident, and Maneli Ortiz, 18, from Arvin, stated that the reason they did not vote was because “[they] were not registered.”
But even registered voters stayed home this election.
When Rosalie Bejarano, a 33-year-old registered Arvin voter, was asked why she didn’t vote, she said, “I forgot.”
The Election Day polls were described as “rather slow,” according Victor Rivera, an 18-year-old resident of Lamont that worked the polls. Rivera added, “Perhaps social change and community involvement isn’t stressed enough in Kern County, judging from the very minimal voter turnout.”
During the last few weeks of the special election, there were many attacks to Perez and Vidak’s campaigns through television and flyers sent by mail, potentially contributing to the low voter turnout. Joel Hurtado, 18, and a first time voter in Arvin said that the reason why people do not vote could be because, “People want to hear how politicians will change our government, not reasons why not to vote for the other candidate.”
Garza disagreed with this point and said, “At one point or another during a certain election, there are numerous candidates from all these different political groups who run on different platforms. People need to know how important it is to vote in every stage of the election for this reason because there should be one candidate who they can support.”
Garza added, “The best way to address all of these issues is proper education.”
We can increase Kern County’s voter turnout by keeping up with what the candidates say during their debates, voting by mail, registering early by either going to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or going to the California Secretary of State website to fill out a short application to register to vote, and ultimately showing up on election day and voting.