Local Election

Election day moments: ‘It is my duty,’ says 82-year-old voter

Lula Hooks remembers when many black people couldn’t vote.

The 82-year-old braved the heat Tuesday afternoon in a bright fuchsia sun hat to vote at her local polling place, the west Fresno branch of Fresno County Public Library. Hooks said she has voted in every election as far back as she can remember.

“It is my right; it is my duty,” she said. “People have fought and died for that privilege.”

Born and raised in Fresno, Hooks said she didn’t have the same experience as black people in the South who, before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, were prevented from casting ballots. But she recognizes the value of her vote.

Hooks said people who don’t vote “doom themselves” to the possible election of candidates like Donald Trump, who are self-serving and untrustworthy. She voted for Hillary Clinton.

“Votes do count,” she said.

Roxanne Hinds, precinct inspector at the library location, said most people who came in to vote by early afternoon were above age 60. She said some dressed in red, white and blue. Some needed help steadying their hands to fill out their ballots.

“I just admire them for taking the time,” Hinds said. “Because they could vote from home, but they choose to come here and be part of the process.”

Maria Sanchez, 74, also spoke of duty. She and her daughter Raquel Pichardo, 47, also voted for Clinton, saying she has appealed more to Latino voters like them. Sanchez said she votes in every election. This time, Pichardo helped her fill out the ballot – her eyesight isn’t so good anymore.

But her determination was unwavering: “We are citizens,” she said in Spanish. “We must vote.”

Good turnout, but some hot locations

Fresno County elections chief Brandi Orth said there were no major problems Tuesday. At the start of the day, she expected a 60 percent voter turnout, but said she won’t know for sure until she receives all the ballots – which could be days. Ballots returned by mail and postmarked by Tuesday will be counted if they’re received within three days.

This year, Fresno County opened 40 garage precincts to accommodate voters in residential areas that don’t have public buildings nearby. While it’s not unusual to use residences, this year additional locations were needed.

“We always try to move away from garages, it’s a hard environment to have elections,” said Orth. “But when you’re an election official trying to comply with the law, we have to try and find a location within the precinct.”

On triple-digit-heat days like Tuesday, garages get stifling for those manning the booths. Volunteers like 17-year-old Julia Lewis cool down with regularly scheduled breaks and electric fans.

“It’s hot, but it’s cool to experience the voting. I wanted to get into the voting process and see what it’s like,” said Lewis, a senior at University High School.

Even though Lewis had a 15-hour day at the garage – including set up, break down and breaks – she wants to volunteer again next year because she enjoys meeting new people.

As Election Day began Tuesday, workers at the polling place located on the Fresno City College campus said they had a steady but thin line of voters, mostly seniors.

The Fresno City College location was hard to find. Precinct inspector Susan Newton said voter pamphlets listed the college’s address, but the polling location was new, on the corner of College and Weldon avenues.

Newton added more signage after 9 a.m. in hopes that traffic would pick up.

Trump lures voters back to polls

At Fresno City College, Don Barbato was one of a couple voters casting his ballot at 8:45 a.m. The 72-year-old said he had only voted once before – in the 1980s. When the politician he voted for didn’t win, Barbato decided to stop participating because he felt his vote didn’t count.

“That one-man, one-vote thing doesn’t work,” he said after exiting the polling place.

Barbato said the presidential election convinced him to vote again. He voted for Donald Trump.

“America is a business. He’s a proven businessman,” Barbato said. “That’s what this country needs.”

Barbato said he worries about the economy and gun rights. He said he doesn’t trust career politicians. Plus, Trump will create more jobs.

“I feel positive about this election,” he said. “He’s got a good chance.”

Barbato said he filled out his entire ballot, including voting for Doug Vagim for Fresno mayor. He read the voter pamphlets and did additional research online.

At the First Congregational Church on Van Ness Boulevard, Gary Long, 69, also voted for Trump. Unlike Barbato, Long said he has voted in every election since he turned 18.

“I feel like it’s my right,” he said. “I served this country in the military, so I’m a patriot.”

Long said he gets frustrated when people complain about the results of an election but admit they didn’t vote. This election, he said, Trump and Bernie Sanders brought out different types of voters.

He didn’t want to vote for Trump, but felt he had no other choice.

“There were other, better candidates,” he said. “But at this point, to vote against Hillary, that’s what I have to do.”

Private decisions

Other voters kept their decisions private.

Sidney Marek, 19, also voting at First Congregational, cast a ballot for her first time. Marek said she struggled to decide which candidates to vote for. She said it was difficult to find information about candidates that wasn’t biased.

Marek said her family is evenly split between political parties – one side is full of Democrats, the other is Republicans. She wouldn’t say who she voted for, but she admitted she wasn’t too thrilled with any of the presidential candidates. Still, Marek felt compelled to vote.

Ashley De Young, 27, used the drive-through polling location outside the Clovis Veterans Memorial District. She also didn’t say who she voted for, but did say she votes in every election.

De Young said her vote is never in vain: “I feel like it counts every time.”

Faith in Sanders

Marlene Villalobos, 20, cast her first ballot inside the Clovis veterans building. She said her older sisters never voted, so she always figured she wouldn’t, either.

But history and political science teachers in high school and at Clovis Community College, where Villalobos now attends, convinced her otherwise. Being a Latina with immigrant parents further pushed her to head to the polls. “I always thought my vote didn’t count,” she said of her view before she cast her ballot Tuesday.

Villalobos voted for Sanders, despite The Associated Press reporting Monday that Clinton has enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination. She said he still has a chance.

Voting “feels good,” she said.

Andrea Castillo: 559-441-6279, @andreamcastillo. Staff writer JoAnna Kroeker contributed to this story.