Though dropping a ballot on Election Day is the norm during most years, 2020 is—by most measures—a strange beast. On top of record turnout via mail-in ballots—in Butte County and around the country—local voters flocked to official drop boxes and voter assistance centers on Election Day (Nov. 3) to ensure their votes were counted.
Anxiety ran high among many people the CN&R spoke to after delivering their ballots at Chico’s voting locales. Some expressed concern about nationwide rumors of voter intimidation and conflict at polls that fortunately failed to manifest locally. Consternation persists, however, and likely will for days to come as voters await official tallies on local and national races.
“Not great” is how Shyanne Scott described feeling after dropping her ballot in the box outside of Chico State’s Bell Memorial Union (BMU). “Whatever happens this election will change our world forever,” she said, referring specifically to the presidential race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. “It already has.”
Scott didn’t reveal who she voted for, but said, “Both potential outcomes aren’t really good, but I definitely prefer one over the other.”
Solomon Smith, who voted for Joe Biden at the BMU voter assistance center, said the primary issue that drove him to vote this year was police reform.
“We all saw what happened to George Floyd, and stuff like that just has to stop,” he said. “Trump hasn’t reacted well to [ensuing protests and calls for justice and reform]. I think his biggest misstep is that there was a real chance to unite people and that wasn’t done at all.”
Smith said he’s personally helped a co-worker register to vote, and that he’s spoken to many people who were eager to cast ballots this year after sitting out of former elections.
He also expressed worries shared by others that election results could lead to unrest, particularly since Trump continues to cast doubt on the validity of mail-in votes, and Republican operatives are currently working to block those votes from continuing to be counted in some states.
“People are so divided right now, I’m hoping that whatever the outcome is things will go back to normal,” he said. “I’m worried about how people will react … I’m hoping there’s no bad reactions.”
Frank Walker dropped his ballot outside the voter assistance center at Luna—the rental space adjacent to Sol Mexican Grill on the Esplanade in North Chico. When asked who he voted for, he pointed to a Trump flag flying from his pickup truck and said, “’The Man, of course!”
Walker said he follows both sides of the political spectrum and researches both mainstream media and what he classified as “conspiracy theories,” many of which he said have proven to be true. He said any lingering doubt he had about this year’s big race was cleared up by the conservative conspiracy du jour—that a laptop allegedly abandoned by Hunter Biden at a Vermont computer repair shop proves his father Joe engaged in illegal schemes in Ukraine.
Walker expressed worries that the Biden/Kamala Harris ticket will come out on top: “I’m pro Second Amendment, pro all of our rights,” he said, saying he disagrees with those candidates’ tax and medical plans and other policies. “I think Ka-MA-la, Ka-MAY-la, Camel-toe, whatever you want to call her … y’know, she just scares the hell out of me.”
As much as Walker and Smith’s political views might differ, both expressed a desire to reunite the country during these divided times. Walker related that his closest friendship has been damaged recently by political differences, and said he nearly “came to blows” with that friend.
“My best friend and I … if we’re at odds, this country doesn’t stand a chance. The people shouldn’t be fighting each other over politics. Whoever they are, we should stand with our neighbors instead of some guy in Washington.”
Patrica Goodwin, a site manager for the voter assistance center at BMU, oversaw a group of 14 volunteers there who provided services including registering voters and replacing lost envelopes and ballots containing errors. She said people were lined up before the site opened at 7 a.m. on election day and estimated more than 225 voters had been helped by 1:30 p.m.
Crystal Rocha, site manager at the Luna site, said about 150 had sought assistance and dropped ballots there by mid-afternoon that day. Other voter assistance centers were located at the Chico Masonic Family Center, Silver Dollar Fairgrounds and the Elk’s Lodge.
Rocha and Goodwin both reported their sites didn’t experience any aggressive politicking, intimidation or disgruntled voters.
“Everyone has been wonderful,” Goodwin said, while Rocha said the sentiment she’d most heard was that people were happy not to have to wait in line to drop their ballot.
Ballot drop boxes were located at the voter assistance sites, as well as the Chico Municipal Building, Chapman Elementary and Butte County Library in Chico. The CN&R observed a steady stream of voters dropping their ballots at the library several times during the day, with a handful turned away after the box automatically locked at 8 p.m.
The only party in town
COVID-19 and related regulations limiting private gatherings and business capacities—as well as delayed final results—lead to a dearth of Election Night celebrations. The sole exception that the CN&R could track down was at Chico’s DoubleTree, where more than a hundred local Republican candidates and their supporters gathered in the hotel’s bar and conference center.
Those present at the hotel around 9 p.m. included Congressman Doug LaMalfa, Assemblyman James Gallagher and most of the conservative Chico City Council candidates. Despite projections showing Biden leading in electoral college votes around then, the party was buzzing with celebratory energy following the 8:30 p.m. posting of unofficial tallies by the Butte County Elections Office indicating a tentative victory for at least three conservative council candidates—incumbent Sean Morgan, former councilman Andrew Coolidge and newbie Kami Denlay. Face-covering-free attendees exchanged hugs and handshakes and feasted on finger sandwiches.
Denlay stood near the center if the room, hugging husband Joshua Klingbeil and accepting congratulations from well-wishers.
“I feel really good, I had such a great team and so many people working for us,” she said of her tentative victory. “So I feel like it wasn’t just a win for me but a win for everybody, a win for Chico.”
Asked what her first objectives as a council member would be, Denlay said, “Anything I can do to put public safety first. We’ve got to take our parks back, we’ve got to take our downtown back.”
Arguably the biggest winner in attendence at the DoubleTree wasn’t a candidate, but was a driving force behind the potential conservative council sweep—Teri DuBose. DuBose is the owner of Broadway Pawn and the primary organizer behind Citizens for a Safe Chico, a political action committee that raised more than $220 thousand dollars—largely from developers, real estate companies and out-of-area donors—to support council bids by Morgan, Denlay, Coolidge and Deepika Tandon. The PACs objectives include banning syringe-distribution programs, controlling the city’s homeless population and bolstering the Chico Police Department to combat perceived crime.
“I’m feeling super good about the way the community spoke,” DuBose said. “This is what they wanted and I couldn’t be happier, because it’s time for change.
“From the bottom of my heart I love this city,” she continued. “I was born and raised here and I haven’t liked what I’m seeing and what I experience on a daily basis. I wanted change and worked for it, that’s all there is to it.”
Go here more on local (and national) election results.