After buying their Lean Cuisine and Haagen-Dazs, Laguna Niguel residents lined up outside four local supermarkets this weekend to cast their votes in the annual Community Council election.
"It's very convenient," said George Faulkner, a five-year resident whose grocery cart was laden with tortilla chips and salsa Saturday as he went to the poll in front of an Alpha Beta market to help elect Community Council members.
The council is an advisory board that makes recommendations to the Orange County Board of Supervisors on decisions affecting Laguna Niguel, which is unincorporated.
Voting Continues Today
Laguna Niguel's weeklong election will continue at the unusual polling sites through 5 p.m. today, with results announced Monday night. Voters are choosing eight of the Community Council's 15 members for two-year terms.
For the community of 16,000, "grocery store politics" have been the norm for at least 13 years out of necessity. Community Council members decided that letting residents vote at a convenient time and place, and giving them a week to do it, would be the only way to get a substantial turnout, according to Community Council member Bob Hurst.
"The supermarkets have become our town centers," council member Pat Bates said. "We get our best exposure by being in front of the supermarkets."
Without grocery store polls, Hurst said, voter turnout would be substantially less than the already meager average of 5% (about 400 of the community's 8,000 eligible voters participated in last year's municipal election). About 80% of those who vote go to the grocery store polls, which are open on weekends, and about 20% go to the Laguna Niguel Chamber of Commerce during the week.
On Saturday morning, voter activity was "very low" at the Alpha Beta, said election worker Lee Granniss. "It's sad that there's not more participation."
Nevertheless, many residents said that they would not have voted had the polls not been in front of their grocery stores. "I think it's wonderful--I probably wouldn't have voted otherwise," said Martha Clemons, who voted in front of a Lucky store with her husband, William, after doing her weekly shopping.
Eight-year resident Red Guyer said he usually votes each year in front of his supermarket but that "it doesn't matter where you vote, as long as you vote."
11 Official Candidates
Along with Alpha Beta on Crown Valley Parkway and Lucky on Alicia Parkway, residents can vote today at Vons on Aliso Creek Road and Safeway on Coast Highway.
This year, Laguna Niguel voters are electing representatives of Districts 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10, plus three at-large members of the Community Council, from among 11 official candidates. Three districts are uncontested, and only two official candidates are vying for the three at-large seats.
Election officials hope that some hotly contested issues in recent months will bring more voters to the polls. They include the possible formation of a community services district, rapid residential growth and specific development projects, especially the proposed Monarch Beach commercial center.
"We've been seeing about a 30% better attendance" at the semimonthly Community Council meetings as a result of those issues, Bates said.
Times staff writer Bob Schwartz contributed to this story.