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Students See That Every Vote Counts

October 09, 2003|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

For all practical purposes, the recall election was over minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday and done for good less than two hours later when Gov. Gray Davis delivered his concession speech.

But for dozens of young people in Ventura County, the lessons lasted throughout the night.

About 70 Oxnard College students showed up at the County Government Center to find out more about the process of collecting and counting votes. And scores of students from Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks and other area colleges worked behind the scenes on election day, staying well past midnight to tally the final ballots.

For all the talk of a generation alienated from politics and unconcerned with the electoral system, these college-age students for one long night represented the best of participatory democracy, a group eager to learn and lend a hand even as the election quickly became a blowout.

"Every poll tells you that people age 18 to 25 are a lower registered, lower turnout group, but you wouldn't have gotten that feeling here last night," Ventura County elections chief Bruce Bradley said Wednesday morning. "I was very encouraged by that. I think they all did a great job."

Even before the polls closed, students from Tim Flynn's political science class at Oxnard College had crowded into the government center, filling the chamber where the Board of Supervisors meets before descending into the basement where the election division was gearing up for the count.

"It's a pilgrimage," said Flynn, who doubles as a government teacher at Camarillo High School. "I love this kind of thing. When they actually come down here and see it, they can make the connection."

To convey the inner workings of the government complex, Flynn went to the source: His father, John Flynn, has served on the Board of Supervisors for nearly 30 years and came out Tuesday to answer questions about the political system. He was also on hand to share the first results from absentee balloting.

Murmurs rippled through the room when it was announced shortly after 8 p.m. that both the recall and Arnold Schwarzenegger held commanding early leads.

"One of the best things about this election is that I've seen more young people getting involved," the elder Flynn told the students. "I hope your interest continues."

It would be another hour before the first precinct ballots arrived, carried into the elections division in black boxes that resemble large steamer trunks. Many ballots eventually made their way to Cal Lutheran student Madeline Stacy, a 21-year-old psychology major and cheerleader volunteering at election headquarters with other members of the cheerleading squad.

Like the others, her job was to prepare blocks of ballots to be fed into tabulating machines, making sure they were free of anything that would gum up the works. She would keep at it until after 1 a.m., hours after Davis had conceded defeat and Schwarzenegger claimed victory.

"The votes still have to be counted," said Stacy, sporting a white "Rock The Vote" button on her blouse. "I think it's still neat to be part of the process and see how it all works."

Cal State Northridge junior Benjamin Fordham, 22, felt the same way, even though he was closing in on a 24-hour day as an election worker. The Oxnard High School graduate had been on the job since 6 a.m., spending most of his day ferrying extra ballots and other supplies to polling places around the county.

He spent his evening hours unloading ballots from vans and flatbed trucks, earning $10 an hour for his effort. Around midnight, there was still no end in sight.

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