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'This is a privilege': Lompoc residents cast their ballots ahead of Election Night
Election 2020

'This is a privilege': Lompoc residents cast their ballots ahead of Election Night

Lompoc residents made their way early Tuesday to one of four polling places in town to cast their ballots and collect an "I Voted" sticker, ensuring their voices were heard on Election Day. 

Walking up the front steps of The Mission Club sporting shorts, sweatshirts and face coverings, first-time voters and brothers Levi Robbins, 19, and Daniel Robbins, 20, said exercising their right to vote now that they are officially old enough is an important part of being a U.S. citizen. And it's "an obligation" they don't take lightly.

"A lot of people put their lives on the line for our voices to be heard," Daniel said. 

Levi believes that this election is going to bring the biggest changes to the  country and that turning up to vote this year was crucial.

"I feel like if we didn't vote, we'd be stupid not to," Levi said.

In addition to socially distant waiting lines and sanitized polling booths to meet COVID-19 safety protocols, an outside walk-up station featuring a large blue ballot box managed by two poll workers was conveniently located for easy ballot drop-offs.

Poll worker Shelby, who circulated both inside and outside while donning a plastic face shield, said she reported for duty to The Mission Club at 6 a.m. in preparation for the first wave of early voters at 7 a.m.

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Poll worker Stephanie Hernandez waits for the 7 a.m. opening of Election Day voting outside the Mission Club polling place in Vandenberg Village.

"All that I can say is that today has been the busiest day," she said, noting that poll workers are being trained while in motion. "We're all doing the best we can."

Wyatt Smalling, 25, a first-time voter, said he left his paper ballot at home and, instead, opted to vote at the polls.

"I don't really know the process," Smalling said. "But I figured, I live just down the street, I should probably do this."

The Dick DeWees Community Center, located on the south side of Lompoc, experienced a slower stream of voters, although it was the busiest day since polls opened Saturday, according to two poll workers. 

Wearing a face covering, second-time poll worker David "Heck" Heckaman stood watch outside of the community center's front entrance, quick to greet and direct arriving voters.

Heckaman said he took over as a poll worker in 2016 after his father's death. His father had been a faithful poll worker for several decades.

"I wanted to carry on the tradition of my father," he said, noting that he remains a watchful citizen over politics and regards voting and staying involved an important part of the democratic process. "If you don't do anything about it, you have nothing to complain about."

Married couple of 35 years, Ana and Mike Waliser, arrived ready to vote later in the morning.

Ana explained that since emigrating from Chile and becoming a U.S. citizen 51 years ago, she knows what it's like not to have a voice. Voting to be heard is important, she said.

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An poll worker signals that a booth has been sanitized as Sue Becker, right, votes on the morning of Election Day at the Mission Club polling place in Vandenberg Village.

"This is something that is sacred to her," her husband explained. "For me, personally, there's a lot of people who have shed their blood for this right. This is a privilege and a right for us. Our forefathers have sacrificed much. I believe this is still the greatest country in the world and I want to keep it that way. So I'm voting."

Exiting the polling place, longtime resident Marty Bender, who believes everyone should have a say in our government, said that although his wife already voted by mail, he prefers to show up in person to cast his ballot.

"I wanted to vote in person," he said. "It's what I've always done."

Comparing his voting experience to 2016, Bender said the process this year was made simpler. Registered voters were instantly verified through an electronic registrar versus a thick book of names like years prior.

"We just provide our name and birthday and [the poll worker] verifies our info," he said. "It was pretty easy."

Lisa André covers local news and lifestyles for Santa Ynez Valley News. 

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