“Make a plan.”
That’s the advice from Darlene Ingersoll, the Merced County Registrar of Voters, who is leading the effort to organize the general election this November amid statewide changes to the voting process.
It’s not Ingersoll’s first election in the county – that was the 2020 presidential election, when she worked under her outgoing predecessor. But it is her first general election as acting Registrar. Before this, she worked in county government for 14 years, serving in human resources and child support services after a 20-year stint in the private sector. Now she heads the Elections Office, a group of 10 people who work out of the Administration Building at 2222 M Street.
“I just want to serve the public,” she said. “I stand by my great team.”
It’s also the first general election that will be conducted under the California Voter’s Choice Act, which was passed by the state Legislature in 2016 but is still in the process of being rolled out across California. The primaries in June were the first elections in Merced County to follow the law.
The law was passed after voting trends showed people preferred mail-in ballots. Around 70 percent of voters prefer mailing in their ballots, according to Ingersoll.
Gone are the days of voting at your local library or elementary school across the street.
On or around Oct. 10, all active registered voters in Merced County will receive a vote-by-mail ballot in their mailbox for the Nov. 8, General Election. Completed ballots must be placed in the return envelope, signed and mailed, or dropped into official ballot drop-off boxes.
Meanwhile, voting centers around the county will offer Conditional Voting (same-day voter registration services), Ballot Replacement, special needs “accessible” voting machines and language assistance. They will serve everyone, regardless of where in the community you live, and will be open for longer. They will also serve as mail-in ballot drop off points.
“I would say that voters need to make a plan of how they want to vote, because it really is their choice,” she said. “If you have a plan and you know what it is, you’re more likely to participate.”
There will be 13 Voting Assistance Centers in total. Three in Merced, two in Los Banos and one each in Atwater, Dos Palos, Gustine, Livingston, Delhi, Hilmar, Planada and Winton. Three of these Centers — in Atwater, Los Banos and Merced — will be open for 11 days, starting on Oct. 29, and closing at the end of Election Day. The rest will be open for four days, starting on Nov. 5.
The County Administration Building in Merced will also serve as a voting center during business hours, and a ballot drop-off box will be located in the parking lot that voters will be able to drive up to.
The County Times will be publishing a list of Merced County Voting Centers and Drop-Off Locations with addresses in early October as ballots head to voters.
Currently there are around 124,500 active registered voters in the county, the highest it’s ever been. Ingersoll chalks that up to population growth and said she doesn’t expect turnout to be much higher or lower than previous years. She’s confident about the work her team is doing.
“I’m feeling good!” she said. “It’s a lot of work.”
If you have questions about elections or you need help, you can contact the Registrar at it’s office at 2222 M Street, by phone at 209-385-7541 or 1-800-561-0619 and by email at [email protected].