When an unregistered voter walks into the polling place at Anna Head Alumnae Hall, they are immediately greeted by a welcoming William Sutton. Sutton helps them register, cast their ballot and even send a picture of their first voting experience home to mom by the time they walk out.
Sutton, an accessible voting location captain for Alameda County and UC Berkeley alumnus, has been working at polling places across the county since 1998. This election, he can be found at Anna Head Alumnae Hall.
“I’m responsible to make sure that we do, in fact, follow election law and all the policies and procedures of the registrar,” Sutton said.
One of twenty 11-day voting locations in Alameda County — and the only in Berkeley — the Anna Head polling place has been open since Oct. 29 and will remain open until 8 p.m. Tuesday.
According to Sutton, this 11-day window is “critical” in making sure that everyone has the opportunity to vote.
“Regardless of time zones or whatever, it’s really important that people exercise their franchise,” Sutton said.
All other polling places in Berkeley are four-day locations and will also be open until Tuesday at 8 p.m. Some of those places include the Ed Roberts Campus and Rosa Parks Elementary School.
According to Sutton, voting at Anna Head is open to all voters, including unregistered voters, voters with disabilities, voters who cannot find their mail-in ballot and voters who do not speak English.
The sites are ADA compliant and offer services such as voter registration, ballot printing and language translation, Sutton added.
“We’re here to perform a public service. It’s not our responsibility to determine whether or not you’re eligible to vote, you’re qualified to vote or whether you ought to vote,” Sutton said. “If you would like to vote, we make it possible for you to do that.”
All registered voters in California are sent a mail-in ballot, which has been the case since the 2020 election, Sutton added. Mail-in ballots can be returned on Election Day but must be postmarked by the end of the day to be counted.
California sets guidelines to ensure that voting is accessible, and according to Sutton, voters are “fortunate” to live here instead of other states where voting may not be as accessible.
“In Florida, they have election police. In Arizona, they have people walk around with AK-47s and video cameras. In North Dakota, you can’t have a mail-in ballot,” Sutton said. “They’ve taken away places where I can drop off my ballot. They have locations where they know that participation is going to be high so they have one screen or if you’re a third-party organization and you pass out water to people standing in line, you could be prosecuted for that.”
Due to a rise in voting by mail, Sutton said that even in California, in-person turnout has decreased since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when students come in to vote, Sutton urges them to tell everyone they know where the polling place is and when they can come to vote.
After all, he would not keep coming back to volunteer if he did not “look forward to it” each election cycle, he said.
“What I enjoy is every two years … I get a chance to meet people who I would’ve ordinarily not have had that opportunity (to meet),” Sutton said. “It’s really important to give back and what’s more important than voting in our country?”