Voter-commuters registered in the county will be able to vote early, if not often, at mobile voting units today at the Fremont and MacArthur BART stations and Oct. 27 at the Dublin/Pleasanton station.
The traditional election day follows on Nov. 7, but American voters have in recent years been drifting away from the traditional voting-booth-on-election-day process for years.
This year the county is trying out "mobile voting units" for early voting in a variety of public places, including the three BART stations. Thursday shoppers at the NewPark Mall in Newark got a chance to exercise their democratic prerogative from noon to 8 p.m.
"We're trying something different," explained David MacDonald, the county's new acting registrar of voters. "If you look at the June election, we had about 39 percent turnout, which is pretty low ... What I thought we'd do is something different to get more people out to vote."
In addition to BART stations and malls, MacDonald's office set up its portable touch-screen voting stations Wednesday at the Center for Independent Living, a senior center Berkeley and is scheduled to visit the Cal State East Bay Student Union on Wednesday and Thursday and the Student Union at the University of California, Berkeley on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2.
"I think it's a good idea. It makes it more convenient to vote," said John Gausman, a 30-year-old administrative assistant who lives within walking distance from the MacArthur BART Station.
"I don't have to go out of my way; I'm already going to the BART station," whereas "I have to slow down a lot to go to the polling station" four blocks in the opposite direction, he said.
The innovation in electoral convenience is not without controversy.
Stuart Cohen, executive director of the Oakland-based Transportation and Land Use Coalition, expressed concern that BART be careful about influencing voters.
In its news release about the transit/polling stations, BART announced that voters "will be able to cast ballots in all the state and county races, including three critical transportation propositions. Propositions 1A, 1B and 1C, if passed, will provide additional funding for transportation needs in the Bay Area and throughout the state."
That language, which is also carried by newsletters picked up by BART riders, could be interpreted as an endorsement of the measures, Cohen said.
"I think it's great to make it easier in any way for busy people to get to vote. But one thing BART's going to have to be really careful about is to make sure that there's no literature in the area supporting any of the propositions," Cohen said.
BART spokesman Jim Allison said the transit system's attorneys had vetted the language for the newsletter.
MacDonald said he "didn't know they had issued a press release," and said he hoped "it doesn't become a big deal." As long as no such literature gets within 100 feet of a polling place, it shouldn't be a problem, he added.
BART rider Anthony Prince, a 52-year-old Berkeley attorney, welcomed the new voting choice.
"I think it's a good idea to increase access to voting. The current trend is more ominous: There's a lot of efforts to restrict voting in the country," Prince said.
And MacDonald said that as long as the polling place is free of electioneering, there are few limits to voter-access efforts.
"It doesn't matter what their motivation is or how they get here or why they vote, we just want to see a big turnout," which he predicted would be in the 60-70 percent range this time.