News

June 5 primary: Voters head to the mail box

With California voters turning increasingly to the mail box to cast their ballots, five counties have set up an expanded vote-by-mail system for this year’s elections.

Sacramento, Madera, Napa, Nevada and San Mateo are swapping out more than 500 neighborhood polling places and replacing them with nearly 80 high-tech “vote centers” as part of the 2016 Voter’s Choice Act, which aims to improve voter participation, at least in part, by making it easier to cast ballots.

“Getting a ballot in the mail reminds you to vote. It can be easier than finding a polling place.” — Eric McGhee.

Voting by mail is not new.

During 50 years of California primary elections, vote-by-mail rose from less than 2% of the total vote in 1966 to a high of nearly 70 percent in  2014, the state elections officer reported.

In the 2016 primary election, mail-in ballots accounted for 58 percent of the vote. During one period alone, from 1986 through 1992, the number of voters who mailed in their primary ballots doubled, from about 426,000 to more than 1.07 million. General elections follow similar trends.

Eric McGhee, research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said there are many positive aspects to Voter’s Choice Act and he expects a slight increase in voter turnout.

“Getting a ballot in the mail reminds you to vote. It can be easier than finding a polling place,” McGhee said.

The vote centers also alleviate the stresses of registering, he added. Voters can drop off ballots at the centers, show up to register, update their contact information or get help from vote center staff at the site.  New ballots will even be printed on the same day.

But McGhee is concerned that more outreach may be required for voters of color.

About 28.5 of Latinos voted in 2016 and are they are projected  to comprise about 38 percent of the vote in 2040, according to the UC Davis Center for Regional Change.

He noted that the UC Davis Civic Engagement Project found that voters of color are nervous about changes to the voting system. McGhee said the reasons for this can often be language barriers or because some voters may not trust the system due to the nation’s history of barring certain voters.

A portion of African American voters are expected to vote less in the next few decades, from 6.8 percent of the black population in 2016 to a projected 5.9 percent in 2040. The project reported that African American voters are concerned about the motives for this change, they are worried about long lines and feel concerned about traveling to the centers.

Just under 49 percent of white voters cast their vote in 2016, but only 38.6 percent are projected to vote by 2040.

Countering those trends, however, are Latino voters: About 28.5 of Latinos voted in 2016 and are they are to comprise about 38 percent of the vote in 2040, according to the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. Mail-in voters are becoming more diverse and have the power to tip an election.

Mark DiCamillo, director of the Institute for Governmental Studies Poll at UC Berkeley, said mail voters used to tend to be more conservative, older voters.

“But now it’s taken on the overall electorate … more diverse,” DiCamillo said.

Alpine County was the first to fully opt for mail ballots, and that led to increased voter turnout, DiCamillo said. But that is not always the case for every county.

In 1982, DiCamillo worked with California pollster pioneer Mervyn Field, and in exit polls conducted during the gubernatorial election that year, Democratic candidate Tom Bradley was expected to win. But mail-in votes said otherwise.

“Voters by mail actually tipped the election,” DiCamillo said. In an organized effort, more conservative voters and National Rifle Association supporters submitted votes by mail, adding to the election of the late Republican nominee George Deukmegian.

“We thought Bradley would win, it was kind of embarrassing,” DiCamillo said. “The number of voters who do so by mail have been increasing over the last three decades,” he added.

Alpine County was the first to fully opt for mail ballots, and that led to increased voter turnout, DiCamillo said. But that is not always the case for every county.

“It’s just a replacement method. It is the voters who were already going to vote, but just doing it a different way.”

In 1982, fewer than 7% of the California voting population cast their ballots by mail. By 2016, 58 percent of the ballots were vote-by-mail, up 27 percent from 2002.

The first votes counted are by mail but will be the last numbers to be released.

Based on DiCamillo’s last polls, 71 percent of likely voters said they would vote by mail.

“It gains popularity after they have a taste for it. They are very likely to do it again,” he said. “But some will stick to casting ballots physically because they like their right to do it.”

He also believes the mail voting system keeps voters better informed.  “Some like to vote by mail because it gives them more time to have the ballot in their hand. It is an opportunity to vote in a more informed way, you can go online, talk to your loved one… make an informed decision.”

DiCamillo said mail voters make polling in the final weeks a bit easier because those that already voted will have a set answer. “It gives us a better assessment,” he said.

“On election night, I expect that at some point a big swath of vote counts will be added toward the end,” he said. The first votes counted are by mail but will be the last numbers to be released.

Vote centers will be scattered throughout Sacramento County, set up in Citrus Heights, Carmichael and as far out as Galt. For a full list, visit the Voter Registration and Elections page on the Sacramento County website.


  • http://www.cavotes.org EALeslie

    I love the whole vote center concept – more ways and more days of voting plus easy voter reg on the spot! You can use the League’s Voter’s Edge to view your ballot and find your vote center: http://www.votersedge.org/ca

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7be2c6fbfed33b2f9ae14e5f3cf291fd6b9a2b0fc83d5e07ab79808a54a9687a.jpg

  • onlyusrecovery

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  • onlyusrecovery

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