February 8, 2007 - Election official to pursue mail-only voting
Copyright 2007 Contra Costa Times
Contra Costa Times ( Walnut Creek, California)
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News
February 8, 2007 Thursday
SECTION: STATE AND REGIONAL NEWS
LENGTH: 681 words
HEADLINE: Election official to pursue mail-only voting
BYLINE: Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.
Feb. 8--Despite a cold reception from lawmakers Wednesday, Contra Costa County election chief Steve Weir says he will pursue a state law that allows California counties to conduct mail-only elections.
"We're not going to give up, said Weir, also chairman of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. "We have several counties where a majority of the voters already vote by mail and they would like the option if we're going to have four elections in 365 days."
Weir won't seek mail-only for Contra Costa County, where 34 percent of its registered voters consistently cast their ballots by mail.
"I don't think Contra Costa is ready for it," Weir said.
But more than half the voters in Sonoma and Marin counties already vote by mail, and in the November election, Weir said, 26 counties saw their vote-by-mail numbers exceed 50 percent of all votes cast. Under the proposal, each county's Board of Supervisors would make the decision.
Voting by mail is less expensive than precinct voting because it doesn't require trained poll workers or expensive voting machines, "but doing both is the most expensive option," Weir said. "Money is not the guiding issue, but we need to look at what's going to work to get the most people voting and voting successfully."
Weir didn't bother to bring up voting by mail when he testified Wednesday before the Senate Election Committee in Sacramento during a hearing on Senate Bill 113, which would move up the California presidential primary to February starting in 2008. The association had hoped to incorporate the mail-only option into the bill.
Weir now says the association will pursue it as a pilot project in Marin and Sonoma counties for the June 3, 2008, election.
Earlier in the week, staff members of legislative leaders on both sides of the political aisle and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration "told me the idea is a nonstarter," Weir said.
"The governor is always interested in saving money," Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear said, "but he doesn't want to do something that will hinder the democratic process. That why we have to debate the issue and decide what's best."
Critics fear mail-only voting would disenfranchise citizens who have never voted by mail and may not want to switch. It could also discourage poor people, they say, who may move frequently and have difficulty receiving their mail in a timely manner.
Yet, advocates say voter turn-out remains strong in Oregon, whose voters have cast their ballots entirely by mail since 2004, and Washington state, where 37 of its 39 counties conduct mail-only elections. About a quarter of Californians, on average statewide, are signed up to vote permanently by mail.
Voting by mail is also a fully paper ballot system, which could provide reassurance at a time when many voters worry that electronic voting machines are too easily hacked.
"Mandatory voting by mail has advantages and disadvantages," said California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander. "But one of the benefits of voting by mail is that we wouldn't be deploying thousands of electronic voting machines across the state."
California may not be ready to embrace mandatory voting by mail, but Weir says he hopes lawmakers will favorably consider other requests from the statewide organization of county election officials.
At the top of the group's list is state reimbursement for the extra election. It costs roughly $2.5 million to put on an election in Contra Costa County; although the state reimbursed the county for the November 2005 special election, it did not cover the cost of the 2003 gubernatorial recall.
Copyright (c) 2007, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.