January 26, 2008 - Mail-In Votes Could Delay Results: Sonoma County Elections Officials Brace For Crush Of Last-Minute Ballots
Paper: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Title: Mail-In Votes Could Delay Results: Sonoma County Elections Officials Brace For Crush Of Last-Minute Ballots
Date: January 26, 2008
Author: LAURA NORTON; THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The North Coast's Feb. 5 election results could be delayed as a record number of mail-in voters hem and haw -- and hang on to their ballots.
Eleven days from Tsunami Tuesday -- so called because of presidential primaries in 22 states -- less than 30 percent of mail-in ballots from Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino counties had been returned to elections offices. With so few returned, officials are getting anxious about a final avalanche of ballots .
"One hundred and forty-five thousand voters got ballots in the mail,'' said Gloria Colter, Sonoma County assistant registrar of voters. "Where are their ballots ?''
Voters say with close races and some candidates recently dropping out, they are waiting for the right moment to cast their votes.
Stacey Hardester of Santa Rosa said her ballot is still unmarked and sitting on her kitchen counter, though she's decided to vote for Republican Mitt Romney.
"I want to make sure he's still in the race,'' she said. "I don't want to throw my vote away by voting for someone who drops out before my vote is counted.''
Corinne O'Gorman has waited, too. She won't cast her vote until she receives an endorsement slate from the League of Women Voters.
"I'm waiting until I have more information,'' she said.
The number of vote-by-mail -- formerly known as absentee -- voters has steadily increased.
In June 1998, 15 percent of registered voters cast mail-in ballots. In June 2006, 35 percent did so. On Feb. 5, if all voters who received ballots return them, 63 percent of the vote will be by mail.
That's a double-edged sword for county elections staff.
If the mail-in ballots arrive early, it speeds the Election Day count; mail-in ballots will be inserted into counting machines early on Election Day.
But mail-in ballots require extra processing as officials rip open envelopes and verify signatures. When those ballots don't arrive until Election Day, the final count is delayed.
Sonoma County Clerk Janice Atkinson estimated as many as 12 percent of all ballots might not be counted on election night.
"When it gets to Election Day, we're going to be so busy we won't be able to open the vote-by-mail ballots and verify the signatures,'' said Debra Russotti, Sonoma County elections services supervisor. ``It's best if people can get them in early if they want them to be counted on Election Day.''
And some voters have.
More than 41,000 ballots have been returned to the Sonoma County elections office.
"I got my ballot in soon after I got it,'' said Lynn Howard of Santa Rosa. "I don't need to wait for all the candidates to get to California for me to vote. I just want to get past all this and move on.''
Voters have until Feb. 5 to return their mail-in ballots , but need to remember that it's the arrival date and not the postmark that matters, Colter said.
The last day she advises voters to drop their ballot in the mail is Feb 1. On Feb. 2 only, the ballots can be deposited at eight locations in the county (see accompanying list).
After that, they must be delivered to the elections office in Santa Rosa, or on Election Day, at any polling place.
Jack Bilgreen is planning to spend his weekend reading up on the candidates before dropping his vote in the mailbox early next week.
"I haven't figured it out yet," Bilgreen said. "But I will.''
Caption: PHOTO: 1 by SCOTT MANCHESTER / The Press Democrat - Milagros Owen, left, and Betty Cussins check mail-in ballots Friday at the Sonoma County elections office; CHART: by The Press Democrat: Absentee ballots mailed in last decade (see microfilm)
Memo: MAIL BALLOT DROP-0FF POINTS Elections officials say that if you haven't mailed your ballot by Feb. 1, you should drop it at the following locations between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Feb. 2: Veterans memorial halls in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Sebastopol, Guerneville, Sonoma and Cloverdale and Windsor Regional Library
Index Terms: ELECTION
Record Number: 0801260160
Copyright (c) 2008 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA)