November 6, 2008 - 56% of voters sent absentee ballots
Paper: Mountain Democrat ( Placerville, CA)
Title: 56% of voters sent absentee ballots
Date: November 6, 2008
Author: Wendy Schultz ; Democrat staff writer
There are some history making elements in the November elections - the first black American presidential candidate, the first female running mate on a Republican presidential ticket and the highest number of registered voters in El Dorado County history.
A whopping 56 percent of the 111,325 registered voters - 62,650 voters - were issued Vote by Mail ballots and by Election Day, 71 percent of those ballots had been received.
Forty-five percent of the voters registered as Republicans, 31 percent as Democrat and 19 percent as non-partisan.
Because some of the mail ballots have been previously counted, they can be tabulated and the totals released on the Elections Website after the polls have closed, which is why local outcome projections are able to be viewed so quickly.
While Schultz predicted that there would be an 83 percent turnout at the polls for this election, he is also sure that voting by mail is an increasing trend because of the convenience.
"People can take their time and think about their vote at home," said Schultz, " and they can check the results on our Website from the convenience of their home too." He added, "I kind of miss the Election Night crowds watching the ballots being counted at the Elections Department. It was like a big party and really fun."
The good news is the large number of voters represented by the Vote by Mail ballots; the less good news is the time it takes to verify voter signatures so the votes can be counted as valid. The Elections crew in El Dorado County was prepared for the onslaught this year.
"We knew from the primaries that it was going to be big," said Norma Gray, assistant registrar . "So we ordered plenty of ballots and got plenty of precinct staff (about 500) and election workers. We use the same faithful staff every year."
To facilitate the processing of the mail ballots, Bill Schultz, El Dorado County recorder-clerk and registrar of voters , installed a mail ballot box outside the Elections Office so voters could drop their ballots off.
"There was a steady stream of cars pausing at the mail ballot box the day before the election," said Schultz. " Voters love the convenience of this type of voting."
Schultz also purchased an automated signature recognition system (ASR) that allows one worker to do the work of five or six people. When the blue mail ballot envelopes are received, election worker, Justin Canning, runs the electronically scanned voter signature on the envelope flap through the ASR system.
"It's not super fast, but we can do about 350 envelopes in five minutes," said Schultz. About 40 percent of the signatures are "challenged," meaning the machine cannot match the mail ballot signature with the voter 's signature on the current Voter Registration Card. Challenged signatures must be verified individually by workers and if they cannot be verified, the voter must be contacted and come to the Registrar 's Office to verify their signature.
The still unopened, but verified, mail ballots go to a table of election workers who open each envelope, remove the ballot and examine it to make sure it can be read by the ballot counting machine. Empty envelopes are stacked to one side, smoothed out ballots to another and a careful tally is kept of each.
Sally Snow, a first-year election worker, uses a blue pen to mark over the red pen that a voter used. Red ink can't be read by the ballot machine and two other election workers watch Snow and sign the ballot to verify that she has not changed the voter 's vote.
Some of the election workers return to work each election, like Loretta McKee, an election worker since 1986.
"We are allowed, by law, to start counting the Vote by Mail ballots seven business days before Election Day in our secure ballot counting room," said Schultz. The secure ballot counting room has a large viewing window for the public to watch the process and is protected by video cameras and electronic locks. An election worker runs each ballot through the ballot counting machine where they will be counted, but not yet tabulated. Tabulation will have to wait until after polls close on Election Night. "I tried to make this election process open and transparent, yet very secure," said Schultz.
Once the paper ballots start arriving from the polling places on Election Night, staffers must discontinue counting the Vote by Mail ballots and begin the count of the polling place ballots.
"It could take us up to two weeks to finish counting the mail ballots," said Schultz, "and that's why it takes so long to finalize the ballot count." By law, the registrar has 28 days after Election Day to finalize the certification process.
Voting was proceeding smoothly, according to Schultz when contacted on Tuesday morning.
"We have a trouble desk with four or five phones and the first hour and a half after the polls opened, it was busy," said Schultz, "but before noon the calls had almost stopped. That tells me that there's not too much out there that the polling places can't handle."
This election is also history making for Camino resident Joan Barsotti because this year, after 57 years of being a Canadian citizen living in the United States, Barsotti will be voting in her first U.S. presidential election. Barsotti, local author and co-owner of Barsotti Juice Co., was sworn in as an American citizen on Oct. 22, her 69th birthday, along with 918 other people from 81 countries.
"We were the last group sworn in for voting. Usually there are people to register you to vote as soon as you come out of the building after the ceremony," said Barsotti, "but the last day to register to vote was Oct. 20 so I had to register at our county Registrar 's Office.
Barsotti said she was very excited about voting in her first U.S. election, but she didn't go to a polling place - she was registered to Vote by Mail.
Record Number: 124FB2BBF33632F0
Copyright, 2008, Mountain Democrat