June 7, 2012 - ELECTION TRENDS - More choose vote-by-mail -- but drop off ballots at last minute
Paper: Sacramento Bee, The (CA)
Title: ELECTION TRENDS - More choose vote-by-mail -- but drop off ballots at last minute
Date: June 7, 2012
Author: Loretta Kalb
A new trend in voting is gaining traction in the Sacramento region.
You can call it voting by mail, casual-style.
That's when voters take their time filling out a ballot, researching it with the help of children or spouses, and then wait until election day to drop it off.
"It is absolutely true that more and more people are enjoying the convenience of voting from home through the mail," said Ryan Ronco, Placer County assistant registrar . "For a lot of them, being able to see that last mail ad, that last TV ad and then turning their ballot in on election day is appealing to them."
This trend is part of a still larger migration toward vote-by-mail ballots. These days in Sacramento, Placer, Yolo and El Dorado counties, a large majority of voters tend to choose vote-by-mail.
Nearly eight of 10 voters in El Dorado voted by mail; seven of 10 in Placer and Sacramento counties; and more than half in Yolo County.
Never mind that thousands of voters don't actually mail the ballots. More often these days, they drop them at polling places on election day or in drop-boxes, adding days or sometimes weeks to the process of counting.
What happens when thousands of voters wait until the last minute to cast a vote-by-mail ballot?
By election day, county election officials are running full throttle to prepare for precinct votes.
Those vote-by-mail ballots, therefore, are counted after the election.
Sacramento County elections officials on Wednesday announced about 84,000 ballots had yet to be counted -- a huge number compared to the 150,286 votes that were tallied, for example.
As a result, some tight races were left hanging.
On Wednesday morning, for example, Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan was just 240 votes shy of the majority she needs to win her race outright to avoid a runoff.
In a race for a Sacramento County Office of Education board seat, the future of a chain of charter schools remained uncertain.
The five-year charter -- approved last year by the board of the Sacramento County Office of Education -- allows a new K-8 school to be opened in Sacramento County each year.
Teachers unions hoping to challenge the schools supported three candidates in Tuesday's board races. Charter proponents fought back with three candidates of their own.
The results were mixed. So far, a charter proponent and a union supporter have each won uncontested seats on the seven-member board.
The outcome of a third contest could be pivotal to the charter issue. Yet in that race -- Area 5 -- only 31 votes could separate the opposing candidates.
Delays in the tally, of course, are likely to become more common as more voters choose vote-by-mail ballots.
Area elections officials said the main force boosting turnout tends to be the candidates and hot issues that drive people to vote. Some said the convenience of voting at home, using vote-by-mail ballots, also contributed.
"This is a no-brainer, as I do believe after discussion with many voters that they prefer to vote from the kitchen table, living room or elsewhere at their convenience. I hear it everywhere," said William E. Schultz, El Dorado County's registrar of voters.
At 79 percent, El Dorado had the highest percentage of vote by mail in the region, and the highest voter participation: 39 percent.
Yolo County had the lowest vote by mail rate, 55 percent, and tied for lowest turnout in the area -- 32 percent.
Sacramento and Placer counties had 69 percent vote by mail participation. Turnout in Sacramento was 35 percent; Placer's was 32 percent.
Sacramento County Registrar Jill LaVine said that in years past, voters who mailed their ballot were a faithful group -- about 80 percent of them would actually return their ballots by mail.
"As more and more people are signing up, they are a little more casual about it," LaVine said.
"They want the convenience," she said. But they avoid voting too early, before all the facts of a race can be known. So the high mailed return rate that used to be reliable is now out the window.
The Bee's Diana Lambert contributed to this report.
Edition: METRO FINAL
Section: OUR REGION
Record Number: SAC_0405620601
Copyright 2012 The Sacramento Bee