Majority of voters to cast ballots by mail |

Majority of voters to cast ballots by mail

Julie Brown/Sierra SunMary Ann Ruffa, a distribution window clerk at the Tahoe City Post Office, stuffs a sample ballot into a post office box. Postmaster Caroline Cutler said the office tracks all political mail and designates a driver to take the returned ballots directly to the county seat.

A majority of voters in Placer and Nevada counties are expected to cast their ballots through the mail ” rather than in person at neighborhood precincts ” for California’s presidential primary election next month.

Also on next month’s ballot will be several statewide initiatives and local measures.

County registrars mailed thousands of vote-by-mail ballots, formerly called absentee ballots, to registered voters earlier this week ” 29 days before the Feb. 5 election day.

On what political observers have dubbed Super Tuesday, California voters and those from a handful of other states will have a major say in which candidates will be nominated for president by their respective parties.

Over the past several years, the voting trend in California has shifted, election officials say, with more people now choosing to vote from the comfort of their home ” a choice many citizens find convenient and election officials find cost-effective.

During the 2004 presidential primary election, 34 percent of California voters cast their ballots through the mail, compared to 16 percent during the 1992 primaries, according to data provided by the California Secretary of State’s office. Placer County’s registrar called the trend a phenomenon.

“What you’re seeing now is, over the last five or six years, an upsurge of voters choosing” to vote at home, said Jim McCauley, Placer County clerk-recorder-registrar of voters in a phone interview Monday. “It’s becoming a phenomenon up and down the state.”

Nearly half of all registered voters in Placer County have signed up to permanently receive their ballots in the mail, McCauley said. And after factoring in an additional 10,000 anticipated requests for mail-in ballots, and another 9,000 voters who live in vote-by-mail precincts, McCauley said he expects to see more ballots dropped in mailboxes than at polling offices.

“You can see very quickly that the vote-by-mail will exceed the vote at the polls,” McCauley said.

Nevada County paints a similar picture, with 53 percent of its 58,431 registered voters signed up for the permanent vote-by-mail option, and 12 vote-by-mail only precincts, which are designated for areas with 250 voters or fewer.

“It seems that vote-by-mail is the trend,” said Susan German, Nevada County’s assistant clerk-recorder.

Taking into account labor and facility costs of polling stations, German estimated that the county pays $3 per mail-in voter, versus $35 for each in-person voter. Nevada County plans to conduct a fiscal analysis during the upcoming election.

Jonas Hoffman, a 24-year-old Tahoma resident who lives in an El Dorado County vote-by-mail precinct, said he’s always cast his ballot through the mail.

“I think it’s awesome,” Hoffman said. “You [vote] at your own convenience, not having to go to the polling place.”

Since he receives the ballot well before election day, Hoffman said he uses the time to educate himself on the issues and make informed decisions.

The larger time window provided by the mail-in ballots also hastens the campaign timeframe for the candidates.

“It sort of pushes the whole discussion of what the issues are way up,” said Theresa May Duggan, a North Tahoe resident who has been involved in campaigns for the last 15 years.

Charlie Brown, candidate for 4th district House of Representative Seat, who will be on the ballot in June, said his strategy is to time a media push with the mail-in ballot distribution.

“You need to be getting your message out, by talking to people and campaigning, all the time,” Brown said.

Mail-in ballots also increase voter turnout, Duggan said. Their convenience encourages participation in the electoral process.

“People want to vote,” Duggan said. “It isn’t always convenient. If you vote at home ” always convenient.”

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