Popularity of mail-in ballots increases as election nears
on October 23, 2010
Absentee ballots were once used mostly by ex-pats, military families and diplomats strewn across the globe. They voted from far-away locales by filling out ballots at home and mailing them in, while the rest of the population spent a chunk of the day standing in a long line to cast a vote at their neighborhood poll. Now, in California, the mail-in ballot isn’t just for those abroad—it’s for everyone.
“Absentee and mail-in ballots are the same thing now,” said Alameda County Registrar of Voters Dave MacDonald. In fact, they’re all just called mail-in ballots—the term “absentee” has been stricken from the registrar’s lexicon. The only difference is that mail-in ballots for those voting from abroad are sent out 60 days before the election; local ballots, for county residents who request them, are sent out 29 days beforehand. The last day for Alameda County residents to request a mail-in ballot is October 26.
This system is unique to California, and every state has its own system of voting. In some places, mail-in voting is a not an option. In others, like Washington state, all ballots are sent in by mail.
Once voters in Alameda County return their completed and signed ballots, their signatures are verified to prevent fraud. Then the mail-in ballots are put aside until election night and are counted with the rest of the ballots. The mail-in system has become very popular in the county, MacDonald said. Of the county’s approximately 760,000 voters, 55 percent are registered to vote by mail, meaning they checked the “vote by mail” box when they registered to vote or have since sent in applications to vote by mail.
Just fewer than 50,000 of these voters live abroad. The rest live within the county, but apparently want to leave themselves the option of exercising their democratic rights from the comfort of their couches or kitchen tables. So far, MacDonald is pleased with this election’s return rate—as of October 20, 15 percent of the roughly 418,000 mail-in ballots requested this year have already been returned to the county.
Mail-in ballots are not related to early voting, which was once popular in the area but is no longer practiced in Alameda County. “I used to love early voting,” said MacDonald. “In the past we’ve done a lot of it.” Early voting took place using electronic voting stations at public spaces like BART stations and shopping malls. A few years ago, voters could show up at their convenience in these places, during the weeks before the election, and cast their votes. “The current Secretary of State put rules in place that would not allow us to use electronic voting anymore,” said MacDonald. “And to do early voting with paper ballots is just not practical.”
One loophole remains, though, for those who want to vote early and in person: Head down to the Registrar of Voters office, at 1225 Fallon Street in Oakland, to vote anytime between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. from now through election day, which is on November 2.
The office will also be open for voting on Saturday, Oct. 30.
If you did not check the “vote by mail” box when you first registered, and want to vote by mail, heading down to the Registrar of Voters office is also one of three ways voters can apply to receive a mail-in ballot: show up, fill out an application, and the county will mail the ballot to your house.
The other ways to apply can be done from home. Go online to this the Registrar of Voters website. Then, scroll down to the bottom of the page and download the application to either apply online, or to apply by mail. Either way, your request must be received by October 26. A ballot will be sent to your home for you to fill out and return by November 2, Election Day.
Lead image: Shirley Phillips, a Registrar of Voters employee, sorts returned mail-in ballots. The last day to request a mail-in ballot in Alameda County is October 26. Photo courtesy of Alameda County Registrar of Voters.
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