After trial run, changes expected for California's vote-by-mail system

Elections officials try to correct initial problems with pilot program

By Mike Luery,
KCRA TV Sacramento
July 11, 2018


Some California election officials announced Wednesday changes to correct the initial problems with the experimental vote-by-mail system used during the June primary.

Statewide, more than 7 million Californians -- 37.5 percent of California's registered voters -- voted in the June primary. Five counties -- Sacramento, Nevada, Napa, Madera and San Mateo -- used the new vote-by-mail system designed to improve participation. Of those only one, Nevada County, experienced a turnout above 50 percent during the primary.

The new system also created some voter confusion. 

Dozens of people eager to vote last month at McKinley Library in Sacramento were surprised to find the doors closed, according to voter watchdog, Kim Alexander, the president and founder of California Voter Foundation.

"I estimate at least 200 to 300 people tried to vote at McKinley Library before noon on Election Day," Alexander said. She said voters had to "turn away and go back home and come back later."

That's because many voters assumed the doors would open at 7 a.m., the traditional hour for polling places in the past. Election officials acknowledged the confusion and said they will do a better job of outreach in the fall.

"What we need to do a little differently moving into November is provide the information on when the drop boxes are open and when the vote centers are open," said Alice Jarboe, the interim registrar of voters in Sacramento County.

Sacramento County will be rolling out additional drop boxes for voters to deposit their ballots before the November election. 

"We've got 60 drop boxes available and we are doubling that number," Jarboe said.

For those who thought voter anger would also drive more people to the polls, it just didn't pan out, KCRA 3 political analyst Kevin Riggs said. 

"If there is any kind of (President Donald Trump) factor in terms of boosting turnout, we may see that in November," he said. "But, we certainly did not see that in June."

"None of the ballot measures are on the June primary any more," Riggs added. "There's less reason to be engaged."

A measure to repeal California's controversial gas tax is expected to boost voter turnout in November.

But for Alexander, there's another key issue for vote-by-mail counties.

"We really want to see postage-paid vote-by-mail ballots return envelopes," Alexander said. "A lot of people, particularly young people, have never purchased a postage stamp before. We think it sends the wrong message to voters."

A bill that would require mail-in ballots to have prepaid postage has already passed the California legislature. It now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk. AB 216 would save voters 71 cents per ballot, but it will cost taxpayers $5.5 million. (full story and video)