Commentary: Voting by Mail

Yolo County Clerk-Recorder Freddie Oakley has a legitimate concern about the low voter turnouts in Yolo County this past election.

From a financial standpoint it makes a lot of sense for the county to go to vote-by-mail only elections particularly in elections where the voter turnout is likely to be very low. Ms. Oakley believes this solution could save the county around $150,000 per election. An amount which is not chump change, especially over time.

On November 6, nearly 60 percent of ballots cast were mail-in ballots and less than a quarter of those registered actually voted. There were polling places that had 10 voters cast ballots in an entire day.

While I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Oakley, I have an alternative suggestion that unfortunately is somewhat out of the hands of the Clerk-Recorder.

When I lived in San Luis Obispo, ironically in the first election I participated in, the voters voted to put all of the local elections on a single-ballot: the November General Election. That put all City Council and School Board Elections on the November ballot in even years when it would share a ballot with either the President or the Governor every single time.

The result is that except under very extreme circumstances (and there have some: the death of Congressman Walter Capps, the recall of Governor Gray Davis, and the ballot initiative that Governor Schwarzenegger put on the ballot), there have been two elections every cycle–the primary and general–and that is it.

Think about that from a cost saving point of view. Mail-in would save some money, but the marginal cost of having a few more items on the ballot is very small. Hey if school board doesn’t want to be on the November General Election ballot, they can share a place with the City Council.

They may argue that they will get lost in the shuffle in a big election and they like the spotlight. I would suggest when 30 percent of the people show up to the polls, there is no spotlight. No one is paying attention. Other than the controversy involving stuffing envelopes on campus, school board issues did not generate a lot of interest on the blog either.

I am not opposed to a mail-in only election, but for me, I like to go cast my ballot on election day. I like to go to the polls, see what’s going on in my neighborhood, go into that polling place, I used to like to punch my ballots before we went to the new system, and I especially like getting my “I Voted” sticker and wearing it all day, reminding others that it is election day and hopefully enticing them to also go to the polls.

From the standpoint of the Clerk-Recorder, moving an electoral date is somewhat out of the question. Moreover, I suspect that the school board somewhat likes the low voter turnout particularly when they want to pass parcel taxes. But if we are looking at this from a cost perspective, it makes more sense to consolidate elections.

The issue here is people are not interested in these elections, these issues. We have too many elections as it is. The election last month was the first of four in the next year, we have another one in February, another in June, and finally in November. People will come out for the big ones, so why not utilize that? Thus, I would prefer instead of going to mail-in only elections, we simply consolidate our elections to two a cycle–a general and a primary both in the even year.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Categories:

Elections

76 comments

  1. DPD – I agree with your point whole-heartedly. Consolidating elections makes good sense. Also, I wonder if there might be a legal problem with denying a person their right to vote in person? Something is niggling at the back of my brain about that one.

    One comment though. Low voter turnout is not always a result of apathy. Voters may feel there are not any good choices to vote for. I know in the most recent school board election, many complained to me that the 4 choices offered were awful. I concurred. I voted for my two choices not because I thought they were the most qualified, but because I didn’t want the other two to win. Not a very good reason to vote, but better than not voting at all.

  2. DPD – I agree with your point whole-heartedly. Consolidating elections makes good sense. Also, I wonder if there might be a legal problem with denying a person their right to vote in person? Something is niggling at the back of my brain about that one.

    One comment though. Low voter turnout is not always a result of apathy. Voters may feel there are not any good choices to vote for. I know in the most recent school board election, many complained to me that the 4 choices offered were awful. I concurred. I voted for my two choices not because I thought they were the most qualified, but because I didn’t want the other two to win. Not a very good reason to vote, but better than not voting at all.

  3. DPD – I agree with your point whole-heartedly. Consolidating elections makes good sense. Also, I wonder if there might be a legal problem with denying a person their right to vote in person? Something is niggling at the back of my brain about that one.

    One comment though. Low voter turnout is not always a result of apathy. Voters may feel there are not any good choices to vote for. I know in the most recent school board election, many complained to me that the 4 choices offered were awful. I concurred. I voted for my two choices not because I thought they were the most qualified, but because I didn’t want the other two to win. Not a very good reason to vote, but better than not voting at all.

  4. DPD – I agree with your point whole-heartedly. Consolidating elections makes good sense. Also, I wonder if there might be a legal problem with denying a person their right to vote in person? Something is niggling at the back of my brain about that one.

    One comment though. Low voter turnout is not always a result of apathy. Voters may feel there are not any good choices to vote for. I know in the most recent school board election, many complained to me that the 4 choices offered were awful. I concurred. I voted for my two choices not because I thought they were the most qualified, but because I didn’t want the other two to win. Not a very good reason to vote, but better than not voting at all.

  5. The common political wisdom(not necessarily accurate or most worthy) is that putting all your tax increases on one ballot makes getting a 2/3 vote more difficult.. a sad commentary on the attention-span and thought processes of the voter.

  6. The common political wisdom(not necessarily accurate or most worthy) is that putting all your tax increases on one ballot makes getting a 2/3 vote more difficult.. a sad commentary on the attention-span and thought processes of the voter.

  7. The common political wisdom(not necessarily accurate or most worthy) is that putting all your tax increases on one ballot makes getting a 2/3 vote more difficult.. a sad commentary on the attention-span and thought processes of the voter.

  8. The common political wisdom(not necessarily accurate or most worthy) is that putting all your tax increases on one ballot makes getting a 2/3 vote more difficult.. a sad commentary on the attention-span and thought processes of the voter.

  9. When I wrote about vote-by-mail elections a year ago — see my December 27, 2006 column in The Davis Enterprise — Freddie Oakley was not only against vote-by-mail elections, she was downright hostile to them (and I quoted her as such). “I really love democracy, and I want more people to be involved in governance and I think maintaining polling places advances that goal. So I’m not an advocate for all-mail balloting.”

    But two facts that she could not deny make vote-by-mail very attractive: 1) the tremendous cost savings; and 2) the higher turn-out.

    Oregon has years of experience with vote-by-mail. Political scientists have studied the effect: Oregonians of all incomes, all races, all ages, genders, etc., vote in larger numbers in mail-only elections. The same will happen here: with vote-by-mail, turnout will increase.

  10. When I wrote about vote-by-mail elections a year ago — see my December 27, 2006 column in The Davis Enterprise — Freddie Oakley was not only against vote-by-mail elections, she was downright hostile to them (and I quoted her as such). “I really love democracy, and I want more people to be involved in governance and I think maintaining polling places advances that goal. So I’m not an advocate for all-mail balloting.”

    But two facts that she could not deny make vote-by-mail very attractive: 1) the tremendous cost savings; and 2) the higher turn-out.

    Oregon has years of experience with vote-by-mail. Political scientists have studied the effect: Oregonians of all incomes, all races, all ages, genders, etc., vote in larger numbers in mail-only elections. The same will happen here: with vote-by-mail, turnout will increase.

  11. When I wrote about vote-by-mail elections a year ago — see my December 27, 2006 column in The Davis Enterprise — Freddie Oakley was not only against vote-by-mail elections, she was downright hostile to them (and I quoted her as such). “I really love democracy, and I want more people to be involved in governance and I think maintaining polling places advances that goal. So I’m not an advocate for all-mail balloting.”

    But two facts that she could not deny make vote-by-mail very attractive: 1) the tremendous cost savings; and 2) the higher turn-out.

    Oregon has years of experience with vote-by-mail. Political scientists have studied the effect: Oregonians of all incomes, all races, all ages, genders, etc., vote in larger numbers in mail-only elections. The same will happen here: with vote-by-mail, turnout will increase.

  12. When I wrote about vote-by-mail elections a year ago — see my December 27, 2006 column in The Davis Enterprise — Freddie Oakley was not only against vote-by-mail elections, she was downright hostile to them (and I quoted her as such). “I really love democracy, and I want more people to be involved in governance and I think maintaining polling places advances that goal. So I’m not an advocate for all-mail balloting.”

    But two facts that she could not deny make vote-by-mail very attractive: 1) the tremendous cost savings; and 2) the higher turn-out.

    Oregon has years of experience with vote-by-mail. Political scientists have studied the effect: Oregonians of all incomes, all races, all ages, genders, etc., vote in larger numbers in mail-only elections. The same will happen here: with vote-by-mail, turnout will increase.

  13. Oregon has been voting entirely by mail for a few years now. I believe there are voting stations where people can turn in their ballots on election day.

    Voting by mail is very convenient. I’ve been in a mandatory absentee status for years, due to low population in my rural area. You have the choice of voting ahead of time, at your convenience, or filling out the ballot and dropping it off at ANY polling station.

    A big advantage of mail voting is it dilutes the influence of last-minute hit pieces and distorted advertising.

    Not voting is a form of voting. There is no point in trying to force people to vote, nor is it necessarily appropriate to criticize people for not voting. Sometimes we vote for someone, sometimes we vote against someone, sometimes we choose the lesser of two evils. Some people choose not to vote as an expression of their disgust with all the options. I’d rather that uninformed people NOT vote than otherwise.

  14. Oregon has been voting entirely by mail for a few years now. I believe there are voting stations where people can turn in their ballots on election day.

    Voting by mail is very convenient. I’ve been in a mandatory absentee status for years, due to low population in my rural area. You have the choice of voting ahead of time, at your convenience, or filling out the ballot and dropping it off at ANY polling station.

    A big advantage of mail voting is it dilutes the influence of last-minute hit pieces and distorted advertising.

    Not voting is a form of voting. There is no point in trying to force people to vote, nor is it necessarily appropriate to criticize people for not voting. Sometimes we vote for someone, sometimes we vote against someone, sometimes we choose the lesser of two evils. Some people choose not to vote as an expression of their disgust with all the options. I’d rather that uninformed people NOT vote than otherwise.

  15. Oregon has been voting entirely by mail for a few years now. I believe there are voting stations where people can turn in their ballots on election day.

    Voting by mail is very convenient. I’ve been in a mandatory absentee status for years, due to low population in my rural area. You have the choice of voting ahead of time, at your convenience, or filling out the ballot and dropping it off at ANY polling station.

    A big advantage of mail voting is it dilutes the influence of last-minute hit pieces and distorted advertising.

    Not voting is a form of voting. There is no point in trying to force people to vote, nor is it necessarily appropriate to criticize people for not voting. Sometimes we vote for someone, sometimes we vote against someone, sometimes we choose the lesser of two evils. Some people choose not to vote as an expression of their disgust with all the options. I’d rather that uninformed people NOT vote than otherwise.

  16. Oregon has been voting entirely by mail for a few years now. I believe there are voting stations where people can turn in their ballots on election day.

    Voting by mail is very convenient. I’ve been in a mandatory absentee status for years, due to low population in my rural area. You have the choice of voting ahead of time, at your convenience, or filling out the ballot and dropping it off at ANY polling station.

    A big advantage of mail voting is it dilutes the influence of last-minute hit pieces and distorted advertising.

    Not voting is a form of voting. There is no point in trying to force people to vote, nor is it necessarily appropriate to criticize people for not voting. Sometimes we vote for someone, sometimes we vote against someone, sometimes we choose the lesser of two evils. Some people choose not to vote as an expression of their disgust with all the options. I’d rather that uninformed people NOT vote than otherwise.

  17. Regarding even-year only ballots, I tend to agree. However, if we had a simpler ballot, I think more people might vote.

    My sense is that many people who are busy with their families and jobs feel overwhelmed by a ballot in which they are being asked to make a decision on races for county executive positions (clerk/controller, auditor, sheriff, district attorney, county school board, etc.), races for state executives (insurance commissioner, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, lt. governor, etc.), usually about 10 initiatives/referendums, plus all of the legislative positions (supervisors, city council, state legislature and senate) and the governor.

    To remedy that, I would recommend that we don’t vote on any executive positions, save governor. At the county level, we should vote for our supervisors and let them hire the DA, the sheriff, the auditor, etc. At the state level, we should elect the legislators and governor, and let the governor pick his own cabinet with each member voted up or down by the state senate. As for state initiatives, I would get rid of them entirely.

    If all that were done, the decisions voters made would be more important and easier to understand. It would still be more complicated than most parliamentary systems — where voters just vote for a party or for a member of the national and provincial parliament — but less intimidating and confusing than what we now have.

    I believe if voters had fewer decisions to make, they could focus on them, study the crucial facts and make an informed decision. But with dozens of elections going on, it’s impossible for most people to make an informed decision on most of them.

  18. Regarding even-year only ballots, I tend to agree. However, if we had a simpler ballot, I think more people might vote.

    My sense is that many people who are busy with their families and jobs feel overwhelmed by a ballot in which they are being asked to make a decision on races for county executive positions (clerk/controller, auditor, sheriff, district attorney, county school board, etc.), races for state executives (insurance commissioner, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, lt. governor, etc.), usually about 10 initiatives/referendums, plus all of the legislative positions (supervisors, city council, state legislature and senate) and the governor.

    To remedy that, I would recommend that we don’t vote on any executive positions, save governor. At the county level, we should vote for our supervisors and let them hire the DA, the sheriff, the auditor, etc. At the state level, we should elect the legislators and governor, and let the governor pick his own cabinet with each member voted up or down by the state senate. As for state initiatives, I would get rid of them entirely.

    If all that were done, the decisions voters made would be more important and easier to understand. It would still be more complicated than most parliamentary systems — where voters just vote for a party or for a member of the national and provincial parliament — but less intimidating and confusing than what we now have.

    I believe if voters had fewer decisions to make, they could focus on them, study the crucial facts and make an informed decision. But with dozens of elections going on, it’s impossible for most people to make an informed decision on most of them.

  19. Regarding even-year only ballots, I tend to agree. However, if we had a simpler ballot, I think more people might vote.

    My sense is that many people who are busy with their families and jobs feel overwhelmed by a ballot in which they are being asked to make a decision on races for county executive positions (clerk/controller, auditor, sheriff, district attorney, county school board, etc.), races for state executives (insurance commissioner, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, lt. governor, etc.), usually about 10 initiatives/referendums, plus all of the legislative positions (supervisors, city council, state legislature and senate) and the governor.

    To remedy that, I would recommend that we don’t vote on any executive positions, save governor. At the county level, we should vote for our supervisors and let them hire the DA, the sheriff, the auditor, etc. At the state level, we should elect the legislators and governor, and let the governor pick his own cabinet with each member voted up or down by the state senate. As for state initiatives, I would get rid of them entirely.

    If all that were done, the decisions voters made would be more important and easier to understand. It would still be more complicated than most parliamentary systems — where voters just vote for a party or for a member of the national and provincial parliament — but less intimidating and confusing than what we now have.

    I believe if voters had fewer decisions to make, they could focus on them, study the crucial facts and make an informed decision. But with dozens of elections going on, it’s impossible for most people to make an informed decision on most of them.

  20. Regarding even-year only ballots, I tend to agree. However, if we had a simpler ballot, I think more people might vote.

    My sense is that many people who are busy with their families and jobs feel overwhelmed by a ballot in which they are being asked to make a decision on races for county executive positions (clerk/controller, auditor, sheriff, district attorney, county school board, etc.), races for state executives (insurance commissioner, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, lt. governor, etc.), usually about 10 initiatives/referendums, plus all of the legislative positions (supervisors, city council, state legislature and senate) and the governor.

    To remedy that, I would recommend that we don’t vote on any executive positions, save governor. At the county level, we should vote for our supervisors and let them hire the DA, the sheriff, the auditor, etc. At the state level, we should elect the legislators and governor, and let the governor pick his own cabinet with each member voted up or down by the state senate. As for state initiatives, I would get rid of them entirely.

    If all that were done, the decisions voters made would be more important and easier to understand. It would still be more complicated than most parliamentary systems — where voters just vote for a party or for a member of the national and provincial parliament — but less intimidating and confusing than what we now have.

    I believe if voters had fewer decisions to make, they could focus on them, study the crucial facts and make an informed decision. But with dozens of elections going on, it’s impossible for most people to make an informed decision on most of them.

  21. Rich-

    The problem with having supervisors choose a majority of county department heads is that then the department heads are beholden to the supervisors- take a stand unpopular with a few, and risk losing your job. That kind of system does little to help bring democracy to the local level.

    Also- as your quote from Freddie Oakley- nothing about it seems “downright hostile” to me.

  22. Rich-

    The problem with having supervisors choose a majority of county department heads is that then the department heads are beholden to the supervisors- take a stand unpopular with a few, and risk losing your job. That kind of system does little to help bring democracy to the local level.

    Also- as your quote from Freddie Oakley- nothing about it seems “downright hostile” to me.

  23. Rich-

    The problem with having supervisors choose a majority of county department heads is that then the department heads are beholden to the supervisors- take a stand unpopular with a few, and risk losing your job. That kind of system does little to help bring democracy to the local level.

    Also- as your quote from Freddie Oakley- nothing about it seems “downright hostile” to me.

  24. Rich-

    The problem with having supervisors choose a majority of county department heads is that then the department heads are beholden to the supervisors- take a stand unpopular with a few, and risk losing your job. That kind of system does little to help bring democracy to the local level.

    Also- as your quote from Freddie Oakley- nothing about it seems “downright hostile” to me.

  25. there is nothing more than i look forward to (about voting – not life 🙂 )but going to the poll to cast my votes. i’m not sure mail only voting would actually get more people to vote it would just be cheaper. as an interim step maybe we could just have less polling places – say 1 in S Davis, 1 in C Davis, 1 in W Davis and 1 in E Davis.

  26. there is nothing more than i look forward to (about voting – not life 🙂 )but going to the poll to cast my votes. i’m not sure mail only voting would actually get more people to vote it would just be cheaper. as an interim step maybe we could just have less polling places – say 1 in S Davis, 1 in C Davis, 1 in W Davis and 1 in E Davis.

  27. there is nothing more than i look forward to (about voting – not life 🙂 )but going to the poll to cast my votes. i’m not sure mail only voting would actually get more people to vote it would just be cheaper. as an interim step maybe we could just have less polling places – say 1 in S Davis, 1 in C Davis, 1 in W Davis and 1 in E Davis.

  28. there is nothing more than i look forward to (about voting – not life 🙂 )but going to the poll to cast my votes. i’m not sure mail only voting would actually get more people to vote it would just be cheaper. as an interim step maybe we could just have less polling places – say 1 in S Davis, 1 in C Davis, 1 in W Davis and 1 in E Davis.

  29. “The problem with having supervisors choose a majority of county department heads is that then the department heads are beholden to the supervisors- take a stand unpopular with a few, and risk losing your job.”

    The pertinent question is, who can pay more and better attention to how effectively the department executives are doing their jobs: the voters or the full-time supervisors? If you think it’s the voters, you and I cannot agree.

    Also, these jobs are ones requiring professional managers, not necessarily great campaigners. Many, if not most, of the best candidates to actually run these departments would never run in a political campaign. That takes a certain set of skills (fundraising, speechmaking, shmoozing, sucking up to special interests) unrelated to a professional manager. Yet the people we are electing are often unprepared to actually do the jobs, lacking professional management experience.

    “That kind of system does little to help bring democracy to the local level.”

    We have democracy. We popularly elect all five county supervisors. I would not oppose expanding that number to seven and be more democratic.

    What kind of “democracy” is it when very few citizens vote and virtually no one pays attention to what kind of job these people are doing?

    I’m more interested in having someone in the job who is well qualified to do the job, picked by a group of supervisors who could spend the time necessary to consider all the best candidates.

    “Also- as your quote from Freddie Oakley- nothing about it seems “downright hostile” to me.”

    When I spoke with her about this — a year ago — she seemed hostile to the idea to me. She called mail-only balloting “elitist,” and said she was “not an elitist.” I believe she would agree that she formerly was “hostile” to the idea.

  30. “The problem with having supervisors choose a majority of county department heads is that then the department heads are beholden to the supervisors- take a stand unpopular with a few, and risk losing your job.”

    The pertinent question is, who can pay more and better attention to how effectively the department executives are doing their jobs: the voters or the full-time supervisors? If you think it’s the voters, you and I cannot agree.

    Also, these jobs are ones requiring professional managers, not necessarily great campaigners. Many, if not most, of the best candidates to actually run these departments would never run in a political campaign. That takes a certain set of skills (fundraising, speechmaking, shmoozing, sucking up to special interests) unrelated to a professional manager. Yet the people we are electing are often unprepared to actually do the jobs, lacking professional management experience.

    “That kind of system does little to help bring democracy to the local level.”

    We have democracy. We popularly elect all five county supervisors. I would not oppose expanding that number to seven and be more democratic.

    What kind of “democracy” is it when very few citizens vote and virtually no one pays attention to what kind of job these people are doing?

    I’m more interested in having someone in the job who is well qualified to do the job, picked by a group of supervisors who could spend the time necessary to consider all the best candidates.

    “Also- as your quote from Freddie Oakley- nothing about it seems “downright hostile” to me.”

    When I spoke with her about this — a year ago — she seemed hostile to the idea to me. She called mail-only balloting “elitist,” and said she was “not an elitist.” I believe she would agree that she formerly was “hostile” to the idea.