Signs point to high voter turnout

With an increase in vote-by-mail ballots, numbers expected to rival 2008 totals
By: Megan Moore Journal Correspondent
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Election Day is here and the ballots are flying in. With a record number of vote-by-mail ballots in Placer County this election, the voting process has already begun.

This year the Placer County Elections Office said it issued 138,615 vote-by-mail ballots, and as of Monday morning, 78,785 of those ballots were returned.

In the last General Election, in 2008, 119,768 vote-by-mail ballots were issued and 104,619 were returned, according to the elections office.

That’s an increase of 18,847 issued ballots in Placer County and although voters can no longer mail in ballots, they can still drop them off at the elections office.

“Thousands of ballots will be turned in on elections day,” said Jim McCauley, clerk-recorder-registrar of voters for Placer County.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, voter registration has dropped slightly in Placer County since the last general election. In 2008, 83.14 percent of eligible voters were registered to vote and this year, 83.06 percent of eligible voters registered to vote.

Despite the slight drop in voter registration, McCauley believes voter turnout will be high this election.

“Four years ago voter turnout was 89 percent and we fully expect it to be in the mid to high 80s this election,” he said.

The Placer County Elections Office has taken many steps to make sure Election Day runs smoothly.

“We are one of the few counties in the state to have a track program with the post office,” McCauley said.

The post office tracks ballots that are mailed in and someone from the elections office goes around and pick up the ballots.

As soon as the ballots arrive at the elections office, signature verification can begin. Signatures on the ballots are matched to signatures on voter registration cards. If voters registered online, the signature is matched from DMV records.

“State law allows us to signature verify as soon as we send the ballots out, 29 days before the election. If the signature doesn’t match, we can’t count it,” said Ryan Ronco, the assistant registrar of voters for Placer County.

Precincts were setting up Monday, to be ready by 7 Tuesday morning.

“There are 18 receiving centers, all precincts have there voting supplies and those are being reviewed by the inspectors today,” McCauley said.

At 8 p.m. when the election is over, precincts bring the voting machines into the elections office.

Each machine has a microchip, the data is collected from the microchip and the elections office runs a report every 45 minutes, Ronco said.

Then the ballot is removed from the envelope and inspected for anything that would make it difficult for the ballot to go through the machines. The elections office will duplicate the ballot if necessary so that the counting process will be quick, he added.

Ballots are then pressed so they can be fed into the machines more efficiently.

“We don’t have to do this, but it makes the process faster,” Ronco said,

According to California state law, the elections office can’t start opening the ballots until 11 days before the election.

After the 11 day mark the elections office can start counting the ballots, but the results won’t be in until after the election is over.

As the ballots come in on Election Day, the Placer County Elections Office starts tallying the votes.

“The votes are tallied in three sections,” McCauley said.

The first release is the absentee, vote-by-mail ballots; the second is the dropped off mail ballots and the third report is the electronic ballots collected at the precincts, he added.

“We can’t hit tally until 8 p.m.,” Ronco said.

Nancy-Jo Riekse was one of the Placer County voters who has already voted by mail and she said she is very excited for the election to be over.

“I’ve already voted, I went online and did a lot of research on all of the propositions, I thought it was really important. Actually I did that with my daughter who’s 23 and I guess this is her second election, we really wanted to investigate the propositions that were on there,” Riekse said.