Borenstein: Time to get over our voting booth nostalgia

The election count isn’t over. Not by a long shot.

As of Thursday morning, Alameda County still had to tally about half of its ballots, while Santa Clara County had about 47 percent remaining and Contra Costa about 43 percent. Those are unprecedented numbers.

For many races, the trends are clear, and the results won’t change significantly. But for city races in San Jose, Alameda and Martinez, for example, election night is nowhere near over.

Not even close. We’re probably looking at final counts by Thanksgiving — perhaps later.

The reason: An increasing proportion of voters are casting their ballots by mail or dropping them off on Election Day. Fewer are going to the polls for that voting-booth experience. The trend toward voting at home has been apparent for a couple of decades now. And there’s no chance it will reverse.

Rather, it’s time we all embrace it, as Oregon and Colorado have, and stop wasting money and time on hundreds of costly, underutilized neighborhood polling stations in each California county.

The balloting paradigm is changing rapidly — and it’s time that we get over our nostalgia and change with it:

• We need to develop patience. County officials are having to effectively run two elections — one by mail and one at the polls. The logistics of juggling makes the delay inevitable.

• Election officials need to be more transparent. On election night, with fewer people going to their local precincts to vote, the traditional focus on the “percentage of precincts reporting” is not meaningful.

• The state should accelerate the move to eliminate precinct voting and focus on cheaper, more convenient and more efficient elections conducted primarily with mail-in ballots.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla has been trying to wean us off our neighborhood polling places since he was first elected in 2014. He envisions a voter-friendly model like in Colorado, where election costs decreased and turnout rose. There, all registered voters receive ballots in the mail. They can mail them back or drop them off. In California, some counties, including San Mateo, have been trying it out this year.

The transition can’t come soon enough. The logistics of the current system are a nightmare. Before an election, county workers generally process mail-in ballots until the Monday before Election Day.

But staff is limited. They then have to stop the process so they can prepare for neighborhood polling the next day. On election night, after the polls close, officials report the mail-in ballots that already had been processed and count the votes cast at the polls that day.

But those totals Tuesday night don’t include the ballots they didn’t have time to process before Monday, the ballots that came in since then, nor the ballots still in the mail that must be counted if they’re postmarked by Tuesday and arrive by Friday.

Before they can resume counting the mail-in ballots, they have to update the records of who voted at the polls to ensure no one tries to vote a second time by mail.

By Thursday, the counting of mail-in …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics


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