I. In Focus This Week
State budget cuts impact vote-by-mail and registration in California
Counties must figure out ways to pay for popular voter options
Buried deep in the 2011-2012 California budget— page 602 to be exact — is a provision that will save the state approximately $30 million per year, but will potentially put a greater burden on the state’s counties and voters.
The recently approved budget includes cuts to voter services which will eliminate reimbursements to counties for vote-by-mail and mail-in voter registration.
In a letter to county registrars, Deputy Secretary of State Lowell Finley said, “County elections officials have the option of providing vote-by-mail ballots to any voter who requests one for any reason, but if they do they will not be reimbursed for the cost of doing so in 2011-2012 fiscal year.”
In November 2010, nearly half of the people who voted in California cast their ballot by mail.
County elections offices throughout the state are reviewing their options and more importantly their own budgets to see if they can continue to provide these services to voters — services that many agree have helped make election day go more smoothly and made the voting experience better.
"Voter access is already uneven from county to county, and the suspension of the mandates is only going to make it worse,” Kim Alexander president of the California Voter Foundationtold a local paper. “What do we tell voters when they want to know if they can vote by mail?"
However anecdotal evidence from registrars that electionlineWeekly spoke with and from media reports indicate that registrars will work with their county board of supervisors to pay for the vote-by-mail option through this current budget.
In Humboldt County, approximately 40 percent of the county’s registered voters are permanent vote-by-mail and in the November 2010 election approximately 47 percent of the county’s voters voted by mail. According to Kelly Sanders, with the county clerk/recorder/registrar of voters office, Humboldt County will continue business as usual.
“By continuing to provide vote-by-mail ballots to voters who have previously applied for them will lessen the impact on the voter,” Sanders said. “We expect that people who would like to apply to be permanent vote-by-mail voters and don’t find the application on their sample ballot will be a) disenfranchised, or b) call our office to find out how to apply thus increasing the workload on staff.”
Sanders said the money to continue the vote-by-mail program will have to come from the county general fund.
“We will continue to hope that funds are available to continue vote-by-mail voting as it is a secure and convenient method of voting,” Sanders said. “We will wait and see if we will be able to afford to accept more applications for permanent vote-by-mail status.”
According to the Orange County Register, Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley anticipated the possibility of such cuts and compensated for them in the budget approved by county supervisors. Kelley's budget for the current fiscal year, which includes the primary next June, is $10.5 million. About $600,000 of that will go to paying for the registration and mail-ballot services no longer being reimbursed by the state.
In Solano County, where they are still waiting on a more than half a million dollar reimbursement for vote-by-mail from the 2009-2010 budget year, Assistant Registrar Lindsey Williams said they expect no changes.
"Until the board tells me otherwise, it's business as usual," Williams told The Reporter.
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