Contra Costa County promotes benefits of voting by mail

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Leading up to National Voter Registration Day today, the message out of Contra Costa County has not only been to “Get out the vote,” but to also, in a sense, “Stay in and vote.”

The Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder-Elections Department has embarked on a public outreach campaign to encourage more county voters to vote by mail, hoping its increased convenience will boost voter turnout and lead to potential cost savings for running polling stations.

The office has partnered with community advocates to spread the message of the benefits of voting by mail. Election officials are in the midst of shooting a commercial to promote more voting by mail, and recently unveiled an advertisement that reads, “Uber. Doordash. Amazon. All these things come to you…So can your ballot.”

The same ad instructs readers to request their ballot by mail by simply texting “CoCoBallot” to 28683. Text is also now among the ways people can register to vote.

Over the last four years, the percentage of voters who cast votes by mail in the County has gone up from about 64 to 70 percent. There are several reasons why vote by mail participation will likely continue to rise, according to Paul Burgarino, spokesperson for the Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder-Elections Department.

Perhaps the biggest reason is that 2019 is the first year in which all vote-by-mail ballots in California will include prepaid postage stamps, per Assembly Bill 216, which removes an “important barrier to entry for voters,” Burgarino said.

Another very important reason? Those voting by mail still have an opportunity to fetch a coveted “I Voted Sticker” on Election Day at drop-off boxes inside City Halls, Burgarino said.

“One reason people can be hesitant to vote by mail is concern they won’t get a sticker,” he said.

Traffic is also a pitch in favor of voting by mail. Voters dealing with heavy commutes don’t have to rush to find their polling stations on Election Day. Instead, they can receive their ballots and information packets in the mail a month in advance, allowing time to vote from the comfort of their homes.

Voting by mail also provides more time to study up on the ballot measures and candidates, said Brandon Evans, an outreach coordinator at the Richmond Police Activities League who is helping the County spread the word about the benefits of mail voting. Voters can have time to discuss the issues with their family and friends. Evans suggested hosting ballot parties as a way to make voting a fun event.

“This is all about empowering the voters, making it easier,” Evans said.

Evans has also been reaching out to incarcerated individuals about their opportunities to cast absentee ballots.

The County aims to increase the attractiveness of voting by mail, in part, by adding convenient ballot drop-off boxes. Last week, the County’s Election Division posted an image on social media depicting the receipt of new 24/7 drop-off boxes that will be installed in El Cerrito and Brentwood for the November Special Election, and in nine other Contra Costa cities for the March Presidential Primary Election.

Some states and California counties that are now running all-mail elections are showing positive outcomes. Jurisdictions like San Mateo County touted increased turnout with all-mail balloting. The bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) noted a 2016 study from the Pew Charitable Trusts that found the costs to run elections in Colorado decreased substantially with help from all-mail voting.

There are possible downsides to voting by mail, as well, including concerns over security, such as fraud or coercion by family members, or a slower vote counting process that extends well beyond Election Day. Some still go to the polls to enjoy a national tradition of voting alongside neighbors at community sites.

Responding to possible fraud concerns, Burgarino says the Elections Office has a lot of administrative methods in place to prevent it, including the verification of signatures on every ballot envelope.

Burgarino understands some may still want to go the traditional route of voting at a polling place. He simply believes voting by mail is a convenient option that can encourage more citizens to participate in the democratic process.

“We want to make sure everyone has the best opportunity to vote and the best experience possible,” he said.

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