Big procedural changes are coming for San Benito County voters that should result in fewer mailings, more time to register, and no out-of-pocket postage costs.
Taking advice from a local elections advisory committee, the San Benito County Elections Office is making an array of alterations for the 2018 election season, said Angela Curro, assistant registrar of voters. Elections are set for June 5 and Nov. 6 this year.
A change affecting most voters will be a reduction from two mailings to one mailing sent to vote-by-mail residents. In San Benito County, that’s a vast majority of voters since about 22,000 people vote by mail compared with just 8,000 to 9,000 using the polls, Curro said.
In past election cycles, the county office would send the mail-in recipients a sample ballot with a voter information guide separate from the ballot itself, which came in a different mailing. On the back of the sample ballot was an application for an actual ballot, but most residents receiving those were already considered permanent vote-by-mail voters. So it was confusing for some people and redundant as a mailing.
Now, every voter will receive just one mailing from the local office, what’s called a voting kit—a blue and white envelope with a ballot, information guide, descriptions of measures and how to mark the ballots. The state, meanwhile, will continue to send its own voter materials separately as in the past.
“What we’ve done is redesigned this,” Curro said. “We’ve tried to bring it together so it’s very clear.”
Polling place voters will receive a kit, too, and another change this year is that those residents now have the option to simply send their sample ballots in the mail instead of going to the polls. Those ballots count just like the regular ones, Curro said.
“What we’ve done is, we’ve done a bunch of research in current election cod,e and there are options for how you vote by mail,” she said. “One of the options is, a sample ballot can be used as a vote-by-mail ballot. So the new voting system has enabled us to be able to utilize a sample ballot like a precinct ballot.”
Curro said the only difference between the vote-by-mail and polling-place packets is that one’s green and one’s purple to help the elections office keep things in order.
“If you choose to vote by mail, the envelope has all the legal requirements to vote by mail and to return it,” she said.
With fewer mailings, the county will save money and put those funds toward paying all postage fees for ballot returns. Previously, the elections office printed the postage amount needed on ballot returns, but some voters still remained confused about the number of stamps to use. Now, the office will be clear in the voting kit that it paid for the postage. Curro said Clerk-Auditor-Recorder Joe Paul Gonzalez approved that change, she noted.
Yet another significant change this year is the use of conditional voter registration. In the past, eligible voters had until 15 days before the election to register or they would be cut off from taking part. Now, that’s not the case with a new statewide system in place. If someone just moved here or forgot to register in time, he or she could go to the elections office, complete a registration card, validate they didn’t vote anywhere else and be eligible.
The county, though, still recommends voters register at least 29 days before the election.
With the change, the elections office plans to do a good amount of outreach at local meetings and will be at the Downtown Hollister Certified Farmers Market starting in early May to promote drop box options. Curro expects to do a presentation to the San Benito County Board of Supervisors at an upcoming meeting.
Curro acknowledged there will be a learning curve with the changes, but stressed they are meant to lessen confusion and increase access. For instance, if someone votes on a sample ballot and then goes to the polls as well, there are “internal process that will catch that,” she said.
Below are some inserts being sent to San Benito County voters: