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Who has two thumbs and can use their phone to get a ballot? Voters in California’s Contra Costa County, that’s who – the county now offers the ability to text to obtain a vote-by-mail ballot. The East Bay Times has more:
As part of its effort to get more people to vote by mail, the Contra Costa County Elections Office will allow residents to sign up for ballots by simply texting the elections office.
Voting by mail is more convenient than going to the polls, said Joe Canciamilla, the county’s clerk-recorder and registrar of voters. “They can do it at home, with friends, and take their time with it.”
It’s also a more secure method because it allows voters to track their ballots, he added. After filling out their ballots, voters can either mail them back to the elections office or drop them off at polling places or a number of drop-off locations.
“We’re trying to engage people who are not necessarily politically engaged and aware,” said Brandon Evans, a community organizer in Richmond. “People don’t have time to stop with the day-to-day hustle. This makes it easier.”
Mariana Moore, senior director at Ensuring Opportunity, a group that campaigns to end poverty in the county, said mail-in ballots help people who have long commutes, multiple jobs or other barriers to getting to their polling places on Election Day.
Increasing options to sign up for mail-in ballots — by texting or emailing — also helps, Moore said.
“There are parts of country where there are efforts to make it harder for people to vote,” she said. “What I see the elections office doing to make it easier — it shouldn’t be a revolutionary thing, but somehow in this environment, it feels like it.”
The County is encouraging vote-by-mail because it also assists with election administration. Contra Costa has not yet made the move to adopt the Voter’s Choice ballot delivery model in use elsewhere in the Golden State but this program could eventually lead there:
Mail-in ballots also help the elections office, enabling it to deploy fewer workers at precincts, process more ballots early and, ultimately, provide a more detailed tally on election night.
About 70 percent of Contra Costa voters already are registered to vote by mail. In Alameda County, that same percentage was registered for last November’s election.
Some counties — including Santa Clara, San Mateo and Napa — have switched to models under the state Voter’s Choice Act in which every voter is mailed a ballot that can either be sent back or dropped off at voting centers open to any county resident days before the election.
Contra Costa has not yet made that switch because it would be expensive, Canciamilla said, but the county will have about a dozen locations where people can drop off their ballots at any hour of the day.
Canciamilla said he too recently switched to voting by mail to avoid the “crazy” parking issues at his precinct and because it’s generally so much more convenient.
“The old way of going to a neighbor’s garage and being able to cast a ballot and meet up with friends — those days are gone,” he said.
And for those who like getting their “I Voted” sticker, they can still obtain them at ballot drop-off stations.
“I don’t think it’ll be long before it goes from being voluntary to being mandatory,” Canciamilla said of the vote-by-mail system. “With over 70 percent of voters using vote-by-mail — at that point, the value of maintaining polling places, poll workers, all of the expense that comes with running that, it’s not going to be justifiable.”
The texting system involves an SMS shortcode – but voters can still get their ballots in more traditional ways as well:
People interested in signing up for vote-by-mail can text “CoCoBallot” to 2Vote (28683) and follow the prompts from a link that’s sent back. It requires entering the voter’s name, date of birth and address. Residents can also send an email to Ballot@vote.cccounty.us, call the elections office at 925-335-7800 or visit the office at 555 Escobar St. in Martinez.
Given the ubiquity of smartphones, it’s actually, well, smart to offer this option to voters. I’ll be curious to see how many voters take advantage of the text request option and what that means for VBM in Contra Costa – and if the practice spreads to other communities in California or elsewhere. Stay tuned …