RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

Jill LaVine, Sacramento County's registrar of voters, says her office will have to gear up for November's general election, when the ballot will include the presidential race and more statewide propositions and local contests.

Q&A: Lively November vote likely to follow 'quiet' primary

Published: Monday, Jun. 11, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 13, 2012 - 10:36 am

If last week's primary election seemed low-key, get ready for more excitement in November.

That's when the presidential race and statewide propositions could push Sacramento County voter turnout to more than 70 percent, said Sacramento County Registrar Jill LaVine.

LaVine spoke to The Bee about this month's primary and what voters can expect in the November general election.

Any surprises in the June 5 primary?

It was a very quiet, considering all the changes taking place. It was the first time for ballots in Chinese. And there was the shift to an open primary that put the top-two vote-getters on the November ballot, regardless of party affiliation. It was the first election following redistricting.

Did your office get a lot of calls and questions about these issues?

There were not the phone calls from voters and precincts that I anticipated. We had such a low turnout. That was part of it. When the turnout is finalized, I expect it will be recorded at about 35 percent. We had a phone call from a man whose primary language is Chinese. We had our Chinese-language support person take the call. Even so, he wanted to ask his question in English.

What about the so-called under-votes? These are voters who cast their ballots but bypassed some races – such as the party central committees.

The under-votes in the central committee races were huge. In District 2, for example, where the boundaries mirror those of supervisorial District 2 covering the Pocket, Land Park and Florin neighborhoods, the under-vote was about 50,000. It's a difficult number to analyze, since one voter might be able to choose a half-dozen candidates for central committee. If that voter makes no choice, that's recorded as a half-dozen under-votes.

Perhaps the problem is that voters typically do not know any background about central committee candidates or what they do, right? How are voters expected to choose?

It's like an election for the Kiwanis Club members. These are not public offices. They are candidates for political parties' governing boards. But the county foots the bill for them. In Sacramento County, we had a total of 258 candidates for whom we processed paperwork. Some 100 of them were central committee candidates. Those races cost the county $300,000 to process. A bill moving through the Legislature, SB 1272 by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, would limit central committee contests to primary elections every four years instead every two.

What are your expectations for the general election?

The concern for November will be the turnout. I'm glad we had this trial run in June. We expect the propositions and candidates to have much more visibility. We've got to be prepared, geared up and ready to go. The size of the general election ballot isn't yet known. We have until the end of the month to check the signatures on statewide propositions. Candidates' filing deadlines will come later.

The November election will include more contests for special districts, school boards and the like – typically with varying boundaries. That increases the challenge of creating ballots tailored to individual neighborhoods.

Of course, vote-by-mail ballots will play a role in November as well, right? In the primary, for example, the county had 80,000 vote-by-mail ballots that either arrived in county offices a few days before the election – too late for county workers to process until after the election – or were dropped off at polling places. Won't that be magnified in November?

Likely. About 30,000 vote-by-mail ballots were dropped at polling places in last Tuesday's election. Two years ago, in November 2010, about 65,000 vote-by-mail ballots were left at polling places on Election Day. That wasn't a presidential election year. I expect plenty more vote-by-mail ballots will have to be counted in the days and weeks following the November election.

Will that be more costly?

We spend about $4 million per election, regardless of how many cast votes. Costs of printing and distributing ballots are fairly consistent. The expense of staffing polling places won't change significantly.

But how long will it take us to get and process all the ballots? What's the overtime? We won't know until November.

That's what can change – the cleanup costs.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Loretta Kalb



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