California registrars seeking to move to all vote-by-mail!

In an interesting turn of events, California’s Alameda County is seeking state legislation to allow it to conduct the upcoming statewide primary election in June entirely by mail. And according to a story in this morning’s Sacramento Bee, other county registrars in California are seeking the same permission for the June primary. As the state of California has seen strong growth in the use of absentee voting methods in recent elections, with over 3 million absentee ballots cast in the 2005 statewide election (of a total of almost 8 million, about 40% of votes cast), this is becoming a less and less radical idea in California.

Still, getting the state legislature to go along with this change is difficult. Carol Liu (who happens to be my state assembly representative, from the Pasadena/La Canada Flintridge area), tried to get the legislature to agree last year to permit a handful of counties to experiment with all vote-by-mail elections for the next few election cycles [AB 867]. In today’s Sacramento Bee article, Liu noted:

She believes another vote-by-mail proposal would stand no chance of passage. Her plan required even fewer votes than the Alameda plan.

“Unfortunately, the political parties really don’t like it because they want more control over who is voting,” Liu said.

Liu added that some Democrats also are concerned that absentee votes tend to favor Republicans – conventional wisdom in years past – but she believes that is no longer the case.

Some also believe political consultants are opposed to mail voting because it makes strategy more difficult. Garry South, political adviser to former Gov. Gray Davis, said the sharp rise in absentee voting already has shifted the dynamics of campaigning.

The acting registrar from Alameda County is quoted in this same story as stating that an all by-mail election for the June primary could save up to a $1 million, of the estimated $2.7 million it may cost for that county to conduct the June primary election.

My guess is that without a groundswell of support in the state legislature, Alameda County’s request will not make much progress — and as state legislators (and their consultants) are wary of the uncertainty associated with moving to an entirely by-mail election, and the possible political ramifications of such a move, we are unlikely to see this happen by June. But if recent California trends in the use of absentee ballots continues, we might see primarily by-mail elections here in the very near future.