Although the primary election is still nearly nine months away, that doesn’t mean elections officials are sitting around on their hands.
In fact, just the opposite with the many changes coming this year in Mariposa County.
Two big changes, in fact, mean there is a lot of preparation going into the March primary in California — one that could mean a lot of voter turnout given the large field in the Democratic presidential primary. The first is the March primary. Because California officials decided having an early primary would give the state more national influence, the date was set for March 3, 2020 — a full three months ahead of the traditional June date.
The second big change locally is the fact Mariposa County will be conducting an election which is nearly all mail-in ballots.
“It’s going to be a work in progress,” said Courtney Morrow, chief deputy county clerk for Mariposa County. “We are still working out the details.”
Some details, however, are in place.
The first is when local candidates can begin collecting signatures for their campaigns. That will be Sept. 27 through Nov. 21, said Morrow.
The official filing time will be Nov. 11 through Dec. 6, she added.
The signatures candidates gather help offset the cost of filing. Most local candidates do get the required amount of signatures from registered voters. Those are verified by the clerk’s office, most of the time before the official filing.
This year, three seats on the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors are up for election. Those are in Districts 2, 4 and 5. The current office holders are Merlin Jones (District 2), Kevin Cann (District 4) and Miles Menetrey (District 5.)
One of the biggest changes this year is the fact ballots will be mailed out to all registered voters, unlike the past when the option was in place not to get a mail-in ballot.
“Everybody who is registered gets a ballot,” said Morrow.
The state of California has allowed counties to make the changes to go to mail-in ballots. Several counties, including Madera, were part of a trial period in the previous election. Locally, the board of supervisors has given the green-light for doing it in Mariposa County.
The board has agreed to the new system and put its official and final stamp on the program at its meeting on Tuesday of this week.
As part of the change, voting centers will be established in the county.
The main voting center will be at the clerk’s office in Mariposa. It will be open 10 consecutive days leading up to the election. That will include weekends.
Morrow said two other voting centers will be established, as well.
One is at the Greeley Hill Library, which will be open Saturday through Tuesday when the election takes place. The other is in El Portal, also at the library, which will be open on Monday and Tuesday of that week.
Morrow said only two voting centers are required by state law, but she thinks the El Portal location makes sense.
“I feel like we should have a center there,” said Morrow.
She said many people who work for the National Park Service as well as Aramark, the park concessionaire, live and work in that area.
Another change will be the availability of drop boxes where people can place ballots. Morrow said that is one step which is still in the works but they are hoping to put them “throughout the county where there are no post offices.”
Places like Wawona and Ponderosa Basin are being considered, she said. Those boxes will be available at least 28 days prior to the election.
But the bulk of the ballots, said Keith Williams, county clerk, will likely be returned by mail. That has been the case for quite some time in the county, he said. Now, people don’t have to request mail-in ballots as they get them automatically.
Morrow said they are also planning to have a drop box with a drive-up option, which is mandated by law. That location is likely to be at the government center in Mariposa, though that has not been finalized. That drop box would give people the option to submit their ballots at any time of day.
It should be emphasized that with the new law, no postage is required for people who utilize the postal service to return their ballots.
Though that will likely be an added expense, there should be major savings in other areas, said Williams.
For instance, because the county now has a new computer system for voting, people who lose ballots or don’t get them can simply come to one of the voting centers and it can be printed on demand. That will save a lot of money in printing, he said.
In the past, in some cases, up to 25 ballots had to be printed if one person in a district was registered for a party other than Democrat or Republican.
Morrow said “a lot of those ballots went to recycling.”
Now, that expense will be gone.
Another major expense that will be gone is the fact the county will no longer have to hire poll workers for election day. Only the voting centers will be staffed, meaning a big savings for taxpayers.
Morrow said she is confident this new system will save time and money for the taxpayers. She said the computer system was used last year.
“It worked flawlessly in the last election,” said Morrow.
Another part of the new election process, said Morrow, is outreach to the voters.
There will be two direct mailings to registered voters, she said. The first will be two months prior to the election and include basic information about the new system and the election in general. The second will be shortly after the ballots are mailed out, letting people know the process has started.
This year, the county’s election vendor will be printing and mailing the ballots and Morrow said that, too, should be a savings. It will also get the ballots in the hands of all registered voters. The ballots will be mailed about 30 days prior to the March 3 election.
Williams emphasized the importance of getting ballots mailed early, especially with a March primary.
“Weather could be a factor,” said Williams.
He said if people wait until the last day and decide to cast a ballot at a vote center, a storm could hamper the process.
That’s why Morrow and Williams encourage everyone to vote early.
“That’s a really important message,” said Morrow.
It helps in many ways, weather notwithstanding. For one, if there is an issue with a voter, Morrow said there is time to make sure it is rectified.
Another point of emphasis for Morrow is for people to let their office know if they don’t get a ballot once they are mailed.
“If it doesn’t come, let us know and we’ll get it,” said Morrow.
For Williams, who has been involved with elections for years, he believes the mail-in system will be positive.
“The old system (vote-by-mail) worked well, and this will too,” said Williams.
For Morrow, she said security is her top priority.
“The security is at a higher level with vote by mail,” said Morrow.
The biggest issue is that signatures are verified well ahead of the election, easing any problems.
“It is a good way to heighten security,” said Morrow. “And it spreads out our work load. We’re a small staff.”
She also cited “convenience for voters” as a major reason to go to the new system. By doing things earlier, she said it makes it “a lot easier” for any problems to be corrected ahead of time instead of on election day.
For the general public, it should also mean election results which come quickly.
Many of the mail-in ballots will be in the system and when the polls officially close on election day, they can be counted immediately. No ballots will be counted prior to the close of polls.
Morrow also said officials at the clerk’s office want to help the public in any way possible. Morrow is in charge of all elections in the county.
“That’s what I’m here for,” she said.
Anyone with questions, comments or concerns is encouraged to contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office at (209) 966-2007.
There is also a wide variety of information available by visiting www.registertovote.ca.org.