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Shelley Cancels Plan to Encourage Absentee Voting

Some registrars said the secretary of state's mass mailing would duplicate their efforts.

August 13, 2004|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley responded to criticism from local registrars of voters Thursday by withdrawing his plan to mail 3.75 million letters to registered voters encouraging them to become permanent absentee voters.

The decision comes after Shelley's office spent $230,000 to print the letters.

Some county registrars were unhappy with the planned mailing because they thought it would duplicate their efforts to encourage absentee voting.

They also said some absentee voters might become confused if they received one of Shelley's mailings when they had already signed up to vote by mail.

Los Angeles County Registrar Conny B. McCormack said Shelley did not discuss his plans with registrars beforehand.

"It never would have happened if they collaborated with us in the first place," McCormack said.

Shelley spokeswoman Lauren Hersh said the money spent printing the mailers was not wasted. The mailers will be made available to any counties that want to use them and to organizations, such as the League of Women Voters, that want to encourage absentee voting.

The planned mailing was intended to increase voter turnout. Voters who have ballots mailed to their homes historically are more likely to vote than those who cast ballots at polling places.

Shelley intended to target voters who had cast ballots in just one or two of the previous four elections, weeding out those who vote regularly and those who do not vote at all, Hersh said.

Absentee-voting rates have soared in recent years; one-third of the ballots cast in California's March election were from absentee voters.

Some registrars said they were blindsided by Shelley's idea, which he announced to them Aug. 6.

Alameda County Registrar of Voters Brad Clark, for instance, already had sent out more than 500,000 mailings to registered voters in his county encouraging them to vote by mail.

"All the voters in the county are going to be receiving these and then in three weeks they would get another one, and then they'll call us and say, what's wrong?" Clark said.

"When they don't coordinate with the counties, it causes a lot of confusion," he said.

McCormack said she was afraid a last-minute drive to encourage absentee voting in Los Angeles County would leave her staff overwhelmed and could delay the results of close races, including the presidential race.

Bob Mulholland, a strategist for the state Democratic Party, praised Shelley's proposal, which would have been the largest effort of its kind in state history.

"California ought to do everything it can to get more people to vote," Mulholland said. "If a person isn't a regular voter, let's facilitate them becoming regular voters."

Shelley's change of plans came on the same day that a state senator said his bill to reform electronic voting systems in the state -- something Shelley supports -- died in an Assembly committee.

Sen. Ross Johnson's bill would have required by January 2006 all electronic voting machines to produce a paper receipt for voters to review before they leave the polling place.

Johnson (R-Irvine) said he was concerned by several problems with electronic voting machines in the March election. Without a paper trail, Johnson said, he would recommend that people vote by absentee ballots in November.

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Mail Call

Voting by mail has increased and accounted for more than one-quarter of all ballots cast in the 2002 general election.

Percent of absentee ballots cast in general election years.

1962: 2.6% 2002: 27.1%

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