By Tim Redmond
DECEMBER 22, 2014 – Supervisor David Campos has an idea that could revolutionize electoral politics in San Francisco – and it’s so simple that I’m amazed none of us thought of it before.
Campos told me last week he wants to explore legislation to direct the Department of Elections to mail an absentee ballot to every registered voter in the city, every election.
That would in essence turn San Francisco elections into what they are already becoming – vote by mail elections – and could significantly increase turnout.
The city would still keep polling stations open on Election Day; not everyone wants to vote early, and not everyone will use that ballot.
But tens of thousands of people who have never signed up for permanent vote-by-mail status, and who don’t make it to the polls most election days, would have a reminder that it’s time to vote and an easy way to do it.
Vote by mail has been a huge success in Oregon, where all elections are conducted that way and voter turnout is the highest in the nation.
Oregon passed a statewide initiative in 1998 to shift to mail-in ballots. It would be a huge move to get the state of California to take that step, but what Campos is talking about requires (I think) no state action at all.
The city already mails out tens of thousands of ballots to people who sign up in advance to get one. Why not send one to everyone?
Campos is interested in ways that progressives can start to deal with a pretty serious change in local politics. Elections aren’t won and lost on Election Day any more. Campos beat Sup. David Chiu with 57 percent of the vote on this past Election Day – and Chiu won the state Assembly race.
That’s because so many people now cast absentee ballots, voting weeks before the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Campaigns that focus on traditional Get Out the Vote Strategies don’t succeed any more.
I don’t know if there are any laws that would prohibit the city from sending out unsolicited ballots, but if there are, that would seem to be something we could get around. Who’s (publicly) against increasing voter turnout?
The fears of fraud and undue influence that always come up at times like this have turned out not be much of a problem in Oregon. Voter fraud really isn’t a problem much of anywhere in the United States.
This one could be fascinating. Watch for it in the new year.