Mail-in elections could save Santa Clara County millions of dollars and help ease the severity of impending budget slashing of health and other programs, Supervisor Liz Kniss says.
Kniss made her proposal Tuesday at a Board of Supervisors' meeting where 300 persons packed the chambers to protest cuts in county health-care and other programs due to a major budget shortfall.
Kniss said the county is proposing to cut 75 percent of its public-health nurses, who deal with mental health problems and drug and alcohol addiction countywide -- including through Palo Alto's Mayview Clinic -- as well as patients who receive house visits, she said.
"I will not let these cuts be made," Kniss -- a former nurse -- said. "These are major cuts from a very vulnerable population."
Kniss said Oregon has already instituted elections by mail only, saving 30 percent off earlier costs. Kniss said mail-in ballots increased voter turnout and in November 2004 Oregon had an 85 percent voter turnout, the highest in the nation.
In Santa Clara County, a third of voters already mail in absentee ballots. Kniss said that number is expected to jump to 50 percent by November 2008.
Kniss said the county could save $6 million during the next year by using mail-in ballots. The four elections scheduled between November 2007 and November 2008 could cost $20 million using traditional voting methods. She has asked
county staff to evaluate the savings potential of the plan.
One mail-only plan would eliminate local voting places while a phase-in alternative would consolidate voting places while aggressively encouraging mail-in voting.
The county is in the early stages of proposing its budget cuts, with final decisions to be made in mid-June, Kniss said. While mail-in ballots won't solve the overall budget problem, the idea could be one of several significant things that will help, she said.
A similar proposal is being pushed statewide by the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. The California League of Cities
is suggesting a pilot program to allow counties to try mail-in elections on a test basis.
Sen. Don Perata, president pro-tem of the California Senate, is said to be open to the idea.
Mail-in elections have been used around the state for small school district and city elections. Oregon instituted mail-in elections in 1998 after a slow transition that began in 1981. Five years later, a survey reportedly found that 81 percent of Oregon citizens are happy with the system.
Other states have not had as much luck instituting the idea. In November, Arizona voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal for mail-in elections.
Alameda County is also pushing the idea, citing problems and costs involved with voting machines. Others have cited the 2000 presidential election problems in Florida as a good reason to streamline the system.
In Oregon, voter signatures on ballots are checked for authenticity against signatures on voter-registration cards.
(Staff Writer Daniel DeBolt can be e-mailed at email@example.com.)