The state’s plan to cut out reimbursement to counties for vote-by-mail ballots won’t affect Mendocino County much, according to Registrar of Voters Sue Ranochak. The state Legislature passed a bill in its 2011-12 budget that aims to save $33 million by suspending state mandates that require counties to process voter registration applications received by mail and to send vote-by-mail ballots to voters who apply for them, among other mandates suspended.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen opposes the suspensions, saying they could cause confusion and disenfranchise voters, and Ranochak concurs, along with about 45 other counties represented at a recent meeting. “I’m going to follow what the secretary of state recommends,” Ranochak said. “It’s important that people vote.”
Not that the suspensions change much for Mendocino County, according to Ranochak. She explained that the county pays all costs up front for each election, then waits for reimbursement from the state, which can take anywhere from six months to two years.
“When I produce a budget I don’t assume the state is going to repay us,” Ranochak said.
The bill suspending the mandate that counties provide vote-by-mail ballots is expected to save the state an estimated $28.6 million toward its $26 billion budget gap, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Ranochak said that suspension would only affect individuals who applied for status as permanent mail-in voters. There are about 19,700 people permanently registered to vote by mail in Mendocino County, about 40 percent of the county’s 48,000 registered voters.
The suspension would not affect voters in precincts that either have fewer than 250 voters or more than 1,000 voters in their borders and are designated as vote-by-mail only.
Before the state mandated that counties provide vote-by-mail ballots to anyone who requested one and began reimbursing counties, the law required that a person applying to vote by mail had to give a reason, such as illness or absence during an election, according to Ranochak.
Now, after the law that lifts the mandate passed, enfolded in the state’s budget, counties are no longer required to do so. Ranochak said she is among many county registrars of voters who have said they would continue to provide the ballots without the state’s reimbursement.
Mendocino County also splits the cost of each election with fire and municipal districts that participate in it, including when the district sponsors a ballot measure or has an election inside the district, such as a city council or fire district election, according to Ranochak.
The county’s election costs include staff time, printing, shipping, distributing and mailing, she said. The county bills each participating district after the fact, she said, so that each district that added something to the ballot pays part of the election’s total cost.