San Mateo County’s recent mail election did more than boost voter participation in a sleepy off-year cycle, a preliminary analysis shows. It yielded dramatic spikes in turnout among young people and minorities. The eye-popping numbers from the county’s experiment, the first of its kind in an urban county in California, are sure to bolster a movement to expand mail elections throughout the state, following the lead of Oregon, Washington and Colorado. Turnout was up 16 percent over the last comparable election in 2013, and the voting rate among Asians increased by more than 30 percent in six cities.
Improving turnout among youth and U.S. minorities, whose participation typically lags behind that of the general population, is practically the holy grail for advocates of voting equality — not to mention politicians who hope to win their votes.
“It worked better than I could possibly have hoped for,” said Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, who passed legislation enrolling the county in a pilot program to study mail elections. “I think we are setting a standard that the state can follow.”
Elections conducted entirely or mostly by mail are touted for their efficiency, low cost and stimulating effect on turnout, though critics are skeptical of the impact on voter participation and worry about fraud and lost or miscast ballots.