California’s monthlong election day begins Monday, when the first of more than 8 million early ballots go out to people looking to turn their living rooms into voting booths. In county election offices across the state, booths also are being set up to accommodate the increasing number of voters who want to make their ballot decisions early. “We’ve already got the booths lined up outside our office in City Hall, ready for business,” said John Arntz, San Francisco’s election chief. The surging number of early and vote-by-mail ballots has had a profound effect on California elections, changing both the way people vote and how candidates campaign. Because voting starts almost a month before the June 3 primary, the traditional bombardment of TV and radio ads, mailers and partisan phone calls has begun earlier, too. … For many voters, mail ballots can be a way to have the best of both worlds, said Scott Konopasek, assistant registrar for Contra Costa County. “They can get their ballot earlier and go over it, but still hang on to it until late, in case something happens in the election,” he said.
By law, mail ballots can be dropped off at any polling place in the voter’s county on election day, which is good news for the many procrastinators who never get around to taking the ballot to the mailbox. But since there’s no time to process and verify those late-arriving ballots on election day, that means election night can extend for days, much to the dismay of nervous candidates and their supporters. “About 15 percent of our ballots are counted after election day, which can affect close races,” Konopasek said. “It doesn’t change (voting) trends, but it adds some drama.”
Until 1978, California had the traditional absentee voter system, where only those with a medical excuse or who would be out of town on election day were allowed to vote in advance. In the primary election that year, 4.7 percent of the 6.8 million votes cast were absentee.
Since then, California has moved to a “no-fault” system, where any voter can request a mail ballot, no questions asked. But the vote-by-mail numbers really started to take off after 2001, when a new law allowed voters to register for what then was called permanent absentee status, which meant they would automatically receive a mail ballot for every election, large or small.
Full Article: Increase in early voting alters election landscape – SFGate.