Don’t waste your vote

Ever since the California Legislature authorized permanent vote-by-mail balloting, the number of people participating in the program has increased significantly. In Butte County, around half of all registered voters—some 56,000 people—regularly receive their ballots at home for mailing in later.

This is a convenient system, but as Tuesday’s election demonstrated, it has at least one major drawback during primary elections. Because the ballots are sent out early in the nominating process, they include the names of all the original candidates. By the time the election rolls around, however, many of these candidates will have dropped out of the race. Anyone who votes as early as, say, two weeks before the election runs the risk of voting for a non-candidate and wasting his or her vote.

As it turned out, more than 400,000 Californians voted for non-candidates. Granted, some of these votes may have been symbolic, but early tabulations suggest most were the result of voting early. For example, some 169,000 people voted for Sen. John Edwards, who withdrew from the race last week, and of those votes 148,000 were posted on the California secretary of state’s Web site early Tuesday night, before most precincts had reported. That suggests they were mail-in votes counted earlier.

The lesson here is that voters who want the convenience of being able to mail in their ballots but also want their votes to go to candidates who are still in the race could have a fairly narrow window in which to mail off their ballots. At the very least, they need to be careful not to do so too early.