Kinks in Butte County’s new vote-by-mail system require exploration, fixes
Butte County’s new vote-by-mail election hit some major snags on Super Tuesday, frustrating voters and sending packing a number of them who’d otherwise have submitted their ballots.
This newspaper stopped into the Bell Memorial Union on the Chico State campus two hours after the vote center at that location had officially closed—only to find around 50 would-be voters awaiting assistance. According to Candace Grubbs, the county’s clerk-recorder and registrar, two other Chico locations had late lines, at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds and at the Masonic Lodge. That’s three of the five vote centers in the county’s most populous city and 13 overall.
One of the issues stems from no-party preference (aka decline to state) voters being confused by having to request a ballot listing a particular party’s candidates in order to participate in the presidential primary. Under California’s “open primary” system, that’s not required for any other race—and, further complicating the matter, not every political party welcomes unaffiliated voters. (The California Democratic Party, for instance, accepts non-Democrats; state Republicans don’t.)
Grubbs sees same-day registration as a factor. She also figures voters concerned about candidates dropping out—as Democrats Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer did just before Super Tuesday—prompted some to wait till the last minute. Mostly, she told Evan Tuchinsky for our election coverage (see Newslines, page 11), Grubbs sees “procrastination” as the bugaboo.
Whatever the reason, or reasons, behind the lines, the Elections Office needs to adapt. Clearly, demand for assistance demonstrates the need for more staffing at vote centers—perhaps also the need for more vote centers. Just as clear, the outreach Grubbs’ department conducted, via traditional media and social media, didn’t reach enough voters; they’ll need to expand their efforts. County elections staff may well find other aspects to upgrade, and we trust Grubbs will implement the necessary changes.
We caution the county not to look at this single election, or the primary combined with November’s general election, as the ultimate data point. Super Tuesday presents lessons to learn, and things may run smoothly this fall with corrective measures from local and state elections officials. But there’s always a new election looming.
The late rush Tuesday night may have been an anomaly, a kink in the new system. We suspect it’s perpetual. Voting early is an opportunity, not a requirement. Some will always wait—it’s their right.