Sign, seal, deliver

All-mailed ballot system put to countywide test

A ballot drop box stands inside Chico’s city hall at 411 Main St.

A ballot drop box stands inside Chico’s city hall at 411 Main St.

Photo by Andre Byik

Butte County election officials have been taking hundreds of calls from voters during the run-up to the March 3 primary election. Many requests, Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs said, have been to check addresses against official records. Other voters who received nonpartisan ballots have asked for new ones because they want to vote in a party’s election.

“We’re always glad to respond,” Grubbs told the CN&R. “We do have a lot of seasonal help in the office, but if they don’t know the answer they will send it up the chain of command.”

Butte County is one of 15 counties that have opted into an all-mailed ballot system through the California Voter’s Choice Act—legislation passed in 2016 that was billed as modernizing the state’s elections. Ballots complete with pre-paid postage were on their way to all the county’s registered voters earlier this month.

Gone are precinct-specific polling places. Voters are now required to send their ballots through the mail, drop them in a designated county drop box or submit them at a full-service vote center, where voters can receive disability and language assistance, as well as registration and ballot help. The preferred method of voting can vary from household to household, Grubbs said, adding some may take into account the security of their own mailboxes.

The decision to shift to an all-mailed system came after the Camp Fire, which displaced thousands of residents, Grubbs said, adding that the timing made sense. Fire survivors who claim a permanent address in the burn scar but are temporarily living elsewhere will still be able to vote on local issues pertaining to them. They’ll receive local ballots at their current, temporary mailing address, regardless of location. Some ballots are being mailed to survivors who have fanned out across the country.

It has, however, turned into one of the biggest hurdles election officials have had to clear.

“How many of the people that were part of the Camp Fire have moved out of the county completely? And so won’t be coming back?” Grubbs said. “We’ll probably have a better look at that after the primary.”

Early numbers show a decline. The number of registered voters in the county currently stands at 114,000, which is down from 124,000 before the fire, Grubbs said. Staffers have continually updated voter files as new information comes in, and Grubbs said she imagines things will shake out a bit more come November.

About 70 percent of the county’s voters already had been casting their ballots by mail before the shift. Voters who received their ballots at home also were voting at a higher percentage than “polling place voters,” Grubbs said. With a 100 percent mail-in system, turnout is expected to be higher, she added.

Nevertheless, Grubbs said she advises people to not procrastinate. Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day. Voters also can refer to voter information booklets and the county’s elections website for more information, including locations and hours for drop boxes and vote centers.

If all goes according to expectations, a higher percentage of results should be counted by election night, she said. Voters can check the status of their vote-by-mail ballot at, which shows when a ballot was mailed and received by their county government.