Democracy’s big day

Brad Buyse

Photo By Larry Dalton

In case you haven’t been badgered enough about this, this is the most hugely important election of your lifetime. So don’t screw it up. Brad Buyse sure won’t. He’s the campaign-services manager at the Sacramento County elections division. He sat down with SN&R to put this year’s historic vote in perspective.

I hear the ballot this year is quite long.

Yes, our ballot for this election is 19 inches, double-sided. We’ve had 17-inch ballots before, but this one is just huge.

Whoa. How many people are registered to vote for this one?

Right now we’re at about 646,000 in voter registration—and it will be much more. We’re getting 2,500 to 3,000 voter-registration cards a day. A lot of youth are registering to vote. So this is going to be the biggest registration that we’ve ever had in the history of this office. It’s going to be very exciting.

We’ve already sent out 239,000 vote-by-mail ballots to all the voters who are signed up to be permanent vote-by-mail voters. So about 39 percent of our rolls are vote-by-mail voters. That’s the largest it’s ever been.

What would be a good turnout this year?

Our highest turnout, since we started keeping records in 1936, was 88.6 percent. That was the 1964 general election, which was Johnson vs. Goldwater. Last June was our lowest turnout since 1936; it was only 29 percent. That was just hideous, especially considering the cost of putting on that election.

In that election, we had to wait several days for the results of some contests, like the mayoral race. Is that a possibility this time?

Yes. We are so used to instant gratification, to “I want it and I want it now.” But people don’t understand what happens. We get 50,000 to 60,000 vote-by-mail ballots on Election Day. All those vote-by-mail ballots have to be scanned in, signature-checked, visually inspected—it’s a whole process of getting the ballot ready to be scanned in. Vote-by-mail has really changed the dynamics of our elections because, in essence, we’re conducting two elections on Election Day: We’re conducting the polling-place election and we’re conducting the vote-by-mail election.

Besides all of the vote-by-mail ballots, we have all the provisional ballots. And we have write-in ballots. We’re expecting that some people are not going to be happy with their choices of Obama and McCain, and they might write other names on their ballots.

If they aren’t a qualified write-in candidate, those votes of course do not count. But if somebody writes something on their ballot, we have to pull that ballot aside and it has to be inspected by a team of two people. We think people are going to write Hillary [Clinton] on there. She was such a force; that’s something our write-in team has been talking about. And that’s going to slow us down.

I know some people like to write in Mickey Mouse sometimes. I like to write in my friend Jimmy.

Well, Mickey Mouse is never a qualified write-in candidate, because Mickey Mouse has never been in my office. But we do always have a list of qualified write-in candidates. For example, we have a couple of [Sacramento County] Superior Court judges that have been forced onto the ballot.

You mean Judge McBrien?

Judge McBrien, yes. There have already been two candidates that have shown an interest and taken out papers.

What’s the absolute latest I can wait to mail my ballot?

Don’t drop it in the mail after Friday, the 31st, because it might not get to us. It has to be in our office by 8 o’clock on Tuesday, November 4. On November 5, November 6 and November 7, we get trays and trays and trays from the post office of ballots that have been delivered too late. People think it’s like taxes: as long as it’s postmarked by April 15. Thousands of people waste their vote and waste their postage because they think they can mail it on Election Day.

What would make elections better?

Well, if I can get on my own little soapbox, before any election law is passed down at the Capitol, it would be nice if the people who were passing those laws actually worked a day at the polls.

What else?

It would be fabulous if one year we could do a countywide vote-by-mail election to see what the cost savings are, and also to see what the turnout would be. It could potentially save our county hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the governor calls for a special election next year—a statewide election is going to cost between $90 [million] and $100 million. Why not have it all be vote-by-mail, as a cost-saving measure?

This is, what, the third election this year?

Really it’s the fourth in a year, because we had one in November 2007. [That ballot included just school-district issues.] Here we are almost a year later, and none of us in this office have had any time off. Hopefully 2009 will be a little easier.