When the Legislature created a new class of voter two years ago — permanent absentees — the idea was to drive up turnout by making voting more convenient. Those who request absentee ballots have historically been very reliable voters. So, the thinking went, allowing people to make a single request so they automatically would be sent write-in ballots every election would result in higher voter participation.
So far at least, the results in Ventura County suggest such thinking was flawed.
Assistant Registrar of Voters Bruce Bradley told me that as of this morning only 47 percent of the 91,000 absentee ballots mailed to voters have been returned. Under the old system, in which every voter who received a mailed ballot specifically requested one, the return rate had always been around 85 percent. With only three days left for mail delivery, Bradley said, it is highly unlikely this year's return rate will come anywhere close to that.
It shouldn't come as a big surprise, Bradley suggested. Records show areas that conduct mail-in voting get about the same level of participation as those that conduct polling-place elections. At first blush, it appears the pool of permanent absentee voters will be not much different from the pool of registered voters at large — that is, only about half of them will bother to cast a ballot by Tuesday.
One other interesting twist relating to permanent absentee voters: Those who declined to state a party preference — about 16 percent of all voters — were sent cards a month or so ago asking whether they wanted a particular partisan ballot to cast in the primary. Both major parties and most minor parties allow decline-to-states to participate in their primaries if they specifically request to do so. The obvious question this year is whether the Democratic presidential primary would motivate a disproportionate number of decline-to-states to request Democratic ballots. The answer: Nope.
In fact, Bradley said, the cards that went out to permanent absentee voters who are decline-to-states yielded only about 1,000 requests for partisan ballots — and just as many were for American Independent Party ballots as were for Democratic or Republican ballots. Clearly, there is some confusion among a lot of voters who, just because they classify themselves as independents, think they ought to be voting in the Independent Party primary.