Ballots arrive this week in Sacramento County mailboxes for what’s perhaps the most anxiety-producing election in modern times – a month-long process culminating Nov. 3 amid coronavirus worries, post office staffing concerns and presidential allegations, without evidence, of voting fraud.
Despite those concerns, a record number of Sacramento voters is expected to cast ballots, not only for the presidency, but for local hot-button issues, including rent control and a “strong mayor” proposal in the city of Sacramento.
County elections officials say they believe they have organized a safe process that allows voters four different ways to get their voting done, only one of which involves standing in line at a voting center. The state as well has set up an electronic tracking system that will allow voters to monitor their ballot as it is processed.
“Elections officials are prepared to do the job,” Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Courtney Bailey-Kanelos said. “There are layers of checks and balances through every step of the way.”
That said, she and other election officials warn of the potential for long lines at some polling sites and even the possibility of altercations over wearing masks and social distancing. Bailey-Kanelos said polling place volunteers are being trained on how to handle inappropriate behavior, including people who attempt to intimidate others.
“Any confrontational or aggressive behavior, they will be asked to leave, period,” she said. “If they refuse, we will call the sheriff or police. We’ve done this before. The sheriff was out there in a matter of minutes.”
That goes for people standing within 100 feet of a voting center or a ballot drop box, as well, she said.
The county will not post guards or police officers at voting centers because armed and uniformed personnel can themselves be seen as a form of intimidation, she said. But, “we have met with the county sheriff and given them a list of voting locations.”
Mask-wearing rules will be a more delicate situation. The Secretary of State said people are required to wear masks at voting centers to protect against coronavirus spread. But state and local officials say they believe the right to vote supersedes the requirement to wear a mask, so they will make accommodations.
Anyone arriving without a mask will be offered one by an election worker stationed outside the voting center main door. If the person refuses, they will be asked to wait, away from the line of voters, until a voting booth is available for them that is safely distant from the other booths.
Bailey-Kanelos said people who refuse to wear masks should consider filling out their ballot beforehand at home and delivering it to an elections official stationed outside the voting center, or put it in a drop box or mail it in.
Anyone who arrives at a voting center with an already completed ballot, regardless of whether they are wearing a mask or not, can hand it to the elections official at the entrance rather than wait in line.
How voters can avoid lines
Increasingly, many voters fill out their ballot at home and leave it in their home mail box for their letter carrier to pick up. But the county this month will expand two other methods of turning in ballots for people who want to avoid the Nov. 3 rush.
The county has set up 71 ballot drop boxes where voters can deposit their filled-in ballot. Those boxes are in place already. Most of the sites are listed in the ballot information materials being mailed to voters this week. Other sites were added after that material was printed. Their locations are listed on the county voter registration and elections website.
The rules about loitering and intimidating behavior apply to the drop boxes, Bailey-Kanelos said. The county will not have monitors at the drop boxes, but election officials or law enforcement officers will respond if someone reports illegal behavior.
Of the 71 boxes, 68 are indoors, including at Raley’s and Bel Air supermarkets, at city and county libraries, and at city halls.
Three of the boxes are located outdoors, one at the Citrus Heights City Hall, another at the county voter registration main office, and another at the Tecoy Porter College Prep School in the Meadowview area of the city of Sacramento.
Those three are bolted to concrete and are surveyed by 24-hour cameras. Election workers will retrieve ballots from those exterior drop boxes every 24 hours, Bailey-Kanelos said. Election workers will unload the indoor boxes every few days, but will make more frequent pickups, including more than once a day, as needed, later in October and in early November until 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
People who choose to vote in person at a voting center should not wait until Nov. 3, officials say.
Eighteen voting centers, spread around the county, will open their doors daily for in-person voting on Oct. 24 through Nov. 3. Another 66 will open on Oct. 31 and remain open daily for voting through Nov. 3.
Voters are allowed to vote at any of the 84 centers or deliver their ballot to any of the 71 ballot drop boxes, regardless of where the voter lives in the county.
“We are encouraging people to vote during the early voting days. It will be like Election Day,” Bailey-Kanelos said.
In-person voting has already begun at one site: The county opened its voter registration main office in south Sacramento at 7000 65th Street for daily voting on Monday. Lines formed immediately, an early sign that this election likely will bring out a record number of voters.
Election officials say they expect more than 900,000 registered voters on the rolls by registration date close. That would be a 16 percent increase from the 2016 presidential election.