Stay up to Date
Our weekly insiders' guide to political and policy news (Saturdays)
It’s going to be a mighty strange election.
Time flies when you’re in a pandemic. Just over four months have passed since Super Tuesday, and now there are just about four months until we vote in November. It’s going to be a mighty strange election. Just how strange? Here’s what we found:
Thanks to an order by the governor, election officials will send mail ballots to every registered voter in the state. (Never mind what the president said. Only registered voters will get ballots, not everyone.)
You might assume this is normal if you regularly get a mail ballot and vote at home. In fact, many voters, about 25 percent in San Diego County, normally don’t get mail ballots because they haven’t signed up to be permanent mail voters. For them, getting a mail ballot – and being able to vote by mail – will be new.
This election is also one of the first that won’t cost you a dime (or, more accurately 55 cents). Mail ballots are now postage-paid, so you won’t need to dig around your junk drawer for stamps. Yes, stamps. Young people: Ask your grandparents.
I used to vote at a polling place in a Clairemont mortuary, where I never failed to make a joke about how it was just like Chicago. You know, where the dead regularly vote. Graveyard humor! Poll workers love that.
Anyway, there won’t be voting at mortuaries this November or at your neighbor’s garage or the pizza parlor or pet groomer’s down the street. That’s because of new rules about where we can – and can’t – vote if we still want to vote in person on Nov. 3.
In another executive order, the governor called on election officials to consolidate polling places while still making sure there’s one for at least every 10,000 people. San Diego County will shrink the number of polling places from 1,548 to 235, and there’s likely to be few, if any, in private buildings.
That’s because each polling place must in a space of at least 2,000 square feet to allow for social distancing and deal with any surge, said Michael Vu, the registrar of voters. Also, officials don’t want to take the risk that the owners of a private building will make a last-minute decision to not host a polling place due to pandemic fears.
The 235 consolidated polling places, known as “superpolls,” will include big spaces like school gymnasiums and recreation centers. Each will be open for voting and staffed by about 15 people for the four days before Election Day. The staffers have more to do this time around and will be paid instead of serving as volunteers. Hundreds of thousands of masks, gloves, face shields and hand sanitizer bottles will be on hand to protect them.
Why would anyone want to vote in person when they could just stay home and vote without even needing to lick a stamp? “Some will be dead-set on a physical polling place,” Vu said, “and some may need to if they’re a person with a disability.”
It’s also possible, in some cases, for voters with disabilities to vote from their car with assistance from a staffer. And homeless voters may find it easier to vote at a polling place than by mail.
Bonus explainer: Yes, the homeless can register to vote. They can use the mailing address of a friend (or relative or homeless shelter) and provide their equivalent of a residential address by pinpointing the cross streets where they live.
Touch-screen voting will be available at polling places for certain voters such as a blind person who needs to hear the ballot choices read aloud or those who lost or messed up (“spoiled”) their physical ballot.
But who wants to touch a germy touch screen these days? The registrar is figuring out what to do. Styluses are being considered (I use one to press elevator buttons), as are finger coverings. You know, like a mask but smaller and without all the political brouhaha.
If you’re a longtime local, you may remember getting to stab punch-card ballots with a metal pin. That was fun since you could really let it rip to vote against someone you hated. But Vu says these ballots went away circa 2003.
California is notorious for taking forever to count ballots. San Diego County alone could have 1,000-plus races in a general election, meaning that a few nail-biters typically take weeks of counting to resolve. But this time around, things could be different.
The keyword here is “could.” Vu is careful to not be the registrar of predictions. Still, officials now have the ability to begin counting mail-in ballots in the 29 days before the election, not the previous 14 days.
“We still can’t report the results, and we can’t hit the compile button until 8 p.m. on election night,” Vu said. So no peeksies. But this extended process could – maybe, possibly, hopefully, please please please – give us results more quickly.
But the timing is up to you, Vu said. If we all wait to vote until the last minute, we’ll still have to wait for clarity on close races.
So here’s the deal: Vote early, but not often, so election watchers can get some sleep on the big night.
Turns out my former mortuary polling place has lots of company. I asked Vu about unusual polling places, and he responded with a list that includes several mortuaries, a crematorium, a laundromat, a fencing place, an equestrian center, a car showroom, a theater, the Humane Society, a doggie day care center, a grocery store and a Rodeway Inn (room 124, if you’re scoring at home).