Nov. 12 2008 09:20 AM

In today's hectic lifestyle, there always seems to be more and more things to do and not enough time to do them. The daily demands of careers, children's activities and home life make even finding time to vote a challenge for many of the nation's voters.


As we approach the November 2008 General Election, the County of San Diego Registrar of Voters is encouraging the county's nearly 1.4 million registered voters to consider voting by mail as a viable alternative to visiting a poll on Election Day.


Vote by Mail (VBM), formally known as absentee voting, was once restricted to those who were unable to vote at a poll due to hardship. In the late 1970s, VBM was offered to all voters regardless of circumstance. All voters can now vote at their leisure, at home and with ample time to make their selections. VBM also helps election officials throughout the state to minimize waiting time at the polls as well as report results as soon as the polls close.


In San Diego County, the Registrar of Voters has embraced VBM in an effort to mitigate potentially long lines at the polling sites. Voters who wish to vote by mail receive their ballots in the mail up to four weeks before Election Day, giving them time to complete and return their ballots before Election Day. The VBM program has proved very popular in San Diego County as the number of voters requesting to vote by mail has had a steady 28% increase from 400,709 in the November 2004 Presidential General Election to 516,738 in the recently completed June 2008 Direct Primary Election.


The Registrar of Voters office also benefits when voters choose to vote by mail. Returned ballots are processed as they arrive and are held until Election Day when they are counted. Being able to process these ballots before Election Day reduces the number of ballots that must be counted after the polls close. Generally, election results that are reported just after the polls close are ballots that have been voted by mail.


Voters can apply to vote by mail for a specific election or ask to become a permanent mail ballot voter. Permanent mail ballot voters are those who have instructed the Registrar of Voters to automatically mail them a ballot for any election in which they are eligible to vote. In either case, these voters receive a ballot by mail and have until Election Day to return their ballot. The permanent mail ballot voters are the first to receive their ballots. The Registrar of Voters spends the early days of the election cycle preparing a large mailing to these voters. Ballots are mailed 29 days before the election in accordance with the Elections Code. After the first large mailing, ballots are mailed to voters requesting a VBM ballot for the current election.


Given the advantages of the VBM program, the Registrar of Voters is continually working to add voters to the permanent VBM rolls. Shortly after the June 2008 election, the Registrar of Voters sent a mailer to more than 900,000 voters asking them if they would like to become permanent mail ballot voters. This mailing served two purposes: first, voters were added to the permanent VBM file; and, second, the Registrar of Voters was able to update its voter address file prior to the November General election. Undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mailpieces were returned to the Registrar of Voters. In accordance with election law, those voters who had a change of address were sent a new voter registration card asking them to register at their new address. These voters were also given the opportunity to become permanent mail ballot voters. Had these addresses not been updated, potential voters may have not been able to exercise the franchise.


No VBM program can succeed without the help and support of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The USPS is a willing and valuable partner to the VBM program. As the number of voters casting ballots by mail has increased throughout the country, the USPS has developed programs and processes to accommodate the mailing of these election materials. The USPS has determined ballots can be mailed at non-profit rates, which makes the mailing of ballots financially attractive to election officials. Other enhancements included a special election logo to heighten visibility, special tags that identified political mail and the use of express mail to APO and FPO gateways in order to expedite the delivery of balloting material to military voters stationed abroad. The National Postal Forum has also added workshops on the mailing of election materials to educate election officials on the value of voting by mail.


In San Diego, local postal officials share the Postal Service mission in encouraging voters to vote by mail. They have pledged their complete support and are very responsive when called upon. The Registrar of Voters has long recognized its contribution to the success of the past elections and knows the future success of the VBM program will require continued support and commitment by the USPS. Prior to each election cycle, teams from the Registrar of Voters and the USPS engage in a joint planning meeting that addresses all aspects of the ballot mailing process. As ballots are being drop shipped into the San Diego Sectional Center Facility, internal operations and delivery stations are notified that balloting materials are being entered into the system. This pre-planning helps expedite the delivery of the ballots to the voter. The USPS is also there to help once ballots have been entered into the system. Should a delivery problem arise, they are quick to investigate and provide solutions. The relationship between the Registrar of Voters and the USPS is most certainly a partnership and one both agencies take pride in.


There is one other segment of the population that relies heavily on the VBM program, our military voters. San Diego has a large military contingent, and the Registrar of Voters works closely with military voting officers and the USPS to ensure balloting materials are in the hands of military and overseas voters as soon as possible. Ballots are sent via Express Mail to APO and FPO gateways in three locations. The military then takes responsibility to deliver ballots to the deployed. Military voters return their ballots using specially marked business reply envelopes addressed to the Registrar of Voters.


Bob Wilson, CMDSM, joined the County of San Diego's Mail Services unit in 1980 and was named Mail Services Manager in 2002. Bob and his team serve over 18,000 employees in 50 client departments processing more than 10 million pieces of outgoing mail annually. He currently serves on the board of both the San Diego District Postal Customer Council and the Mail Systems Management Associations San Diego Chapter.