If you’re a registered voter in San Mateo County, you won’t head to your usual neighborhood polling place on Nov. 3. And chances are you already got your ballot in the mail — whether you registered for vote-by-mail or not.

That’s because San Mateo County has launched an all-mail election effort. More than 353,000 official ballots have been sent out to all registered voters in the county, according to Mark Church, chief elections officer for the county. Voters have until Nov. 3 to put those ballots in the mail, or drop them off at any city or town hall in the county, at a 24-hour drop box or at one of 32 voting centers. (Check San Mateo’s election website for a full list of locations.)

“This election is already underway,” said Church. “Voting is now taking place.”

While San Mateo is not the first county in California to institute countywide mail ballots — both Alpine and Sierra counties have long had all vote-by-mail elections, according to the Secretary of State’s Office — it is the biggest county to do so. Alpine and Sierra both instituted their programs because of their rural and sparsely populated nature.

San Mateo, on the other hand, has a number of characteristics that make it more of a true test program for the large urban areas in California, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

“It is a large county. It is a diverse county. This is going to give us a good idea of whether this is going to be a feasible option for local elections,” said Alexander.

Listen to the full interview with Alexander:

The appeal of an all-mail election is twofold, said Alexander. It could make it more accessible to voters who find it easier to drop a ballot in the mail than to find their way to a traditional voting booth on Election Day. And it may be more cost-efficient for local governments.

But that’s still not certain.

Generally, said Alexander, people who vote by mail are typically wealthier, whiter and older than the average voter, but that would likely change when mail-in ballots are delivered automatically to all registered voters. The all-mail elections in Sierra and Alpine have also correlated with some of the highest voter turnout in the state, but “we’ll have to see how it turns out [in San Mateo] to know for sure,” said Alexander.

For voters in San Mateo, the important things to know are that they can either mail their ballots or drop them off at a number of locations around the county. Two voting centers will also be open from now until Election Day, where ballots can be dropped off or voters can vote in person. On Nov. 3, which is Election Day, 32 polling places throughout the county will also be open. Find the locations of all the voting centers and polling places on the county’s website.

Voters have a few more days to get those ballots in now, too. Following a law that went into effect at the beginning of this year, ballots need only to be postmarked, rather than received, by Election Day.

However, a study found that 0.8 percent of mail-in ballots often go uncounted. The three main reasons are:

  • The ballot was mailed too late — ballots need to be postmarked by Election Day.
  • There was no signature.
  • The signature provided did not adequately compare with the one on file.

Unfortunately, if yours is one of the few not counted, you may never know.


Kelly O'Mara

Kelly O'Mara is a writer and reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about food, health, sports, travel, business and California news. Her work has appeared on KQED, online for Outside Magazine, epsnW, VICE and in Competitor Magazine, among others. Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellydomara.

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