Opinion: L.A. County’s vote-by-mail turnout: pathetic


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The June 3 stealth primary, stripped as it was of its presidential component, didn’t even attract 20 % of eligible California voters, but it did set a turnout record in one area: Vote by mail balloting. For the first time ever, more than half the voters did their civic duty by mail. See Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s announcement, in pdf, here.

There are all kinds of implications. Voting by mail means voting early, which in turn means that all the late campaign mail, letters to the editor, blogging etc. came too late for 58.71% of voters. There seem to be two schools of thought among political consultants trying to figure out how to respond: Don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal, this was an unusual election; or, Target your voters better and earlier, and rely less on late-campaign mail.


Some election reformers like the trend to more mail voting, and in fact Los Angeles voters may be asked, before too many more elections go by, to adopt a law mandating mail-only elections.

One problem. Although Los Angeles County is the nation’s most populous election jurisdiction, and although Californians seem to be leaning more and more toward voting by mail, L.A. County was a huge outlier in June. Only 38.92% of voters here went to the mailbox instead of the ballot box. You can figure that a majority of those who are going old-school -- going to the polling place on voting day -- are Democrats, because most of the county’s voters are Dems, and because stats generally show that the older, whiter and more conservative a voter, the more likely he or she is to vote by mail. So it stands to reason that Republicans would promote more vote-by-mail and more Democrats would resist it.

Only a couple counties did worse than Los Angeles in vote-by-mail turnout. Mono had 36.9% voting by mail. Maybe that’s because it’s so lonely there that voters like to drive their pickups to the voting booth, hang out for the day and get reacquainted. Napa had 37.38%. Too busy picking grapes or turning bottles to get the vote-by-mail applications in, I suppose.

The foothill and mountain counties are really into voting by mail. In tiny Alpine County, literally everyone -- all 499 of them -- went to the mailbox. Same in dinky Sierra County, where all 1,391 people voted by mail.

Compare the June stats to the record-setting turnout of the February election, as reported here.