MARTINEZ (CBS SF) – Saying preparations need to start as soon as possible and that the novel coronavirus will likely be a public health threat for many months to come, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on Tuesday to ask Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare the November general election as mail-ballot-only.
If that occurs, it would mean traditional polling places would be eliminated in November in the name of safety from the coronavirus.
“Voting by mail is a health issue,” said Scott Konopasek, the county deputy registrar of voters. He said the county is already planning for 165 polling places staffed by more than 1,000 volunteers, in addition to a robust mail-ballot operation.
Contra Costa County is on the cutting edge of such a request of the governor, Konopasek added.
“At least six other counties are considering taking action based on what we do,” he said.
Contra Costa County voters have already been shifting away from polling places. According to a county staff report, 25 percent of Contra Costa County voters, approximately 175,000 of them, cast ballots in person at polling places. Most of the volunteers manning those stations are seniors, a group vulnerable to get the sickest from coronavirus, county elections officials said.
“Poll workers are canceling their agreements to work with us (in November) already,” county Clerk-Recorder Deborah Cooper told the supervisors Tuesday.
County elections officials say there is a “current lack of state-level consensus on a plan of action” for the November general election, and that local officials need to know how to prepare for the election.
Shifting gears to an all-mail-ballot election in November would increase postage costs, but would reduce the costs of setting up polling places.
“In the end, it’s virtually a wash,” Konopasek said.
Key to a successful all-mail election, several officials said, would be a strong outreach to “underserved” communities on the processes and advantages of mail ballots. It is typically those groups that depend most heavily on going to polling places to vote.
A handful of public commenters on this topic Tuesday were split on the idea of eliminating polling places in November. Some applauded the move as the healthier option, but others said the move would violate voters’ rights and would enable more voter fraud.
“You are trampling on our Constitutional rights,” one commenter emailed. “Let those who vote make that decision themselves.”
Konopasek discounted the fraud concern, saying the county has never had a significant issue with that. Analyzing voters’ signatures, he said, has offered excellent security, he said. And supervisors said the health concerns are paramount, making mail ballots an easy choice. They hope state election officials concur.
“It’s the best way to move forward with a safe and healthy election,” Supervisor John Gioia said.
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