Absentee Voting in Sonoma County
Research conducted as part of Petaluma Tomorrow’s Election Watch examined trends in absentee voting. Some of the highlights:
1. Since AB 1520 passed in 1991 absentee voting has grown from an accommodation of those unable to go to the polls on Election Day to the method used by most Sonoma County voters in 2010.
In the 2010 election, 63.4% of the ballots came from absentee voters. By comparison, statewide, 48.4%, of 2010 votes were cast absentee. By way of reference Marin voters are just below Sonoma in the percent of votes cast absentee while Napa voters rely on precinct voting.
Absentee Votes as a % of Total Turnout: Statewide and Sonoma, Marin & Napa Counties
2. Most absentee voters cast their votes relatively close to Election Day.
In Sonoma absentee ballots are mailed 29 days before Election Day and voters can return them as soon as they get them. The Registrar’s office states anecdotally that they have received ballots as early as the day they are mailed. Nonetheless, most votes are returned close to election day and a significant percent of the ballots are returned on election day.
3. Absentee voters have higher turnout rates than precinct voters.
In the 2010 election 76% of registered absentee voters in Sonoma turned out versus 67% of precinct voters.
Absentee Voter Profile
Most studies of the profile of the absentee voter indicated that before the 2008 showed that they were similar to voters overall. A Project Vote Policy Paper, “Early In-Person Voting: Effects on Underrepresented Voters, Voting Turnout, and Election Administration” by Teresa James states that absentee voters ”tended to look very much like Election Day voters: they were older, more educated, and wealthier than the general population. Lower-income and minority individuals tended to use EIP* at lower rates than the general population.
The 2008 Presidential election, in contrast, marked a dramatic change in the use of EIP by minority voters. African Americans cast EIP ballots in 2008 at a rate that exceeded that of White voters, and Hispanic voters increased their use of EIP to rates that matched that of White voters.”
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*EIP/Early In-Person voters referred to in the Project Vote policy paper are the same as absentee voters as referred to in the PT research.