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Campaign 2012: For many, mailbox is voting booth
For thousands of Yuba-Sutter voters, the seemingly interminable election of 2012 is already over.
Presumably they're interested in the results, but as part of the soaring population of people who vote by mail and who have already sent their ballots back, they can trash all the fliers in the mail, ignore last-minute knocks on the door and tune out the last flood of campaign ads.
"We still get 'em, and they've been coming forever," said Joyce Claar, 80, of Marysville of the mailbox campaign screeds, as she dropped off ballots for she and her husband Friday afternoon. "We just throw them away."
Claar, who's been voting by mail for decades because work often took her away from home on Election Day, was a bit ahead of her time. Clerk-recorders in Sutter and Yuba counties said the percentage of voters who have registered to vote exclusively by mail is at or near half of all registered voters this year for the first time.
So far, according to the Yuba County election office, nearly 6,900, or 37.9 percent of all vote-by-mail ballots requested, have already been returned as of Friday morning.
Such voters constitute 53 percent of all voters in Yuba. But because many won't actually drop off ballots at their local polling place until Election Day, there will still be a long wait for results.
"A lot don't vote until the last minute," said Clerk-Recorder Terry Hansen. "We expect close to 2,000 ballots to be dropped at the polls, and I expect it to be that way in the entire state."
Because vote-by-mail ballots have to be verified against a voters' signature before they're tabulated, she said, a late flood means days before final totals in races will be available.
Sutter County Clerk-Recorder Donna Johnston said about half of all registered voters there can cast ballots by mail; about 45 percent of all ballots sent out had been returned as of Friday afternoon.
She too said a likely flood of ballots on the last day will push back when results are final, or even decisive.
"Unfortunately, the candidates are on that roller coaster ride until then, and we feel for them," she said.
The rise in vote-by-mail ballots — statewide, they constituted only 41.6 percent of the votes cast in November 2008 — is accompanied this year by another change Hansen and Johnston believe could boost turnout overall: online registration.
Johnston said about two-thirds of the 3,000 or so online registrations her office processed this year were for first-time voters. While she didn't have exact figures, Hansen said, she recalled processing 500 online registrations in one day.
"Particularly with the younger generation, they're comfortable with the medium," she said.
Whether it's those factors, or just high interest in the election overall, both said turnout on Tuesday should rival 2008.
Hansen said she'd predict as high as 80 percent, while Johnston said she's forecasting about 60 percent.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.