Absentee ballots may outnumber in-person votes

The final numbers have not been calculated, but absentee ballots already account for 45 percent of the ballots cast by San Franciscans in this Tuesday’s election — and thatpercentage could end up being even higher.

The City’s Director of Elections, John Arntz said although he couldn’t commit to a number, since it would take at least a few more days before all of the absentee ballots were accounted for, “55 is conceivable with this election.”

The number of registered voters that are now using the absentee ballot, which comes in the mail in advance of Election Day, has doubled since 1990, with nearly 40 percent of Californians, as well as San Franciscans, using the system in last year’s special election. In San Francisco, the highest percentage of absentee voters to date was in December 2002, with 46.8 percent.

There are several factors for the increase in absentee voters — including changes in state law that make it easier to get the mailed ballots. One of the reasons why the percentage of absentee voters may be so high in this week’s election is because the voter turnout — projected to be less than 150,000, or one-third of registered voters — is so low.

Absentee voters, are more “consistent,” said Arntz, which means a close election count such as the local violence prevention measure Proposition A — that as of Wednesday afternoon was losing by 1,426 votes — could be turned around once the absentee votes are completely counted.

And although conventional wisdom once held that absentee votes were the realm of more conservative, often elderly voters, an increasing number of the mailed ballots are going to younger, left-leaning voters.

For this election, more than half of San Francisco’s 137,000 absentee ballots were issued to registered Democrats, while just over 14 percent went to registered Republicans, according to Department of Election records.

If the number of absentee voters continues to rise, as predicted, the change will result in some campaigns getting into gear earlier, ending the practice of waiting until the days leading up to the election to bring out a candidate’s best pitch — or most aggressive mudslinging.

“Since more and more people are going to be voting early, know that any sort of late campaigning and late mail may not reach less than half of the people voting,” said San Francisco pollster David Binder.

beslinger@examiner.com

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