Analysis

Costs Drive Vote-by-Mail Legislation in California

Cost-saving legislation introduced by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez would allow California counties to conduct special elections to fill vacancies between regularly scheduled elections entirely by mail.

Assembly Bill 1873 was motivated by recent special elections in San Diego County in which the majority of voters opted to receive a mail ballot and mail voting was associated with a much lower cost per voter:

  • In March 2013, a San Diego County special election to fill a state Assembly seat drew 5,631 in-person voters and 31,033 mail voters; 85 percent of ballots were cast by mail. The cost per voter was $8.74 mail ballots versus $221.43 for each ballot cast in person.
  • A separate March 2013 special election to fill a vacant City Council seat drew 9,815 ballots cast by mail at a cost of $8.60 per voter, compared with 3,591 cast in person, at a cost of $110.07 per voter.

All California counties allow voters to sign up for permanent mail voting, in which an individual may choose to receive mail ballots for all future elections.

In 2012, Pew reported on a study assessing Colorado’s election costs, which concluded that an all-mail voting system could reduce costs by $1.05, or 19 percent, per registered voter.

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