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San Diego County Special Elections Could Become Vote-By-Mail Only

A voter completes a mail-in-ballot for the November 6, 2012 general election.

Aired 9/2/14 on KPBS News.

Under a California bill, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters could hold special elections by mail, sending every registered voter a ballot with a return stamp already on it.

The next special election held in San Diego County could be handled completely by mail if Gov. Jerry Brown signs a bill headed to his desk.

The bill by state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) was passed by the California Assembly 44-24 and the California Senate 24-8 last week. If signed by the governor, it would let any special election to fill an open legislative or congressional seat held in San Diego County be done completely by mail.

The bill would make San Diego County a pilot program for other counties, Gonzalez said. Under the program, if the county Registrar of Voters opted to hold a special election by mail, every registered voter would be mailed a ballot with a return stamp already on it. Voters could also vote in person on the weekend before an election, or on Election Day at a few polls across the county.

Gonzalez said vote-by-mail elections would increase turnout and save money.

"We know more and more voters are voting by mail, we want to make it easier to vote by mail, and we want to provide access to everybody, and we want to save the county's money," she said.

Since 2013, multiple special elections have been held for vacant legislative seats in San Diego County, including the state Assembly election that Gonzalez won.

Voter turnout in each was less than 20 percent, and a majority of voters cast ballots by mail, according to Registrar of Voters Michael Vu.

The 2013 special election for the state Senate's 40th District cost about $1.1 million, which works out to about $30 per voter, Vu said.

Vu worked with Gonzalez on the vote-by-mail special election bill and is supportive of it.

Gonzalez said the bill also has no opposition from voter access groups, so she's hopeful the governor will sign it into law.

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