With a June special election on the tips of tongues across the state, a recent move by the county’s Board of Supervisors could affect the way Napa weighs in.

On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to amend their legislative priorities to include support for proposed state law that could see special elections — such as those used to fill vacancies in local or statewide office — conducted on an all-mail ballot basis. 

The decision — one that has been weeks in the making — comes just as state officials are beginning to make a special election look like a political certainty.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jerry Brown released ballot language for the “Public Safety and Public Education Act of 2011” — the formal name of the measure asking voters to extend various tax increases until 2016. The tax extensions, which Brown hopes to see put to a vote during a June special election, are considered the linchpin of his $25 billion budget fix.

Anticipating Brown’s special election, state Sen. Ted Gaines, D- Roseville, introduced urgency legislation last month that would allow counties with populations of less than 400,000 the option of conducting all-mail voting for certain special elections. 

Such legislation would give county boards the option of scrapping traditional polling places in favor of the all-mail system, which supporters say is cheaper and more efficient.

In January, county supervisors balked at approving a resolution that would support such legislation, believing it might be viewed as more important than other needs — such as changes to the state’s affordable housing or water laws — if it were not wrapped into the county’s legislative platform.

John Tuteur, the county’s registrar of voters, said that the item’s endorsement Tuesday was more important than the manner in which it was approved, and that the item was never meant to be given priority over other legislative issues.

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“I appreciate the board looking at a method of increasing efficiency and reducing the cost of conducting special elections,” he said Tuesday.

In support of the measure, Tuteur had previously pointed out that special elections tend to have low turnouts, and that in recent elections vote-by-mail was favored by a high percentage of Napa County’s voters. 

Tuteur also estimated that switching to all-mail elections could save close to $35,000 when compared to the current system.


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