Napa County could be seeing more mail-in ballots if an upcoming proposal is able to work its way through both county and state government.

On Tuesday, Napa County’s Legislative Subcommittee will consider a resolution urging the Legislature to allow counties the option of holding certain elections using only vote-by-mail ballots.

John Tuteur, the county’s registrar of voters, said that if the subcommittee approves the resolution — and its companion agenda item — the matter will come before the county’s Board of Supervisors on Jan. 25.

The resolution asks the Legislature to consider giving counties the right to hold some elections — including countywide and statewide special elections, recall elections and vacancy elections for both state and national office — without physical polling places.

Tuteur said that switching to an all-vote-by-mail system would result in an estimated 25 percent savings to the county’s general fund when compared to the current system, which consists of both vote-by-mail and polling place ballots.

In the case of statewide special elections, savings would be generated for the state, which reimburses counties for their statewide special election costs, Tuteur said.

The most recent statewide special election — on May 19, 2009 — cost the county more than $228,000, Tuteur said. Statewide, the election’s cost was more than $67 million.

While the state recently reimbursed Napa County for its full share of cost, the election would have been much cheaper if conducted using only mail-in ballots, Tuteur said.

If the resolution is approved by the board in late January, the focus would then shift to Sacramento, said Larry Florin, the county’s community and intergovernmental affairs director.

There, the county’s lobbyists would meet with Napa’s representatives — Assembly member Michael Allen and Senator Noreen Evans — to advocate on behalf of the county and ask them to support such legislation if it were introduced.

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Tuteur said that quick action on behalf of the Legislature could pay off almost immediately, as Gov. Jerry Brown has already announced that he will be asking voters to extend certain tax hikes during a special election in June.

While an exclusively vote-by-mail election would be new to California, prominent use of the mail-in system wouldn’t be unusual in Napa County.

Beginning with the 2008 presidential election, Tuteur began an aggressive campaign to maximize mail-in voters, calling upon a California state elections code that allows officials to require precincts of 250 people or less to vote by mail.

As a result, more than 70 percent of voters in Napa County cast their ballots by mail during the most recent election. More than 51 percent of Napa’s voters did so voluntarily.

In defense of the transition, Tuteur points out that by-mail voters consistently turn out in higher numbers than polling-place voters, and having fewer polling places leads to shorter lines and more efficient operations on the day of an election.

Tuteur also notes that Oregon has successfully transitioned to an all-vote-by-mail system for all elections, and almost all the counties in Washington have done the same.

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