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J. Kurt Roberts San Joaquin County could save big bucks by switching to vote-by-mail

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J. Kurt Roberts

Posted: Saturday, October 9, 2010 12:00 am

This past June, a Grand Jury report recommended that San Joaquin County abandon the time-honored standard practice of having voters actually go to their neighborhood polling places each election day. The report stated that the county could experience an average cost savings of more than $500,000 each and every year if vote-by-mail was made the law of the land, or at least the law of the county.

With there no longer being a need to rent out polling places, pay and train inspectors and clerks who run the polling places, and no need to print and distribute the rather large box of ballots and supplies needed at every polling place, you can see how the savings would quickly add up.

Electronic voting machines, once touted as a revolutionary breakthrough in the way Californians vote, have since been shown to be vulnerable to "hacking" or other electronic manipulation of the vote count.

The website has actually stated that the Diebold voting machines could be compromised with a simple screwdriver by a person with access and motive, and should be recalled. Not exactly what I would want to here if I were Secretary of State or Registrar of Voters.

Even with that knowledge, though, the machines were still used in every precinct, or rather required, to mollify the Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA), supposedly to make voting easier for persons with disabilities.

In the 2008 presidential election, the election that the Grand Jury report focused on, fewer than 200 total votes were cast on the ATM-type electronic voting machines. All 513 precincts had to be fitted with the rather flimsy devices, at a cost of what the Grand Jury reported to be $2,400 per vote, when the total cost of operating, acquisition, storage and maintenance of the machines is factored in.

As one who had served as an inspector for 9-10 elections in a row until stating my frustration at what I then believed to be a tremendous amount of waste of time, energy and money at one of the state mandated preelection training seminars — well, it is a welcome validation of my views.

It is difficult to gauge whether or not there is at this time, the money and energy, or for that matter the will, needed to make this change in California law happen at this point in time. But since the vote-by-mail numbers in San Joaquin County reflect similar numbers in the rest of the state, it may be in California's best economic interests to follow Oregon's lead and go entirely vote-by-mail.

One thing that is certain is that there is a very significant amount of money that could be allocated elsewhere, if the county were indeed able to make the transition to vote-by-mail only. I'd vote for that!

J. Kurt Roberts can be reached at

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