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Mail-in ballots go out to Sonoma County voters

  • Jackie Muzio finds a defective vote by mail envelope at the Registrar of Voters office in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. About 40 elections workers stuffed about 170,000 vote by mail ballots due to be sent out next week.

It may not feel like it yet, but voting in the June 3 primary election will begin next week.

About 170,500 mail-in ballots are due to hit the post office Monday and will start arriving in voters' hands on Thursday or Friday.

Seventy percent of Sonoma County's 241,931 registered voters will receive mail-in ballots for the June 3 election, a level that politicos and election officials hail as evidence of citizen engagement in the democratic process.

Statewide, just 51 percent of voters were signed up for mail-in ballots in 2012.

But if history repeats itself, about 30,000 of the local voters will clog the process by waiting until Election Day to hand-carry their ballots to a polling place.

Since the signature on the envelope of every mail-in ballot must be verified, there's no time to count them on election night, said Gloria Colter, the county's assistant registrar of voters. The walked-in ballots are counted during the 28-day post-election canvassing period, delaying the outcome of close local races.

"Candidates are constantly pounding on us, (asking) 'Are we there yet?'" Colter said.

In the last countywide election in November 2012, there were 127,133 mail-in ballots returned prior to Election Day and 28,142 brought to the polls that day.

Three races — for the 10th Assembly District, Sebastopol City Council and Santa Rosa school board — were left hanging as the canvass got underway.

Challenger Marc Levine of San Rafael ultimately won the Assembly seat by more than 4,400 votes, but former Assemblyman Michael Allen, who trailed by only 468 votes the morning after the election, did not concede until the final count on Nov. 30.

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