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Close to Home: Securing democracy during the pandemic

It isn't very often that elections are an immediate matter of life and death. However, this November, voting in person may indeed be a life-and-death choice - not only for voters, but also for the poll workers, election volunteers and employees, many of whom are more vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19 because of their age.

We need to conduct the November election on schedule, but also do our part to keep people safe. I am not willing to put others' lives at risk unnecessarily when we already have the means and opportunity to have a safe election for everyone. Conducting an all-mail election in November would be the best solution.

The governor and the Legislature are weighing options to ensure that Californians can vote safely, while preserving both health and voting rights. Californians should know within the next few months what the landscape of the November election will look like.

Recently, there has been increased discussion regarding voting by mail, specifically related to security and the potential for fraud. Here in California, no-excuse absentee voting, or mail ballot voting, has been operating successfully for many years. In the 1962 November election, 2.63% of ballots statewide were cast via mail. In 2018, that number rose to 65.31% of the votes cast. More than 81% of Sonoma County voters choose to receive their ballot by mail.

To register to vote, individuals must provide their birth date, residence and mailing address, a signature and either the last four numbers of their Social Security number, their California driver's license number or their California identification card. Records are cross-checked and verified statewide.

Currently, vote by mail ballots are sent to all active, registered voters who have requested one at least 29 days before an election. No postage is needed to return the ballot, although voters can also drop off their ballot at the county election office. Military and overseas citizens are authorized to receive their ballots sooner, by email or mail, to give them extra time to return the ballots by mail from overseas locations.

If allowed to conduct an all-mail election in November, our office will do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone who wants to vote can vote - and can cast their vote without risking their health or the health of others.

We will explore all options for conducting safe, in-person voting for those who require it. To offer alternatives to mailing ballots, we can install secure drop boxes throughout the county. We are also actively working on a program that would allow voters to track their ballot while it is in the mail.

Once ballots are returned to the elections office, the envelopes are sorted through a machine that captures an image of the voter's signature. Trained staff compare the signature on the envelope to the signature on the voter's registration card. If there are questions about the signature, the staff member can review all past registration and envelope signatures. If multiple people determine the signature does not match, a letter is sent to the voter, allowing the voter to correct the signature.

To have a safe and healthy election, we need voter's help. Register in advance online (registertovote.ca.gov). Make sure your registration is current and correct (voterstatus.sos.ca.gov). If you move or change your name, re-register as soon as possible. Pay attention to election mail sent to you. When we roll out the ability to track your ballot in the mail, sign up for it, and monitor your ballot's status.

To become a vote-by-mail voter, registered voters can complete, print and wet sign (no electronic signatures) the application sent on their Voter Information Guide in March, or the vote by mail application found at sonomacounty.ca.gov/CRA/Registrar-of-Voters/Forms. It can be mailed to our office at 435 Fiscal Drive, Santa Rosa 95403 or P.O. Box 11485, Santa Rosa 95406.

We don't know what October or November holds for us. Current projections show a resurgence of the virus in the fall. We need to plan now for November. Elections officials across the state are working on the logistics and planning to make sure our elections are successful and to safeguard our citizens and their right to vote.

I, and everyone at the registrar of voters office, am committed to conducting the November election with integrity and accuracy, while also keeping our citizens safe and healthy. Please, let's keep our communal health and democracy thriving - register to vote by mail today.

Deva Marie Proto is Sonoma County's clerk, recorder and registrar of voters.

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