Fresno County voters who just want to get it over and done with can begin casting their ballots for the Nov. 8 general election when early voting opens Monday at the county elections office in downtown Fresno.
What that means is that instead of waiting for Election Day to stand in line at your local polling place, or if your schedule won’t let you get to the polling place between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Election Day, you can visit the elections office at 2221 Kern St. to vote ahead of time.
“Basically we’re a polling place and we’re open for 29 days,” said Brandi Orth, Fresno County clerk-registrar of voters. “People come in and identify themselves, we pull their specific ballot, and they can either vote at the voting booths in here in our office or take it home and return it just like a vote-by-mail ballot.” The office is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The elections office will also be open on Nov. 5, the Saturday before Election Day, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for early voting for people who can’t get there during the week, Orth said.
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On Tuesday, Orth’s staff will be sending out almost 220,000 vote-by-mail ballots – what used to be called “absentee voter” ballots – to people who have permanently requested mail ballots. But people also can apply for a mail-in ballot just for this election, as long as they do it on or before Nov. 1.
Our electorate in Fresno County is about 417,000 registered voters, so we’re just about 52 percent who want to vote by mail.
Brandi Orth, Fresno County clerk / registrar of voters
The number of voters on the permanent vote-by-mail list in Fresno County is up by almost 9,000 compared to the June primary election, Orth said. In the June primary, her office sent out a total of 227,472 vote-by-mail ballots, but that included almost 17,000 one-time requests. For this presidential general election, Orth said she expects the number of one-time requests to be even higher.
“Our electorate in Fresno County is about 417,000 registered voters, so we’re just about 52 percent who want to vote by mail,” Orth said. “And we’ll adjust that number in the last 20 days for people who just want to do it for this election.”
In the November 2014 general election, when the state governor’s race was at the top of the ballot, the county sent out 208,577 mail ballots.
Vote-by-mail may be convenient for voters, but it presents its own set of challenges for Orth’s election staff. One of the more common mistakes that voters make is forgetting to sign and date the special envelope before mailing the ballot back.
“If the voter doesn’t sign it, it cannot be counted because we cannot compare the signature to their voter registration,” Orth said. But a recent law now gives voters until eight days after the election to go to the elections office and sign their envelope so their ballot can be counted.
Orth said her staff tries to cull out the unsigned envelopes so they can send a letter to the voter asking them to come in and sign.
In past election years, vote-by-mail ballots had to be returned to the elections office on or before Election Day to be counted, but another recent law now says if the envelope is postmarked by Election Day and received by the elections office within three days, it must be counted.
But Orth cautions against cutting it too close. “The post office issued a recommendation that voters return their mail ballots at least one week prior to the election to allow time for the mail,” Orth said, “and we agree with that recommendation.”
Vote-by-mail ballots also can be turned in at any polling place on Election Day, as well as 10 drive-through ballot drop-off sites that will be open on Election Day. Starting on Monday, a secure steel drop-off box will be installed in front of the elections office on Kern Street where people can drop off their ballots through Election Day.
Sample ballot booklets went into the mail on Oct. 5 from the elections office; those booklets not only include details about each voter’s polling place, but also include a form for requesting a vote-by-mail ballot for this election. Voters can also call the elections office at 559-600-8683 to ask for one over the phone, or visit the Fresno County Elections website, where vote-by-mail applications are available in both English and Spanish.
Any vote-by-mail ballots received before Election Day will be processed and counted, and will be included in the first returns that are reported after the polls close on Election Night.
Ballots turned in at polling places or that arrive in the mail on or after Election Day don’t get counted until after Election Night, and the more that come in, the longer it takes.
In June, Orth said, about 20,000 vote-by-mail ballots were turned in on Election Day, along with 15,000 provisional ballots, forcing the counting into the week after the election.
“So if you want to see your vote on Election Night,” Orth said, “we have to have it by the Monday before.”
Key election dates
Wednesday, Oct. 5: Sample ballot booklets went out in the mail to voters from the Fresno County Elections Office
Monday, Oct. 10: Early voting opens at the Fresno County Elections Office, 2221 Kern St. in downtown Fresno
Tuesday, Oct. 11: Permanent vote-by-mail ballots sent out by the elections office to voters in Fresno County
Monday, Oct. 24: Last day to register to vote for the Nov. 8 general election. To verify voter registration in Fresno County, visit https://voterlookup.co.fresno.ca.us/ or call 559-600-8683, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, Nov. 8: Election Day