Absentee Ballots Swamp City Hall

Absentee ballot.jpg
Steve Garfield
Plenty more where that came from...
The concept of last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts loses its meaning when a hefty chunk of voters cast their ballots well prior to election day. That's a national trend -- and the hard numbers show San Francisco is no different.

As of its last tally, the city's Department of Elections had received 37,646 absentee ballots. That's a lot -- especially when you put that number in proportion:

This year, San Francisco sent out 207,206 total absentee ballots. And the city has 468,658 overall registered voters.

Doing the math, that means 18 percent of all absentee ballots have already been cast and 8 percent of total registered voters have already spoken their mind.

When you estimate how many voters will likely even bother to cast their votes, this becomes more significant. San Franciscans may enjoy a hyperdemocracy that runs out of letters with which to name ballot propositions, but filling out said ballot is a lot to ask during the boring years. Glancing at the historical voter turnouts, the percentage of voters who have deigned to participate in the last five non-presidential elections is 34.7; 22.6; 28.1; 40.2; and 24.9.

Let's average those together and -- very unscientifically -- assume the resulting percentage of voters will cast a ballot this time around. That'd be 30.1 percent, or around 141,000 people. So the number of absentees looms pretty large. In fact, the portion of San Francisco composed of absentee ballots has topped 50 percent in six of the past 10 elections.

What does this mean? It means, as noted before, that last-minute voter barrages -- and, goddamnit, you can't watch a ballgame in peace without Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown leering at you these days -- lose much of their oomph. And it also means that cash-poor campaigns have to budget their dollars differently than those that can afford GOTV efforts early and late in the game.

The old adage was "vote early, vote often." You can't really do the latter, but, now, you can sure as hell do the former.

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