Absentees are key
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Created: 06/01/2010 09:59:32 PM PDT
Election day is six days away, but candidates in local races are hoping they’ve received thousands of votes already.
With absentee voting gaining in popularity, candidates are focusing more and more on reaching out to voters who will cast their ballots before Tuesday.
“It’s critical,” said Chris Jones, a Sacramento campaign strategist working for two local candidates. “More and more voters are taking that approach. That has dramatically changed campaign strategy.”
Indeed, the number of absentee voters in San Bernardino County has grown quickly and steadily over the past several years. In the June 2006 primary, about 21 percent of San Bernardino County voters were signed up to receive absentee ballots. In 2008, it was 29 percent.
Today, nearly 36 percent of the county’s 798,000 registered voters receive absentee ballots for every election.
“It certainly does present its challenges,” said John Wurm, campaign manager for Ken Hunter, a Republican running for the 59th District Assembly seat. “It used to be that everything was focused on that last day, and you had that one big push. Now it’s more of a slow roll-out. You’ve got to time your mailing and your e-mail and everything else to when voters vote, which is basically a three-week period.”
And timing isn’t the only challenge. Absentee voters have been getting more diverse, said Jones, who is a campaign consultant for San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane, who is running for re-election, and Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Don Kurth, a Republican candidate in the 63rd Assembly District.
Absentee voters, he said, used to be older and more conservative. That’s still the case, but not to the same degree.
“You definitely used to see a greater divergence between absentee and poll voters,” Jones said. “It used to be, in a general election, Republicans would always be way ahead (in absentee voting). But you see less of that because so many more people are choosing the vote-by-mail option.”
The key for reaching all those voters – voters you don’t have to convince to drive to a polling place or wait in line – is to deliver your message early, and then make sure they vote, candidates said.
“We’re following up with phone calls,” said Redlands Mayor Pat Gilbreath, also a candidate in the 63rd Assembly District. “I’m calling them myself. Every spare minute, I’m on the phone.”
Other candidates have sent or plan to send campaign mailers targeted specifically to absentee voters. Campaigns can purchase information about absentee voters – including whether they’ve returned their ballot – from the county registrar’s office.
To read entire story, click here.