Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

With the 2012 election less than a week away, local elections offices are already seeing ballots piling in. The earlier they are mailed or dropped off, the more likely they will be part of the unofficial Tuesday night results.

In Tuolumne County, 7,810 mail-in ballots were already at the elections office by the end of Tuesday, and another 1,000 were on hand Wednesday morning, County Clerk Auditor Controller Deborah Russell Bautista said.

That's a quarter of the 31,769 county voters who are eligible to vote this election, she said.

"About 34 percent of the people who can vote by mail have sent their ballots and we have them in our hot little hand," Russell Bautista said Wednesday. "That's prettygood."

In Calaveras County, elections officials had received 7,752 ballots by mail by the end of Tuesday, having sent out 18,889. The county has 29,008 registered voters with 16,970 permanently registered to vote by mail, Elections Coordinator Rebecca Turner said.

Both counties have a higher-than-average percentage of absentee voters.

Statewide, about half of voters vote absentee. In Tuolumne County, it's typically more than 70 percent, and in Calaveras County, about 58 percent of voters have requested mail-in ballots.

"The number of voters that are registered as permanent vote by mail has steadily risen," Turner said.

Because of the high mail-in numbers, Russell Bautista suggests Tuolumne County voters mail those ballots by today to make the Tuesday night count more accurate. All mail-in ballots are counted and included on official results, she stressed, adding that ballots that reach the office by Monday will be included in Tuesday night's unofficial results.

"If you have any close races, then everyone is on pins and needles" when there are a lot of ballots still uncounted, Russell Bautista said.

"The more (ballots) we get in and process for Tuesday, the better it is," she said.

The Tuolumne County Elections office in downtown Sonora will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday for people to vote or drop off ballots, and this is the first year voters can drop off ballots at the county library on Greenley Road during regular hours.

Russell Bautista said voters can also bring their mail-in ballots to polling places on Election Day, though those are not as likely to be part of the unofficial Tuesday night results.

The Calaveras County elections office is open and accepting ballots 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Ballots can also be dropped off at polling places on election day.

Turner said in an e-mail that the office tries to have every ballot turned in by 2 p.m. on Election Day included in that night's results.

"If voters intend to mail their ballots back we advise that they do so as soon as possible to ensure the ballots reach our office by 8 p.m. on Election Day," she said.

Tuolumne and Calaveras counties both saw close local races decided after election day in the June primary. Ballots are counted and released on election night, but close races can turn on remaining mail-in votes that are counted and verified in the ensuing days.

In Calaveras County, Gary Tofanelli had to wait a few days following the June primary before knowing he was going to face Cliff Edson for the Board of Supervisors District 1 seat.

In Tuolumne County, it also took a few days to count final ballots to set up the District 1 race between Liz Bass and Sherri Brennan and the District 5 race between Karl Rodefer and Domenic Torchia.