Close to one in four eligible voters in Tuolumne County haven’t registered to vote in the Nov. 6 general election, according to the latest numbers provided by the county Elections Office on Friday.
A nonpartisan group of about 25 volunteers is leading a push over the next week to increase that number as part of a coordinated nationwide effort for National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday.
“I do this because I believe we need to be civically engaged as a community in order to protect our democracy,” said Mary Anne Schmidt, of Tuolumne. “A smaller group of people make the decision about all of us when people don’t vote.”
Schmidt is one of the coordinators of the local National Voter Registration Day Committee that will be at locations throughout the county all next week helping people sign-up to vote.
The group began Friday at Courthouse Square in downtown Sonora from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. before moving over to the Save Mart in Timberhills Shopping Center on Mono Way until 5 p.m.
They will be back at Courthouse Square signing people from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
There will be National Voter Registration Day event on Tuesday at the Tuolumne County Library main branch on Greenley Road in Sonora, where volunteers from the committee will help people register from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. that day.
Volunteers also will be at Columbia College from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday.
Schmidt said the group had registered about 13 people as of about 2:30 p.m. Friday, including one person who recently turned 18.
A majority of people the volunteers encounter say they are already registered and thank them for what they’re doing, according to Schmidt, though some say they don’t want to register because they don’t believe their vote counts.
“If you don’t think it counts nationally, it probably counts more locally,” Schmidt said of what she tells people. “That vote decides on a board of supervisor, who then decides where your local tax dollars go for roads, fire suppression, how the county plans where they put businesses or any kind of structures, and all of that is important.”
District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer reminded people at a public board meeting on Tuesday that he was only two votes shy of getting the one vote above 50 percent needed to win outright when he first ran for office in the June 2012 primary election.
Schmidt added there are also local ballot measures that will set local policy.
Measure M will be on the ballot and would allow the Board of Supervisors to levy a tax on any potential marijuana businesses.
The latest registration numbers from the county Elections Office showed 31,337 residents were registered as of Friday, up by 405 since the June 5 primary election.
That represents about 76 percent of the 41,140 who were eligible to vote in the June 5 primary election, up about 1 percentage point.
Though the total number of voters eligible in the county for the Nov. 6 election has yet to be released by the state, the number typically shifts by about 20 voters based on the numbers between the primary and general elections in 2014 and 2016.
The current number of voters registered for the Nov. 6 election is 2,063 more than the final number that registered for the midterm election in November 2014 and 65 less than the final number that registered before the presidential election in November 2016.
That’s significant because registration numbers in midterm election years are typically far lower than those when presidential candidates are on the ballot.
County Auditor-Controller Debi Bautista, who also serves as registrar of voters, credited having more local races on the ballot as part of the reason for higher registration numbers. There will be 10 local races decided in this election, compared to three in November 2016 and nine in November 2014.
Bautista also credited the efforts of groups like the local National Voter Registration Day Committee and the newly formed Mother Lode League of Women Voters for helping to get the numbers up.
“I think you just have more involvement,” she said.
While the overall number of registered voters in the county has gone up since the June 5 primary election, the number of registered Democrats and Republicans have decreased and those not associated with any political party have greatly increased.
Democrats saw the largest decline since the primary, from 9,335 to 9,222. Republicans dropped from 13,034 to 12,980 as of Friday, while people registered as no party preference increased from 6,697 to 7,307.
“A lot of people just don’t associate themselves with one party or another as much anymore,” Bautista said. “That’s been a trend statewide going on for at least three or five years.”
Bautista said the reason people are moving away from associating themselves with a political party could be that people are more in the middle or independent than in the past, or that they’re fed up with both major political parties and can’t associate with either.
Oct. 22 is the final day people can register to vote in the Nov. 6 election, though new rules that went into effect in the June primary allow people who missed the deadline to fill out a conditional ballot at their county elections office.
About 50 eligible voters in the county who missed the registration deadline cast conditional ballots in the June primary, according to Bautista.
Despite the new rules, Bautista encouraged people to register on time because it makes the process easier, they get to vote by mail or at their local precinct, and they receive all of the pre-election material in the mail.
Those who don’t register before the deadline and still want to vote can do so any day after the deadline up to 8 p.m. on election night at the county Elections Office, located in the County Administration Center at 2 S. Green St. in Sonora.
People will not be able to fill out conditional ballots anywhere other than the county Elections Office.
Bautista said ballots have already been sent out to residents who are overseas or serving in the military, though it only represented a handful of the total amount of voters at this point.
Vote-by-mail ballots will be sent out Oct. 8. The final day to request a vote-by-mail ballot is Oct. 30.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.