Early voting

John and Rebecca Thompson, of Sonora, drop their ballots off Monday at the Tuolumne County Elections Office.

The Tuolumne County Elections Office received almost twice the number of ballots for the upcoming election compared with the same time before the 2016 election.

Debi Bautista, Tuolumne County registrar of voters, credited the increased early voting with the safety precautions accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the current political climate, with many voters wanting to ensure their ballot is counted. 

"I think there's a lot of factors. I think people want to stay safe, so they are voting early and they're using the drop-off boxes," she said. "It's voters on both sides of the fence, I think that has somewhat to do with them coming in and dropping off their ballots. People are engaged, and they want to see the process work."

As of Oct. 15, there were 4,903 ballots received by the elections office. On Oct. 15, 2016, there were 2,738.

The general election will be held on Nov. 3. 

Almost all metrics show increased early participation compared with 2016. Most are on track to surpass 2016 numbers if they haven't already.

The total number of registered voters has already surpassed the 2016 election, and the number still could increase because, in California, voters can register through election day to vote in person. There are currently 34,566 registered voters compared with 32,773 during the March primary and 31,395 during the 2016 election. 

There were 20,341 vote-by-mail ballots received in the March primary compared with 20,282 during the 2016 election. There were 21,486 total ballots cast in the March primary, representing 65.56 percent turnout. There were 26,404 ballots cast in the 2016 election, representing 84.1 percent turnout. Primary elections have historically had lower turnout than general elections.  

Bautista said there were four drop-off boxes in the county during the March primary. During the primary, 121 ballots were dropped off, she said. There are now eight drop-off boxes for the upcoming general election, and 1,500 ballots have been left in them. 

"It's zoomed up," she said. 

Drop-boxes were not used during the 2016 election. 

Uncommonly, she added, Bautista has received eight emails from voters wanting to ensure their ballot was received. In March, there were 404 people signed up for ballot tracking, and now there are 3,165, she said. 

Many voters are taking their ballots into the elections office, she added, because of concerns about mailing in their ballots.

The drop-off boxes are open for drop offs at all hours, every day. They are picked up Monday through Friday, once a day, she said. The drop-off boxes are located at the Tuolumne County Library in Sonora, Groveland Branch Library, Twain Harte Branch Library, Mi-Wuk Branch Library, The Junction shopping center, Rocca Park, Columbia Elementary and the Willow Springs Clubhouse.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.

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