Over the Hill

Voting by mail may be problematic

We Californians are heading down the voting-by-mail road. We feel that joining with our fellow Americans at polling places is a drag. It’s old. We prefer mingling with digital “friends” on the Internet. What we really want is a voting app for our cell phones.

Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County supervisors put one toe on the vote-by-mail road. They voted to support state legislation to authorize smaller counties like ours to hold special elections entirely by mail.

At one time, county clerks just issued “absentee” ballots to people who were actually absent on election day, such as soldiers. Disabled people could also get absentee ballots. Now, anybody who likes voting by mail can get an absentee ballot. In November’s general election, 62 percent of our county’s voters voted by mail.

Mail voting may now actually be a necessary evil. Governments are starved for cash. Our county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald says holding a special election entirely by mail would save $60,000 to $80,000.

So what can be wrong with voting by mail? Well, let me tell you a story. In 1980 I ran for county supervisor. My campaign committee continually sought new groups for me to meet. Some committee members suggested I visit nursing homes. The patients might appreciate being visited and being helped to vote again.

We went to three or four nursing homes before the June primary election. The patients seemed pleased. The staff and management were cooperative. We registered many of the patients to vote and helped them fill out absentee ballot applications.

But I noticed how mentally vulnerable many patients were. I came to feel uneasy. I wondered if I was taking advantage of their vulnerability. I also worried that even well-meaning nursing home staff members might unduly influence the patients while helping them mark their mail ballots.

I came in first in the June primary election. But I didn’t revisit the nursing homes during my campaign for the November general election. I didn’t feel right about soliciting the votes of people who might be incapable of making informed decisions, although politicians do that every day. (I lost the general election by 56 votes.)

Polling places have small, portable, private booths. Within them we mark our ballots any way we want. Only God knows how we really vote. Our ballots go immediately into the ballot box. No domineering husband, wife, employer or union leader catches even a glimpse of them.

They are truly secret ballots. Ballots marked at home are more vulnerable.

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.