CoCo election chief predicts 60 percent turnout



Contra Costa County elections guru Steve Weir predicts a 60 percent turnout in the general election, a below-average result, according to his observations of the season so far. Read on for his full comments:

Eighteen days out and I am seeing signs of interest in this election.

Our phones have been busier than we thought and we have brought in extra help to keep up with the calls. We have a call waiting, calls dropped feature on our phone system management program and we are watching our calls closely.

We have issued over 258,000 vote by mail ballots. The return rate for the first week (last week) was below normal. However, we were slower than average in getting the Permanent Vote by Mail Ballots out.

Contrary to past experiences, the Republicans are returning their early ballots at a higher rate (as a percent of those issued) than are the Democrats. Traditionally, Democrats tend to return their ballots earlier than the Republicans, and the Republicans catch up as surpass the Democrats as election day draws closer.

On the registration front, registration has remained strong through the Spring and early Summer as petition drives accounted for strong registration activity. Over the past 42 days, we have had a net gain in over 6,000 registrations and they are coming in every day. (Monday is the deadline.)

We have identified some problem issues associated with partisan registration drives and we have turned over our documents to the fraud unit of the Secretary of State.

At the 60 day registration close (Sept 3), our registration was roughly 50.3% Democratic, 26% Republican and 20% DTS. The some 6,000 additional registrations are coming in at 57% Republican, 23% Democratic, and 20% DTS. This has shifted our overall Democratic registration down 3 tenths of a percent and shifted our overall Republican registration up 3 tenths of a percent.

The press has asked me about vote by mail from a statewide perspective. As of this morning, with state registration just under 17,000,000, registrars have issued over 7 million vote by mail ballots.

LA has 4.4 million registered voters and has issued 815,000 vote by mail ballots. The nine Bay Area Counties have 3.5 million registered voters and has issued 1.95 million vote by mail ballots. So, with 900,000 fewer voters, we have issued over 1.1 million more vote by mail ballots than LA.

On a statewide perspective, Southern California has 9.5 million registered voters and collectively, has issued 3,050,000 VBM ballots. Northern California has 7.5 million registered voters and collectively, has issued 4,000,000 vote by mail ballots.

This could be the first statewide general election where we reach 50/50% (VBM to Precinct Votes) or higher for VBM.

At this time, I am estimating a 60% turnout (below average) and 60% of that being cast by mail for Contra Costa. That would yield a total vote in Contra Costa of about 318,600 votes; 191,160 by mail and 127,440 at the polls.

I’ll revisit my data next week and update these estimates.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen

  • Rick K.

    I would like Mr. Weir to elaborate upon this: “We have identified some problem issues associated with partisan registration drives and we have turned over our documents to the fraud unit of the Secretary of State.” I don’t like it when parties and political organizations offer “bounties” for completed voter registration forms (like $1.00 for each registered voter). It’s fine for voter registration drives to give forms to people and to assist them in filling out the forms, but I’m completely opposed to the voter registration people keeping the completed forms. In my opinion, the registrant ought to be the person who drops the completed form in the mail. Otherwise, Republican voter registration groups might throw Democratic forms in the trash and vice versa.

  • Ralph Hoffmann

    The registrant ought to be intelligent enough to drop their own completed form in the mail.

  • steve weir

    Every Registrar in the state knows of the problems associated with paying a “bounty” for gathering the correct party’s registration. This is not confined to one party. It is my opinion that if a salary was paid, and not a bounty, some problems would disappear.

    However, reality is that drives exist. We (state law) require them to identify themselves when they take out the forms AND that they identify themselves on each registration with witch they assist.

    This is the dark underbelly of voter registration. I personally reviewed 619 (5% of all registrations taking place in the past 90 days) registration forms recently looking for keying errors by my staff. I found very few party registration keying errors, but what I found was people’s party choice being changed, confusion on the part of people in selecting a party AND drives not identifying themselves on registration forms that they assisted with.

    While it is not my intention to call out specific problems, we are looking at a drive that “pushed” a non-citizen to register. That person’s mother called to say that her child was badgered to register, even after they stated that they were not a citizen. Needless to say, this is a big deal.

    I’ll have more to say on measurement metrics for voter registration errors later. I chair a newly formed national study group, sponsored by registrars, who are trying to measure our own error rates to see if we can find ways to improve our own performance.

    Just the act of looking at our own processes leads us to see much more that needs to be addressed.

    Thanks, but don’t tell me that people ought to be informed enough to……..look at the antics that are used to coax our citizens into signing petitions…

  • Common Tater

    Possibly the greatest opportunity for corrupt voting practices is the absentee ballot. It used to be for people who really would not or could not be able to go to the polls on election day. It has morphed over time and is now called the “vote by mail” ballot. Mr. Weir states that over 258,000 such ballots have been sent out. The chance for coercion and tampering is obvious.

    I don’t like the current structure at all, but since organized blocs of voters like it very much, it is unfortunately here to stay.

    I would rather reduce the number of absentee ballots dramatically and make people go to the polls to vote like we used to. Yes, it would be more expensive, but that is the cost of squeaky-clean elections.

  • John W


    Without commenting on the specific case you mention, do you think other cases like it represent intentional voter registration fraud, or are they a by-product of the “bounty” issue? Also, do these cases typically get caught before the person is actually registered, or not? Also, I wonder how many of these people who have their arms twisted to register, legally qualified or not, actually vote.

  • steve weir

    Common Tater, if you have ever heard my presentation on Vote-By-Mail, you’ll know that I advocate going to the polls. If you are registered and make it to a poll site that has your correct ballot type,and if you actually hit the voting targets, I’m going to your all of your vote. At the polls, if you make a mistake, (over vote or miss all of the voting targets), you will be notified by the precinct scanner that you have made a mistake and ask if you would like a replacement ballot to correct your mistake. In addition, because of garden variety human nature, mistakes will occur in our vote by mail process. If you ballot is late, (misdirected mail for the post office is about 0.5%) or if you fail to sign the envelope, and we cannot get it back to you in time for secure that signature, your vote will not be counted. Through diligence and public education, we have gotten the rejection rate down for vote by mail balloting. (Rejection rate for November, 1996 was just under 4%. For November, 2008, it was under 0.5%.

    My Assistant Registrar will give you the counter argument. She is an advocate for all mail elections. Poll workers make mistakes. Voters go to the wrong polling place (and vote a provisional ballot).

    We make a good team because we recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each voting method. And yes, I agree that the potential for “PETTY” fraud at the household level is greater with vote by mail. Contra Costa is actually at the lower end of the spectrum for vote by mail in the Bay Area. Personally, and for what it is worth, I like the ritual of asking our voters to go to their home precinct, state their name and address, and vote a ballot in a safe (protected) environment where the political hounds are held away by the 100 foot rule.

    John W, I believe that money in voting (for registration and for signature gathering) is a corrupting force. That is why we have a greater potential for fraud in registration and in petition gathering than in actual voting.

    Don’t know how productive it is to twist someone’s arm to register. I gut tells me that that voter is a “marginal” voter, meaning that they are not a regular or high propensity voter.

  • John W

    Totally agree that money for signature gathering is extremely corrupting, whether in voter registration or petitions for ballot measures.

  • Gus Morrison

    I started doing political stuff in 1968 as a grunt worker. In those days, we had to register people in a book and turn in the completed sheets. They also purged from the rolls everyone who did not vote in the general election.

    The Democratic Party registration drive would train us and send us into blue collar neighborhoods, thinking people would register as a democrat. I personally registered the same people three times over three election cycles because they were purged when they didn’t vote.

    I believe we ought to make it easy and convenient for people to register, but they ought to do it because they want to, not because someone courted them. Putting unmotivated people on the rolls inflates the cost for both candidates and jurisdictions. There are 95000 registered voters in Fremont. Of those, about 32000 only voted in presidential elections.

    Of those who vote for President, about 90% vote in the election for Mayor and only about 70% even vote the next line for councilmembers.

    I prefer vote by mail because the voter has time to consider and study without pressure. My friend always fills out a VBM ballot, but refuses to mail it because something might happen just before election day. She just goes to the polling place and drops it off.

  • steve weir

    Hi, Gus, good to hear from you.

    I, too, was a deputy registrar with the triple (carbon paper) registration book. We had to go through training. We received ten cents for each registration from the County. (Parties payed a bounty for a correct party thru registration drives.) We could not refuse to register anyone, so there were “beaters” who would go ahead of us in a neighborhood looking for prospects.

    We would sit at Sun Valley or DVC and we could not have any party identification.

  • Patty O’Day

    I have worked at several voter reg tables over the years. One time, I was at the Registrar’s office to pick up some “statewide” forms. While in line, a fellow came in with a large stack of completed voter reg forms. I was very impressed because it was WAAAAY more than I had ever been able to get.

    The man was asking the clerk what the rules were for people with felonies on their record. The clerk told him the rules and he disagreed. He had a copy of the state constitution in his pocket and he started quoting it. The clerk decided to call in her supervisor to assist the man. While waiting for the supervisor, I asked him where he got all these people with felonies to register. He told me that he was registering voters at the county courthouse. I told him that I am not sure that that is the kind of people that I want voting for my President.

    After he left, I went to the clerk and told her that I was concerned about the batch of registrations that he brought in. I asked that someone take a closer look at them to make sure that everything was in order. She explained to me that there is a spot on the form where you have to acknowledge that you have no felonies and if you lie, then that is a felony. So, I said, “They are already felons! What is going to stop them from committing another felony? How do you check to see if someone is a felon or not?” She told me that they have no way of checking.

    I was very concerned about this. I would like to know if there is any checking done at all when people register to vote. I know you have to put either your driver’s license or last four on the form. Is that checked to see if you have any felonies that disqualify you from voting? Is that checked to see if a death certificate has been issued for you, at least in the county? How does this process work? Since we do not require people to show ID when they vote, (dumbest rule in the world!), we need to have some assurance that at least some sort of checking is done.

    Having said all that, I want to say that I have been to the Registrar’s office on several occasions for various reasons. The people are very qualified and friendly and helpful. They have an exhausting job and I truly appreciate all they do. Personally, I like the purple finger idea that the people of Iraq use.

  • steve weir

    You cannot be in prison for a felony nor can you be on felony parole and be registered to vote. Some states take away your right to vote if you have any felony, regardless of having served your time. California lets you register and vote (with rare exceptions) after you have served your time, including your time on parole.

    Our system, to a degree, is an honor system. You are taking an oath, under penalty of perjury, that you are a US Citizen, that you are (or will be) 18 or older at the election, that you reside in the jurisdiction, and that you are not in prison nor on parole.

    We check your registration against your DMV or Social Security records. In addition, we are provided with those who have been convicted of a felony, found to be incompetent to handle their own affairs as-well-as death records to “purge” or perform voter registration maintenance. We also secure national change of address information.

    If you do not provide your DMV number, or if you do not have a California Driver’s License or DMV ID, you must show ID before voting the first time.

    One of the benefits of having a voter registration list that is public before each election is that our citizens can provide information to us, or to our precinct boards, that could result in a challenge to a voter (citizens cannot challenge a voter at the polls, only the precinct board can do that and then only after the submission of compelling evidence. This makes sense as you can imagine people trying to take advantage of this process to promote their own agenda.)

    California errors in favor of the voter in almost all instances. However, individuals are subject to prosecution for violation of California’s Election laws.

    Thanks for your kind words, I went to Pleasanton during the first Iraq vote and saw the purple finger system. That one is tough for the voters who vote by mail.

    If you want to find the breading ground for fraud, follow the money. That is why it is illegal to offer money or anything of value to encourage or discourage a voter from voting. Having said that, we are not blind to the potential for people, with a personal economic interest (perhaps a job with a winner), to cross the boundaries of fairness or legality.

    I hate to say it, but that is where an ever vigilant citizenry comes into play. In my opinion, we, as registrars, look for issues that stand out and provide that data to our DA’s and to the Secretary of State’s Fraud unit. There are prosecutions and convictions and we are encouraged by that fact.

  • Patty O’Day

    Ok, that explains quite a bit. I have often felt that one of the reasons that voter turnout is so low is because so many people have either died or moved away. Can you tell me how long it takes before you purge a record for not voting? When you get the death record, do you automatically remove them from the voting record? I do a lot of phone banking and unfortunately, we reach several households where the voter is deceased.

  • steve weir

    O.K., you have to miss two federal general elections (up to 8 years) before we place you on inactive for not voting.

    However, we check death records every month. That’s for Contra Costa. In addition, the State surveys Social Security and tries to match them up. It is not flawless, but helps. (Just now dealing with a death that occurred in Mexico and we have not removed the voter even after two years…this is hard on the family.)

    We also use National Change of Address data, and we buy back our undeliverable mail. We cannot “drop” you from the rolls without a positive confirmation, so we send our cards to the voter. If we do not hear back after two cards, we can place the voter on “inactive” which means they do not receive a sample ballot. However, if they show up at the polls, they can be reactivated by the precinct board.

    In about 1997, I did a major voter roll correction program (purge) and was surprised with how far off our polls were. We have worked to do a better job.

    FYI, our turn out for the Nov. 2008 Presidential Election was almost 88%, that tells me that our rolls are clean. Another measure is this; of the top 15 counties for registration in Calif (representing 84% of the registered voters, Contra Costa is consistently first, some times second, in turn out AND in the percent of eligible who are registered. You can equate this to “clean voter rolls”. You can have a high percent registered, but that can include alot of dead wood.

  • Patty O’Day

    Wow. I feel much better. Thanks for your response. For what it is worth, I am friends with a couple of what I call “Count Observers”. They are a couple of lawyers that go on Election Night and watch the count of the ballots in Martinez. They always tell me that Contra Costa is well run and there a few if any glitches. Good Job.

  • Ralph Hoffmann

    That’s why no one ran against Steve this year, Patty.
    Steve is truly non-partisan and does a great job heading the CoCo Election Office.

  • ted ford


    Why has the Times had nothing to say endorsement-wise in the Buchanan v. Wilson race? By this point, probably half of the electorate or more has already voted by mail. I would think a pivotal Assembly race merits the timely attention of your editorial board

  • Lisa Vorderbrueggen

    I’m not on the editorial board, so I don’t play a role in when or how they make those decisions. But I did sit in during an editorial board meeting today with the two AD15 candidates, so I would expect an endorsement will be forthcoming. My sense is that the editorial board is overwhelmed with the large volume of races and ballot measures this year.

  • steve weir

    Ted Ford, good question. While we have issued over 260,000 vote by mail ballots, a decade of stats tell me that 50% of the Vote-by-Mail ballots come in during the first three weeks of voting (and thus 50% come in during the last nine days.) I have not had my daily report due to today’s high volume, but we are scarcely over 30,000 ballots returned. Lots of voting yet to come.

    This election looks like it is catching fire (interest).

    We had one of the best days for returned ballots ever. We’ll see if that’s an anomaly or if this election will catch the interest of our voters.

  • hilltopper

    Mr. Weir,

    My wife and I just put 78 cents on our ballot envelopes, so it matters not to us, but do you know what will happen to those people who just stick on a first class stamp?

  • steve weir

    # 19, Thanks for the question.

    We have arranged with the Post Office to pass ALL vote by mail through to us. We have been doing that for years. I’ll pay for the insufficient postage.

    However, yesterday, I received a call from someone who did not put postage on their ballot and it was returned to them.

    We understand that the USPS has drilled into their carriers heads that they should not accept mail with insufficient postage. So, even with a guarantee from the Oakland Processing Center, just to be safe, it is advised that people put adequate postage on their vote-by-mail envelope.

    I’m doing a spot check on postage and the vast majority of voters place adequate (or more) on their return envelope.

  • John W

    Yes, it would have been nice to see newspaper endorsements for the AD 15 and DA races by now. Good to see comments from Steve that the voting is picking up speed. Normally, I would have mailed in my ballot by now. Chose this year to hold off until late, because my opinion was in flux on some of the contests. I suspect a lot of people who fully intend to vote are in the same situation. Polls show 10% still undecided in the governor’s race.

  • ted ford

    In the event you haven’t gotten around to mailing it and you don’t want to miss the deadline, can you simply take your “vote by mail” ballot — which you have filled out on your kitchen table — to the polling place and drop it in the box? If so, should it be in the sealed and signed envelope?

  • steveweir

    Ted, good question. Any voter can return their voted ballot to any polling place within their county. We recommend not mailing ballots after the Friday before the election. It should be sealed and you must sign your own envelope.

    If a member of your family or household is ill, or unable to go to the polls, they can designate a family member or any member of their household to deliver the ballot to the polls on their behalf. (Note; there’s an authorization section on the back flap.)

    In an election like this, we can receive 20% of the total vote-by-mail vote cast at the polls and in our office on election day.

    If you want you ballot to make the election night tally, we need to have it by Saturday. Otherwise, we count the ballots that come in the last few days during the post election canvass.

  • John W

    Re #23

    Although I understand the practicalities, I’ll bet most people who wait until election day to drop off their ballots don’t understand that their votes aren’t counted at the same time as people who vote at the polling place. People like the idea of being able to change their mind right up until election day. They also like the idea of participating in the process by physically showing up at the polling place rather than just mailing in the ballot. Unless it’s a close race, with the outcome determined by the post-election counting of mail-in ballots, a ballot not delivered by Saturday is, in effect, meaningless. That kind of makes me think I might not want to continue being a permanent vote-by-mail voter.

  • steve weir

    John W., yikes, everyone’s vote counts. You never know if a race is going to be close. But, when it is, the votes cast by mail towards election day, will make the difference.

    For me, you can’t have it both ways.

    So, a vote, is a vote, is a vote.

    You can’t second guess this, or try to make “book” on it.