The November election will be the biggest of its kind in the history of Merced County.
More local residents are registered to vote than ever before — just over 106,000 as of last week — and considering the county’s population is around 270,000, there’s plenty of room to grow the number of potential voters.
Also, county officials are expecting a record voter turnout that will surpass the 73.2 percent recorded in the last presidential election of 2016.
Of course, the big draw this year is President Donald Trump’s re-election bid and the Democratic Party’s effort to stop him; however, there is a whole slew of competitive local races, including: two big runoffs — one for the Merced seat on the Board of Supervisors, and another for an office in the U.S. House of Representatives — as well as a multitude of city council seats up for grabs in every incorporated town in the region, four high-profile contests for mayoral distinctions, and around 40 school district seats and 20 special district seats that need to be filled.
All this comes with the backdrop of a devastating and ongoing national pandemic, coupled with widespread social unrest.
Even the manner of how the elections will be held is headline news, with Governor Newsom issuing executive orders for an all-mail ballot election “to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” and recent GOP-led legal challenges that claim Newsom’s move is illegal.
Meanwhile, there are two legislative bills in Sacramento that are moving through the halls quickly, and those are expected to provide even more framework for the election.
“It’s going to be interesting,” says Barbara Levey, the county’s Registrar of Voters. “We will keep things moving forward as all of this gets sorted out.”
Here’s what we know so far:
- Levey says Merced County is indeed planning to mail a ballot to all “active” registered voters. Longtime voters will find that the ballots and return envelope (with postage paid) will have a new design. All voters will be encouraged to take responsibility of their own ballots, fill them out, sign them and mail them back as soon as possible before Election Day. These ballots can also be placed in drop-off boxes located throughout the county, including at every City Hall location in the region, the County Administration Building in downtown Merced, and at one of several Voting Assistance Centers.
- If the governor’s executive order, with support from Democrats in Sacramento, holds up it looks like Merced will need a minimum of 11 Voting Assistance Centers, all open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the Election; and on Election Day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- These Voting Assistance Centers will be able to replace a lost or spoiled ballot, allow a new voter to register and vote up until 8 p.m. on Election Day, help individuals facing language barriers and other challenges with accessible voting equipment that helps mark their ballot, and accept a signed, voted ballot as a “drop-off.”
- All of these centers will be able to help any voter in the county no matter where they live. For example, a Los Banos resident can use a Voting Assistance Center in Merced if they need to, or vice versa.
“We are working on finalizing the locations for the Voting Assistance Centers,” Levey told the Times. “We want to be sure that we have them throughout the county so that they are accessible to all the voters. It takes a bigger-size facility. They have to be open four days so we have to have them for about six days in total to allow for preparations. That’s quite a commitment we are asking from some of the managers of these facilities.”
Levey said her office will be starting a campaign soon to encourage voters to update their personal signatures that the county uses to verify ballots, if need be. Remember the Vote By Mail envelope signatures are compared to the registration signature that the county has on file. Voters are also urged to make sure that their registration and address are current.
“We will also encourage voters to utilize our online services to know when their ballot is mailed to them, and then receive updates as the ballot, in its envelope, is returned to us and processed,” Levey pointed out. “Voters can also sign up for Informed Delivery with the USPS — it’s free and every day you receive an email with a photo of the mail that is being delivered that day.”
Said Levey, “I know that some people are leery of all-mail elections, but I’m confident that with all of us taking our responsibilities seriously, we are confident that we can provide a secure election with integrity and accuracy.”
This week, the county launched a new online candidate filing portal. Through the Merced Elections website, candidates and/or prospective candidates are now able to review a brief PowerPoint presentation on the process of filing for office, access the filing portal where they can view and download the Candidate’s Handbook, and request forms and documents required for filing to run for an office. Documents will be provided, upon request, electronically. The portal is open to all candidates and contests.
The Candidate Handbook (available through the portal) includes information on the qualifications for office and the terms of office for all seats up for election this November.
The local candidate filing period for the November election starts on July 13 and goes through Aug. 7.