Paperless Progress: Election season is looking a little greener this year

  • May 30, 2012

By Emiliano Vazquez

California has 17 million registered voters. All in all, the voting public of California cuts down about 60,000 trees every election season just so we can have our sample ballots (which some of us just toss in the recycling—or, worse, the trash). But there is a more eco-friendly option, or set of options, on the horizon locally.

Enter paperless sample ballots, the first of two tree-saving measures undertaken by the county. Until recently, California voting law required that a sample ballot be sent to every voter; with that law amended, voters can now request that an e-ballot be sent to their email address in place of a physical pamphlet dropped into their mailbox.

This is the first year that the option has been in place, so there are not yet statistics on how many people have chosen to opt out of physical ballots. However, it won’t take many to save a lot of trees.
“Right now we’re sending ballots to 145,696 voters,” says Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin. “Obviously, if we can get even 10 percent [of Santa Cruz voters] to opt out of physical ballots, we’re going to save 10 percent more paper.”

And there’s a second option as well. For those tethered to their smartphones, Android and iPhone users will be able to download a voting guide app for Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Shasta counties.
The app does a few things. First, you can request the aforementioned paperless sample ballot through the app itself. Second, and more importantly, the app has information on local, state and federal candidates, and also includes information on measures and propositions.

It also allows you to check your candidate and proposition preferences, which you can save in the app beforehand. Now you can whip out your phone in the voting booth and remind yourself of the choices you’ve made—you’re saving time and you’re saving trees.

Created in partnership with Dr. Elizabeth Bergman, professor of political science at California State University East Bay, the nonpartisan app was developed by Atwoodz Inc., and uses information only from state and federal agencies. The app can be found by searching for “Santa Cruz Voter Guide” on either the Apple App store (for iPhone users) or Google Play (for Android users).

“People like getting their information online,” says Pellerin. “A lot of people are using our website for a lot of resources.”

Both the app and the online sample ballot use no paper. If their use becomes widespread, that’s a big step up from losing 60,000 trees per election season.

To opt out of paper ballots, go to votescount.com/optout.htm.

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