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I followed the heartbreaking California CD04 race, pitting Charlie Brown vs. carpetbagger Tom McClintock (who lives 410 miles away), very closely. I even posted several diaries here during the prolonged vote counting. Unfortunately, Brown trails by 1566 votes with nearly all votes counted, a 0.43% margin.  Placer County was the last county in the district to report post-election results, just a few days ago.

On November 6, in search of information, I called the Placer County elections office to find out how many votes had yet to be processed after the machine count on election night. (The number had not yet appeared on any website.) Placer County, of course, was the location of the final vote results in the Brown-McClintock battle.

The very nice lady at the office read the numbers to me. In addition to the categories of vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots, and damaged ballots to be remade, however, there was this peculiar category:

574 votes due to ballot trapping

What is this thing called "ballot trapping?"  According to Google, the only county that traps ballots may be Placer County, California.

There being no such term on Wikipedia, I had turned to the trusty Google to find out. There were only three Google search results for "ballot trapping." (The other was about a measure somewhere to prohibit trapping coyotes.) Interestingly, both of the election-related search hits were about Placer County, California.

As Carlos Alcalá of the Sacramento Bee found out,

[T]his does not involve spring-loaded teeth snapping together when you cast your vote. It involves "runners" from the Placer elections office going to post offices throughout the county to collect mail-in ballots. Unlike filing taxes or registering to vote, voting by mail requires that the document (the ballot) be in officials' hands by the designated date and time: 8 p.m. Election Day. Having it postmarked is not enough. "People think that deadline is not particularly absolute," [Assistant Registrar Ryan] Ronco said. But it is, so officials go "trap" those wayward votes. "We are in the business of making sure we can count every eligible vote," he said. In the last election [the June 2008 primary], they picked up about 700 additional ballots, enough to sway an election. And they literally go the extra mile. Because ballots can go to central post offices before coming back to Placer County, runners pick up ballots from West Sacramento and Reno mail routing centers.

(Note that West Sacramento and Reno are not even located in Placer County.)

The Union of Grass Valley had a single paragraph in a story in June:

An official at the Placer County Elections Office confirmed that their office does in fact perform "ballot trapping" - going to post offices on Election Day to collect ballots that have been cast before the deadline but have not yet arrived.

Is there any other county elections office in California, or indeed the country, that engages in ballot trapping on Election Day?  Is this practice known by a different name in other places?  If it turns out that Placer County is the only one in California that does ballot trapping, are there any implications for the rest of the state?

Update [2008-11-26 16:52:19 by Jeff in CA]: Ballot trapping is a GOOD thing!

Originally posted to on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 09:14 AM PST.


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