[Image via wired]

California’s Butte County is using postcards to voters to ascertain the plans of voters displaced by the catastrophic Camp Fire that devastated California last year. The Enterprise-Record has more:

Thousands of post cards are going out to Camp Fire survivors from the Butte County voting office asking about residents’ current plans.

In preparation for the next election, the county voting office is trying to verify addresses, as well as determine where those displaced by the Camp Fire are choosing to live.

“If they haven’t made up their mind, that’s OK. We understand,” said Candace Grubbs, Butte County clerk-recorder and registrar of voters.

Grubbs said that 19,000 post cards are going out that asking voters about their intentions so the county can get the right ballot information to them.

“People have scattered so our job is to find these people. We’re trying to determine who’s coming back and who isn’t,” said Grubbs. “Their residence determines the election they can vote in.”

The postcards allow voters to indicate their current status, which will help determine their status for upcoming elections:

Those residents of Paradise and the ridge who have found places to live in Chico can still vote on Paradise issues in the next election, as long as the county has their information.

Residents have the right to vote on town council, irrigation district, parks and recreation, and more. Not only Paradise residents were impacted, but those who lived in Concow, Magalia, Yankee Hill, Concow and Butte Creek Canyon.

“They can live in Chico and vote on Paradise issues if they’ve decided they’re going back. If they haven’t decided yet, they can still vote on Paradise issues,” Grubbs said.

If they’ve decided to re-establish their residence in Chico or Oroville or anywhere in the country, Grubbs wants to know what their address is or will be, to update her records, and make sure Butte County voters get the right voting information.

A post office box is not a legal address for voters. It has to be a street address, although voters can get mail at post office boxes.

Both the postcards and other data will help the County identify who’s left on the voting rolls – which re likely to take a serious hit in the fire’s aftermath:

Grubbs said her staff has been collecting information from other government agencies, like the Department of Motor Vehicles, to update their rolls. In addition, it’s likely the Paradise voting district borders will be redrawn.

“The Fifth Supervisor District lost 3,452 voters that we know of so far. They’ve notified us they are not going back,” she said Friday.

Grubbs said the districts are crafted to be more or less balanced in population.

Ironically, Grubbs will be speaking at a national meeting of the Election Assistance Commission in Tennessee this week about voting and disasters. In addition to providing a video to show the devastation that the Paradise ridge endured, she’ll be sharing her experiences on dealing with voters after a disaster.

“We have processes to follow if a polling place catches on fire, but not if a whole town is destroyed.”

Grubbs realizes that the nature of the fire means that some voters won’t be back:

Regrouping after a hurricane or tornado has historic roots, but not a wildfire that devoured a town, she noted.

If residents decide they are not going back to Paradise, they need to notify the county of their current address.

“There has been such mass confusion in all this after the fire. The Post Office had so many changes, and updates as people moved and relocated again. The correct information didn’t always come through, so we’re checking on those now.”

There are no elections in 2019, but two in 2020 — in March and in November.

Obviously, in a tragedy like this, the effect on voting isn’t anywhere near the primary concern. But as the County recovers and rebuilds, it’s good to see the elections office doing something to re-establish voters’ sense of place so that the process can move forward in 2020 and beyond. Kudos to Clrek-Recorder Grubbs and her team for this effort and good thoughts to the people of Butte County and elsewhere still figuring out what’s next. Stay tuned …