California is on its way to phasing out traditional polling places and embracing alternatives such as new “vote centers.”
The state Senate approved the measure, Senate Bill 450, Aug. 29 on a final vote of 26-11.
The bill authored by state Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until Sept. 30 to act on it.
“People’s lives are more complicated than ever, and our goal is to make it easier for them to participate in the democratic process,” Allen said.
“This new system will give voters an array of convenient options including voting at one of numerous locations close to where they work, shop or congregate.”
Under SB 450, state elections would mostly be dependent on absentee ballots. In most counties, every registered voter would receive a ballot in the mail. The ballots could be returned by mail, at secure drop boxes placed around the county or at any vote center.
Voters also would be able to vote in person at vote centers located at public spots throughout their county for the 10 days prior to an election, including two weekends.
Unlike polling places, the vote centers are pictured as employing paid workers and they would get more training than normally given to temporary pollworkers.
Many local politicians support the measure, including members of the county Board of Supervisors.
“SB 450 represents the modernization of the California election system,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said. “It provides flexibility and options for California voters.
“If SB 450 is approved, voters could go to any polling center in the county, within 10 days of the election, to cast their vote.”
“Instead of being tied to one polling place on one day during work hours, you could vote over the weekend, when you’re at the mall, or a recreation center. I fully support SB 450.”
Based loosely on a model used in Colorado, SB 450 permits 14 counties to opt in to the new system in 2018 and the rest could take it up starting in 2020.
However, Los Angeles County has a separate option because of infrastructure limitations. The county would provide a greater number of vote centers, but would not be required to send a vote by mail ballot to every voter when it initially opts in to the program.
The county wouldn’t be required to send every voter a vote by mail ballot until 2024.
The legislation is in response to steadily decreasing voter participation.
In 2014, California ranked 43rd in voter turnout among the 50 states and District of Columbia.
That year, only 25 percent of registered voters cast ballots in June, and only 42 percent participated in November.
Los Angeles County had the lowest turnout in the state, with fewer than 17 percent of voters casting ballots in June and only 31 percent voting in November.
Sb 450 is not a new concept for the area. Los Angeles County has been working for several years on a project to modernize its voting system.
“The general concept is recognizing as a local and state government that we can’t influence everything that affects voter turnout, but what we can do is ensure that the mechanics of casting your vote is responsive of voter behavior and preferences,” said Dean Logan, who heads the Registrar of Voters Office in Los Angeles County.
There isn’t any outright opposition to the measure, but there are people concerned with the possible modifications.
“There is always fear of change, but I think the data that we’ve seen in Colorado and other states, even though they have not the adopted the exact same model, is that they have seen it be successful,” Logan said.
“They haven’t seen a drop in participation, but in some cases they have seen greater participation.”