Sutter County has been chosen as one of 14 counties to implement changes to California’s system of voting based upon the legislature’s Voter’s Choice Act.
“This landmark law will provide voters more options for when, where, and how they cast a ballot," Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “SB 450 will increase civic participation and make our democracy stronger.”
Pilot counties can begin using the new approach starting January 2018. The remainder of the counties can adopt the SB 450 reforms in 2020.
Sutter County Clerk Donna Johnston is presenting the old versus the new approach to the Supervisors at their Tuesday June 13, 3pm public meeting. They will ultimately need to approve implementing the reforms and how it will be done. Nevada County Supervisor’s already approved their county’s use of the new system.
The current voting system requires each voter to cast a ballot on one day, during limited hours, at one location, using one type device. Absentee voters either mail the ballot or can drop it off at one location prior to Election Day.
SB 450 vastly expands the voting opportunity. Once deployed, every registered voter would be mailed a ballot 28 days before Election Day. Voters would then be able to vote in-person at a vote center, mail their ballot, or leave it at a vote center or at a ballot drop-off location.
Polling places would be replaced by vote centers. Voters would have the freedom to cast a ballot at any vote center instead of being tied to a single polling location. Vote centers will look and feel like polling places, but provide additional benefits and options for voters.
For example, citizens could register at any time and at any vote center on Election Day. They could also receive a replacement for lost or damaged ballots. People can access language assistance and translated materials. Vote centers would be connected to the clerk’s office via technology.
Starting 10 days prior to the Election and through the Friday before Election Day, there would be 2 vote centers open (Live Oak and Yuba City). An additional 3-4 vote centers would open on Election Day and the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before (locations to be determined).
There will also be 4 ballot drop-off spots in addition to the Election’s Office throughout the county starting 28 days before the Election Day. The state mandates that drop-off locations be secure, accessible to voters with disabilities, and located as near as possible to public transportation routes.
Donna Johnston said that in the last election76% of voters received absentee ballots and 23% indicated they would vote at the polls. However, only 55% of all those receiving absentee ballots voted and 20% of the remainder went to the polls. Previous years have seen voting at polling places down to 8% and 15%.
State-wide voter turnout continues to shrink. Bill sponsor Senator Hertzberg said, “You can stream a movie over the internet or deposit a check with your phone at any time, but without this bill, many people still have to rearrange their busy schedules to get to a polling place on a single day and that has hurt turnout.”
“For many working Californians it may make more sense to cast a ballot the week before Election Day at a location closer to where they work, or where they drop off their kids, or where they go to college,” Padilla explained. “Why limit voting to one location on a single Tuesday?”
The Voter’s Choice Act is an effort to modernize a voting method that has remained the same except for voting machine technology. We’ve come a long way since 1776 when the right to vote began as a legal privilege almost exclusively available to white, property-owning, Protestant men. Now, all 18 year-old citizens and older of any ethnicity or religion are eligible to register and vote.
This proposed change makes it much easier for all to do.