Vote by mail may become universal in California

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Standing in line while waiting for the person in front of you to get their address correct and to stop asking about how to connect the arrows may become historic vignettes if California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla can convince the state Legislature to enact his proposal for a new voting process.

Padilla’s recommendation, which Sens. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) have put forward, would offer every Californian registered voter the option to vote by mail. Four weeks prior to an election, registered voters would receive a ballot.

If voting by mail is not preferred, voters may still go to “vote centers,” formerly polling places, and cast a ballot. One difference between the two is any voter registered in the county may cast a ballot at a vote center, which would be independent of local precincts.

The new vote centers would offer the following services: Drop off ballots; access same-day voter registration; receive replacement ballots; use accessible voting machines; and access language assistance and translated materials.

According to the bill, a vote center would be established for every 10,000 registered voters. Not only would these centers be open on election day, but also the Saturday through Monday preceding election day. A smaller number of vote centers, one per 50,000 voters, would be open for 10 days prior to election day.

If enacted, 14 of California’s 58 counties would begin to implement the process for the 2018 elections. These counties, who would have complete vote-by-mail options in 2018, are Calaveras, Inyo, Madera, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sierra, Sutter and Tuolumne. The remaining counties would begin to use it for the 2020 elections.

Padilla was distressed with the low voter turnout for the 2014 elections and offered this proposal to raise voter participation in the election process. The 2016 primary election turnout is estimated to be 47 percent statewide compared to the 25 percent two years ago. In Riverside County, turnout this year was about 44 percent, about twice the 2014 turnout.

This proposal is modeled on Colorado’s election process.

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