Many states suffer from low voter turnout and have taken steps to address this issue. California passed SB 450, also known as the “Voters’ Choice Act,” allowing counties to mail each registered voter a ballot. Voters can mail the ballots to the Registrar’s office, take them to designated ballot drop off box or drop them off or vote in person at “vote centers,” which will open 10 days before Election Day.
While the bill may seem extreme, because it eliminates precinct voting as we know it, it was passed because California ranked a miserable 43rd in voter participation in 2014. In 2014, only 31% of eligible voters in California voted in the General Election. Even in gubernatorial elections, voter turnout in California has hovered around 40% for the last 30 years. This is a pretty shoddy turnout for the nation’s most populous state. And voter participation has the potential to decline still further when California becomes a majority minority state. Of the 6.6 million eligible, but unregistered to vote in California, 70% of this group are either Latino or Asian-Pacific Islander. If this lack of participation continues, a majority of Californians will have no voice in the direction of their state or the direction of the nation.
Why is this bill a leap forward? Because it will make the voting process more accessible, hopefully removing barriers to voting. Under the bill’s guidelines, each registered voter in Santa Clara County will receive a ballot in the mail 28 days before the election. The voter has the choice of (1) returning the ballot by mail, (2) dropping it a ballot drop off box, or (3) returning to the ballot to a vote center (which will be staffed with workers who can answer questions). Vote centers will have voting machines, language assistance and translated materials; the ballot drop off locations and vote centers will eliminate the need for polling places in the county. Currently, Santa Clara has over 800 polling places; both vote centers and ballot drop off locations will be located near public transportation and free public parking.
In order to avoid the chaos that ensues when massive changes are proposed by government, counties will gradually convert to the new system. While the state has great hopes this new procedure will greatly increase the participation of registered voters, the state realistic believes there will be unanticipated problems. The Voter’s Choice Act empowers the Secretary of State’s office to establish a task force to review how the process worked, and make recommendations for improvement as the process moves along.
The state of Colorado recently adopted an election system similar to the one proposed in SB 450. Under the Colorado system, all registered voters are sent a ballot which can be mailed, dropped off at a ballot drop off location or at a vote center. Voters were also allowed to use a “same day” registration process at the staffed vote centers. Since the adoption of this new election system, Colorado has the 3rd highest voter participation in the United States; around 55% of eligible voters participated in 2014 elections.
To keep apprised of when and how the new voting system will be implemented in Santa Clara County, visit the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters — where you can also register to vote.