by Liana Crabtree
(While I serve as a Library Commissioner for the City of Cupertino, the views expressed here are entirely my own.)
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As trusted, neutral, safe spaces, libraries are ideal institutions to lead dialogue and deliberation efforts in communities.
— American Library Association, Libraries Transforming Communities
SB 450 “The California Voters’ Choice Act” supports important goals to increase voter participation among all groups, but especially for groups that are under represented in the voter population today.Regrettably, the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters has taken some of the authority afforded under SB 450 and apparently misapplied the law to justify in 2018 the addition of early voting centers inside four libraries and mail-in ballot drop-off locations in front of approximately 15 library entrances.
Beginning 10 days or 4 days leading to and including Election Day, selected libraries or library entrance areas will host early voting venues and/or ballot drop-off locations. Because existing law provides for necessary campaign “silent zones” within 100 feet of polling places, space inside the libraries and near the well trafficked public spaces in front of library entrances would be closed to Free Speech expression associated with discussion of candidates or ballot measures. It is unacceptable to have Free Speech silenced in public venues at any time, but it is exceptionally egregious for the government to block citizens’ Free Speech rights for the 10 or 4 days leading up to an election. These 10 days or so in advance of Election Day is the time when citizens are likely looking for opportunities to have frank conversations about candidates and ballot measures.
An additional problem with early voting in libraries is the Registrar of Voters’ commandeering of library facilities for purposes supporting the work of the Registrar of Voters but unrelated to the public’s reasonable expectation of library programming or services.
If early voting in libraries is permitted, then we can expect an interruption of access to some library facilities for 20 or 8 days during a General Election year and for an unknown number of days in any year when a jurisdiction hosts special elections. The Cupertino Library was determined to be unsuitable for early voting because the largest group room available, the children’s group study room, was not large enough to meet the early voting facilities requirement. Imagine the children’s group study room had been suitable for early voting. How many children with study groups or tutors would have been displaced during the early voting window leading up to Elections Day? And, would the displacement, supporting a non-library use of the facility, have been perceived as expected and justified by the affected library patrons?
On March 6, 2018, the Santa Clara County Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Elections (CACE) took an important step to acknowledge that libraries and polling places share vital roles in a democracy, but that the roles are ones that cannot be accommodated in the same physical space. A majority of CACE members voted in March to advise the Registrar of Voters and the Elections Officer of the City of Cupertino to work together to move the polling place located in Cupertino’s Civic Center Plaza to a location that is at least 150 feet away from from the library entrance. This new ballot box location, which has not been announced, would ensure that a radius of at least 50 feet from the library entrance would be preserved for Free Speech activities and expression on Election Day and for every day leading up to Election Day.
SB 450 offers many important legal supports that may boost voter participation among all groups, which is essential for a thriving democracy. However, the Registrar of Voters needs to identify polling places that will not sacrifice the expression of Free Speech nor commandeer library facilities for non-library uses. Why not work to locate polling places in area drug stores, fitness centers, and shopping malls? Appeal to the business owners’ interests to support the public good and to promote increased foot traffic in their stores by inviting citizens to come in and vote. Well chosen private property venues likely offer more open hours per day than libraries that could then be available for voting activities. And, when private property venues are selected as polling places, there is no sacrifice of Free Speech because Free Speech protections apply to public venues, not private property.
1. Write to the Board of the Joint Powers Authority of the Santa Clara County Library District (SCCLD JPA Board) and ask the Board to adopt a policy opposing voting in libraries and near library entrances during their meeting on April 26, 2018. Write to the SCCLD JPA Board in care of Board Secretary Tracy Ellenberger ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).
2. Attend the SCCLD JPA Board meeting when the Board will consider actions related to voting in libraries and speak to the topic:
Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 1:30 PM
Library Services & Support Center
1370 Dell Avenue • Campbell, CA 95008
SCCLD JPA Board website
3. Write to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to ask for the addition of future meeting agenda to consider policy opposing voting in libraries and near library entrances. Write to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in care of the Office of the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors ( BoardOperations@cob.sccgov.org ). Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors website