VIDEO: Key Lessons California is Learning from Colorado to Make Voting Easier

The origins of why Americans typically vote on Tuesdays involve farmers, horses and buggies, and a 19th century federal law. Here in 21st century California, the reasoning behind a recent proposal to expand voting options beyond Election Day Tuesday originates from the success of another state in boosting voter turnout: Colorado.

In California, vote-by-mail has become more and more popular, but only 42 percent of registered voters actually cast their ballot in the November 2014 election. To examine Colorado’s much-touted early voting options, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla made a fact-finding trek to the state, which bucked a national trend and increased its turnout compared to previous elections.

A Coloradan who knows about how well-expanded voting options might work is Amber McReynolds, director of elections for the City and County of Denver and one of the authors of that state’s recent election modernization bill.

“Our philosophy in Denver…has been ‘voter first and voter experience’ and we start there and figure out what is it that we want that to look like and then build back from there,” said McReynolds. “And that was really the policy innovation that happened.”

In the video above, McReynolds spoke in front of election officials, civil rights organizations, and election reform advocates at the 2015 Future of California Elections (FOCE) Conference in Sacramento (McReynolds’ comments begin at 18:16). In the November 2014 election, Colorado landed in the top three states for turnout, with 54.5 percent of registered voters casting a ballot.

The state’s modernization upgraded the voting process with same-day registration and gave voters a longer list of ways to submit their ballot: by mail and drop-off, voting in person early at voting centers, or voting on Election Day. These and other changes resulted in a 98 percent reduction of provisional ballots and a cost savings for counties over previous elections.

Appearing on a panel at the FOCE conference called, “Increasing ways to cast a ballot beyond Election Day,” McReynolds and other speakers discussed how California could unhook Election Day from a single day to create an “Election Season” and expand on the increasing use of vote-by-mail by Californian voters, 61 percent of whom mailed in their ballot.

Padilla’s proposal, contained in SB 450, would require all voters be sent vote-by-mail ballots, which could be mailed back or dropped off at secure drop boxes. And for voters looking to cast a ballot early and in person, county vote centers would open their doors 10 days before the election, eliminating the assignment of voters to a single polling place open for only one day.

“I think that we’re hearing loud and clear that voters want an experience that’s meaningful, it’s intuitive and that it fits with the way in which they interact with other activities,” said FOCE conference panelist and L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan. “And to quote one of my students last night about the current process…they described the current process as ‘cold, old and impersonal.'”

The more expansive range of reforms enacted in Colorado ended up generating some savings for counties there, but testing and fully implementing the SB 450 reforms here in California will require some upfront funding, which is causing some concern among county registrars.

But, the hope of the bill is that more Californians end up taking advantage of the bigger list of voting options, including hitching their horse and buggy up outside a new voting center to cast their vote early.

Editor’s note: This article, written by John Guenther, originally published on CA Fwd’s website on Friday, June 19, 2015, and has been edited for publication on IVN. To learn more about CA Fwd, visit the organization’s site or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Photo Credit: Svanblar / shutterstock.com