Hundreds of Thousands of California Votes Uncounted; Sec. of State Promises Change

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Wednesday that a new election reform bill, SB 450, has cleared the State Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee. According to Padilla, the purpose of the bill is to “make the voting experience smoother and more convenient” as it provides more options for voters to cast a ballot.

Under SB 450:

Vote-by-Mail Ballots: Every registered voter would be delivered a ballot 28 days before Election Day. This applies to any county that adopts the new election model.

Vote Centers: The bill would replace polling locations with voting centers in counties that adopt the new election model. According to the secretary of state, the voting centers would “look and feel like polling places, but provide additional benefits and options for voters.” Voters would be able to cast a ballot at any voting center in their county.

At a voting center, voters will be able to:

  • Cast a ballot in-person;
  • Drop-off their ballot;
  • Access Same Day Voter Registration;
  • Receive a replacement ballot;
  • Use accessible voting machines; and
  • Access language assistance and translated materials.

Ballot Drop-Off Locations: The bill requires at least one drop off location for every 15,000 residents and requires each to be as close as possible to public transportation routes while being secure and accessible to people with disabilities. The drop-off locations would be set up 28 days before election day.

Voter Education and Public Process for Adopting Vote Center Plans: Counties that adopt the election model under SB 450 would be required to adopt a plan for an open and public process to assist and educate voters, including working with community groups to hold education workshops for disabled voters and language minority communities.

Secretary Padilla sponsored the bill, and it is authored by Senators Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys). The bill was first introduced in February 2015. Its next stop will be the State Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“The way we live has changed, but the way we vote has not,” Secretary of State Padilla said. “We can make the voting experience smoother and more convenient by automatically sending every voter a vote-by-mail ballot and expanding in-person early voting opportunities. Instead of limiting voters to one location on one day to cast their ballot, we can provide options for when, where, and how they cast their ballot. Modernizing elections would benefit working Californians and strengthen our democracy.”

Beginning in 2018, 14 of California’s 58 counties — Calaveras, Inyo, Madera, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sierra, Sutter, and Tuolumne — can adopt the new rules. All other counties can move to adopt SB 450 in 2020.

The committee vote on SB 450 comes as hundreds of thousands of ballots from the June 7 primary remain uncounted. Numerous reports also surfaced before and after the primary of broad voter confusion over the state’s semi-closed presidential primaries, poor voter education efforts by county officials, and many voters being sent the wrong presidential ballot by mail.

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, including Assemblymembers Adam Gray (D-Merced) and Kristin Olsen (R-Riverbank), and the Independent Voter Project introduced a new state constitutional amendment, ACA 13, two days after the primary that would create a single nonpartisan ballot for presidential primaries so that California voters could choose the candidate they want without having to navigate different rules for separate party ballots.

The Assembly Elections Committee killed a resolution, ACR 145, in March that would have added a non-binding “public ballot” option to the presidential primaries that was designed to remedy anticipated voter confusion during the 2016 election cycle. A committee hearing for ACA 13 has not been scheduled.

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