For California voters, finding time to cast ballots on a Tuesday could become a thing of the past.
A bill by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would give them a chance to vote on a Saturday in the month before an election. Senate Bill 637 would require counties to have a polling place open for early voting for four hours on at least one Saturday in the 29 days before Election Day.
Twenty-five counties in California already allow voters to cast a ballot on a Saturday before Election Day, according to a survey conducted by the Los Angeles County registrar of voters in 2012. Nationwide, 32 states and the District of Columbia allow early voting in addition to mail voting.
Yee, who is running for secretary of state in 2014, said local elections with low turnout rates, such as the 23 percent of voters who cast ballots in June's Los Angeles mayoral race, show voting needs to be more accessible. He blamed low participation rates on the stresses and time commitments of a hectic lifestyle.
"In these times, when you have moms and dads who are working two jobs, coming home late and taking care of the kids, it is extremely difficult for many individuals to cast their vote on Tuesday night," Yee said. "Something may come up one way or another."
He hoped opening polling places on a Saturday afternoon in the month before the election would alleviate the problem.
"Usually on the weekend you're less stressed, your schedule is less demanding, and then to allow someone to vote on that day is a good thing," Yee said.
Yee's bill is an urgency statute, as he hopes offering early voting will immediately improve voter turnout.
But some think increasing early voting is unnecessary, as voters who cannot make it to the polls already have the option of voting by mail.
"Every county in California already has the option of opening polling places on Saturdays," said Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, who voted against the bill in committee last week. "I will continue to trust the secretary of state and the county registrars to do their job."
Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine said opening her office for Saturday voting is part of her routine in high-turnout elections. LaVine said providing more opportunities to vote shortens lines on Election Day and keeps voters happy.
"Most of the time we're working anyway to keep caught up with the election, so opening the doors to voters is not a problem," LaVine said.
Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, said any method that would increase accessibility for voters is worth trying.
"The state ought to do everything it possibly can to encourage voting without compromising ballot security, and this is another example of a reform that accomplishes both of those goals," Schnur said.
But there is no quick fix to improving voter participation, according to Jim Mayer of good-government group California Forward. Mayer said implementing early voting options in addition to allowing people to register on Election Day or online and improving vote-by-mail could make a big difference.
"None of these are silver bullets but a lot of them are things that would eliminate the obstacles to voting and just make it more accessible to people," Mayer said.
Even with the availability of mail ballots, and some early voting opportunities, Yee thinks a significant number of voters would opt to vote early on a Saturday.
"There may be a lot of vote-by-mail voters, but the reality is still that there are a lot of at-the-poll voters, and we want to get as many people involved in the democratic process as we can," Yee said. "We ought to find every which way to get every voter into the polling place."
Call Annalise Mantz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5545.