Gov. Jerry Brown, clearing the way for Sacramento and several other counties to hold all-mail elections in two years, signed legislation Thursday that allows for the consolidation of neighborhood polling places into new vote centers.
Senate Bill 450 sets California on the same path as Colorado and some other states that have created vote centers and ballot drop-off boxes in response to the soaring use of vote-by-mail ballots and shrinking numbers of polling place voters.
Proponents of SB 450 contend it will allow people to vote early more easily. It also would allow participating counties to save the cost of staffing polling places. Skeptics, though, have raised concerns that the centers could hurt voter turnout because many prefer to vote at their neighborhood polling place.
“This landmark law will provide voters more options for when, where, and how they cast a ballot,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill. “SB 450 will increase civic participation and make our democracy stronger.”
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Besides Sacramento, counties authorized to use the centers by 2018 include Orange, Calaveras, Inyo, Madera, Napa, Nevada, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sierra, Sutter, and Tuolumne. All other counties, including Los Angeles, would be covered by the law in 2020.
The bill was among several election-related measures Brown acted on Thursday afternoon:
▪ AB 1494: Allows voters to share how they voted, such as through “ballot selfies.”
▪ AB 1921: Allows people to designate someone to return their vote-by-mail ballot to election officials.
▪ AB 1970: Requires the secretary of state to craft regulations to standardize counties’ handling of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots.
▪ SB 1349: Requires the Secretary of State’s Office and Fair Political Practices Commission, by early 2019, to replace the cumbersome Cal-Access campaign-finance system.
▪ AB 2089.Vetoed. Would have required counties to tell voters if their mail ballot was not counted.
▪ SB 1288. Vetoed. Would have allowed general law local governments to use ranked-choice voting.
“In a time when we want to encourage more voter participation, we need to keep voting simple,” Brown wrote in his veto message for SB 1288 . “Ranked choice voting is overly complicated and confusing. I believe it deprives voters of genuinely informed choice.”