It’s not too early to think about the 2018 election, especially how to make it easier for voters.
On Wednesday, Sacramento County supervisors can take a big step by giving the go-ahead for a new system that relies on voting by mail and at regional polling places.
The county is one of 14 in California allowed under Senate Bill 450, which passed last year, to switch from traditional polling places. Sacramento County opened more than 500 precincts in 2016, but that’s highly inefficient when 68 percent of voters sent mail-in ballots.
This move would accelerate the trend, starting with the June 2018 primary. Other counties could could adopt this new voting model in 2020, except Los Angeles County, which would have to meet certain benchmarks first.
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Besides putting ballots in the mail, Sacramento voters could drop them off at any of 54 sites that will open 29 days before Election Day. Or they could cast ballots at any of 16 regional vote centers that will be open for 10 days through Election Day. Or they could vote at 61 centers open on Election Day and the three preceding days.
Sacramento County needs to buy new voting machines anyway to replace outdated ones from 2004, says Jill LaVine, the county’s registrar of voters. The regional vote centers would require fewer new machines, cutting the cost in half to $4 million. The county plans to lease them for about $1.1 million a year for eight years – money the county hopes to get from the state.
The new voting system is supported by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the state’s chief elections officer. He and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, held a news conference Tuesday to promote their Assembly Bill 668, which would authorize a $450 million bond to improve voting systems around the state. If approved by the Legislature, the bond would go before voters in June 2018.
Besides being more efficient and cutting costs, Padilla, LaVine and others say the new system will boost lagging voter turnout by extending early voting and expanding where voters can cast ballots.
While some may cling to the Norman Rockwell image of neighborhood precincts at schools and churches, elections have moved past that. The focus now should be to make the new voting model work as smoothly as possible.