'It's a mess.' Voters say they're confused by new system in Sacramento County
Danny Lopez joined a group of aspiring voters in front of the Arden-Dimick Library Tuesday morning trying to figure out how to drop off their ballots.
"No signs were posted telling people where to put their ballots," he said. "Apparently, this was planned worse than an employee retirement party."
The library was closed, as it normally doesn't open until 10 a.m. on Tuesdays. There was no obvious ballot box outside. And it didn't seem right to toss them in the book return.
So one by one, they slid their ballots through the narrow opening between the library's locked glass doors, and their pink envelopes joined about 20 more lying on the entryway floor, according to Lopez.
Lopez, 53, a state worker, said he wasn't sure if his ballot would count, but that he just left it there because he was upset that the library wasn't open.
"The assumption was that they would be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m," Lopez said, referring to the typical election day hours for polling places in past years.
The ballots left on the library floor will indeed count, said county spokeswoman Paige Bedegrew. It's unclear how many ballots were submitted this way.
Many libraries that had served as longtime polling places were relegated to dropbox locations this year as part of a new system approved by state legislators in 2016. The system replaced the county's 550 neighborhood polling places with 78 vote centers, dozens of drop-off sites and an emphasis on mailing in ballots.
In Sacramento County, 15 libraries served solely as drop-off locations and were only open during usual business hours. Nine opened at 10 a.m., five at noon and one at 1 p.m. Eleven county libraries served as vote centers and were open during the extended 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours.
On Tuesday, many voters expressed frustration about arriving at their former polling places, only to find they had been converted to drop-off sites without extended hours. Many of these places were libraries.
Voters were also frustrated - and confused - at the McKinley Library in East Sacramento, which didn't open until noon Tuesday.
Some arrived early thinking they could drop off their ballots before work. Others were too late on their way home from work.
Library director Rivkah K. Sass had not heard that voters had dropped ballots through library doors, but said that will change this fall during the next election.
"We are going to figure out how to be open 7 am. to 8 p.m. in November," she said. "It's one day and I feel very strongly about it. Libraries are the perfect spot for people to exercise their right to vote."
Sass said there is a silver lining for the library. It could mean signing up a few extra folks for library cards. "We want to get them in the door," she said. "People come in and say, 'I didn't know there was a library in this neighborhood. It is perfect. '"
Every Sacramento Public Library branch was busy yesterday, Sass said. At the Orangevale branch the drop-off box filled so quickly that workers were storing ballots in plastic bins. Workers at the main downtown branch had to cram ballots into a drop-off box the height of a grown person, she said.
"It's a good problem to have," Sass said. "People voted."