Capitol Alert

Alex Padilla unveils California voting overhaul bill

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (center) announces a new bill he says will improve voter participation. He’s joined by, from left to right: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, Sen. Ben Allen, and Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas in Sacramento on Wednesday, June 10, 2015.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (center) announces a new bill he says will improve voter participation. He’s joined by, from left to right: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, Sen. Ben Allen, and Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas in Sacramento on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. The Sacramento Bee

Every California voter would be mailed a ballot that they could drop off at a new network of early voting centers under an ambitious election overhaul bill Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced on Wednesday.

Policymakers have been searching for ways to lift California’s low voter turnout rate, with the last election setting new records for non-engagement. Padilla ran on a platform of boosting turnout, which on Wednesday he called “a problem that cannot be ignored.”

Modeled on Colorado’s innovative election system, which Padilla made a recent journey to observe, Senate Bill 450 would have county election officials mail ballots to every registered voter (Padilla has a separate bill to register millions of registered Californians who pass through the Department of Motor Vehicles). Voters could then mail them in or drop them off at new kiosks that Padilla said would ideally be open beginning 10 days before elections, eight hours a day.

Padilla and lawmakers argued that the current system of having citizens set aside time to wait in line on Election Day has become outdated. Sen. Ben Allen, who is carrying the bill, noted that more voters mailed their ballots than not in the previous election, which he called evidence that “the current model, with this one day of voting” is “just not working. It’s not maximizing voter participation.”

“We’ll probably never see another election in California where more voters go to the polls than vote by mail,” said Allen, D-Santa Monica. “This is about expanding options and convenience for voters.”

Counties would still need to agree to institute the new system. Local election officials have balked in the past at the price tag of new election projects. But Padilla argued that since many counties will soon need to replace obsolete election equipment regardless, SB 450 would offer an opportunity to rethink how they conduct elections.

“If we’re going to all be buying new systems,” said Padilla, “should we buy a brand new iPhone 2, or do we embrace technology that exists to invest in systems that have much more functionality, convenience and flexibility for voters?”

Jeremy B. White: (916) 326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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