The long-awaited replacement for California’s aging voter registration database has started to deploy, with Sacramento and Orange counties serving as test counties for the VoteCal system that will begin expanding to other counties this fall. All 58 counties will be covered by June 2016 if the process stays on schedule.
VoteCal’s debut comes more than a dozen years after the Florida election debacle in the 2000 presidential election prompted Congress to order a revamp of states’ voting procedures with the Help America Vote Act.
Since it went live in Sacramento and Orange counties, VoteCal already has helped voting officials identify about 400 seemingly duplicate registrations, said Neal Kelley, Orange County’s registrar of voters. Reconciling the duplicates, which usually stem from people moving, used to rely on a paper-based system.
“That's a big deal,” Kelley said.
Other voter-friendly enhancements hinged to VoteCal designed to increase election participation, such as same-day voter registration and allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote, will have to wait until the system completely replaces the existing CalVoter system and covers all 17.7 million voters statewide.
Also, there is pending legislation that would automatically register people to vote when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a driver’s license or renew one. VoteCal would make such a process possible.
Another VoteCal-dependent bill, Senate Bill 450, would require a ballot to be sent to every registered voter and allow people to cast ballots early at special voting centers. Secretary of State Alex Padilla and other supporters recently decided to table the bill. It will be reconsidered in January.
Technical difficulties have beset VoteCal since the project began in 2007. It had been scheduled to be up and running by 2009 but there were delays after disputes between the state and the contractor hired to do the job. In August 2013, a state audit questioned then-Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s setting aside $131 million in federal HAVA money for the project.