Capitol Alert

AM Alert: California moving toward new mail-driven voting system

Julia Croteau, of Rescue, drops off her vote-by-mail ballot in a drop box outside of the El Dorado County Elections Dept. on Nov. 4, 2008.
Julia Croteau, of Rescue, drops off her vote-by-mail ballot in a drop box outside of the El Dorado County Elections Dept. on Nov. 4, 2008. The Sacramento Bee file

With turnout plunging to historic lows during the 2014 election cycle, Secretary of State Alex Padilla is pushing for an overhaul of voting in California that aims to make the process easier and more accessible.

Based on a model developed more than a decade ago in Colorado, every registered voter would receive a ballot in the mail, which they could then send back or drop off at a network of “vote centers” throughout their county beginning 10 days before an election. It’s a dramatic move away from the traditional neighborhood polling place, but as a majority of Californians have voted by mail in recent years, supporters argue the new system would improve participation by giving voters the convenience they prefer.

The Legislature has until the end of the month to approve Senate Bill 450, by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, which would allow counties to start adopting the model in 2018. It is currently awaiting consideration in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Joined by Padilla and Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project, the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting will host two briefings on how the vote centers might work in California, 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. in Room 444 of the Capitol.

WORTH REPEATING: “There are worse ways to do work. #AppropsHell” - beach tweet from Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee

LOST IN TRANSLATION: As stars like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner bring trans visibility to mainstream American audiences, transgender rights have exploded into the latest major front in the culture wars. Who can use which bathroom has become a particularly bruising legal fight over the past year, with North Carolina setting off a national firestorm over the issue in March when it passed a law overturning local nondiscrimination ordinances and requiring transgender residents to use public restrooms matching the sex on their birth certificate. California is taking the opposite approach, pursuing legislation that would mandate single-stall restrooms be open to people of any gender. Next up is “Transform California,” a statewide tolerance campaign. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Sacramento Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg will be joined by transgender community leaders, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Equality California executive director Rick Zbur and others to encourage Californians to sign a pledge opposing discrimination against transgender people, 10:20 a.m. on the west steps of the Capitol.

BY THE NUMBERS: California lawmakers have a lot of votes ahead of them this month. They've taken plenty already during the 2015-16 session: When they left town for summer recess June 30, lawmakers had acted on 5,403 motions on the floor and 2,238 motions in committee, legislative records show.

WATERWORLD: After a year of mandatory drought restrictions requiring water agencies to cut usage by 25 percent, state regulators relaxed their targets in June, in part because the successful savings were costing agencies millions in customer revenue. So how did Californians do in the first month since optional conservation was implemented, allowing water districts to set their own targets based on the health of their local supply? The State Water Resources Control Board will provide an update during its meeting, 9 a.m. at the Cal/EPA building on I Street. In the Sacramento area, residents saved 22 percent compared to June 2013, despite the end of mandatory cutbacks.

CELEBRATIONS: A belated happy birthday to Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, who turned 54 yesterday.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff. Jim Miller of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.