With mail-in voting for California's June 5 primary election set to begin Monday, some officials are worried that Sacramento County's move to a new voting system could be confusing to those in neighboring counties.
Jesse Salinas, Yolo County registrar of voters, said some residents are confused about whether they will receive a vote-by-mail ballot automatically or be able to vote at a voting center, all elements of the new voting system being tested in Sacramento County and four other counties this year.
Under Senate Bill 450 approved by the Legislature in 2016, voters in Sacramento, Madera, Napa, Nevada and San Mateo counties will automatically receive ballots in the mail, while the rest of the state's voters must request a vote-by-mail ballot in advance. In these five counties, the traditional neighborhood polling places will be replaced with voting centers. In Sacramento County, 78 centers will open — 18 of them on May 26 and the rest on June 2. All will offer in-person voting, replacement of vote-by-mail ballots and voting assistance.
That's very different from the model being used in the rest of the state. Voters in most California counties, including Yolo, Placer and El Dorado in the Sacramento region, will not see a change in the way they vote.
Residents in West Sacramento may have heard about the changes in the nearby county and do not realize it doesn't include them, Salinas said. "They may not completely understand they are in Yolo County," Salinas said.
He said he is talking to city council members and otherwise spreading the word to Yolo County residents. "I'm making sure voters are not disenfranchised," he said.
West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon also is concerned about potential voter confusion, saying Sacramento County has used media reports, social media and civic groups to inform voters about changes they can expect. "West Sacramento is in the same social and economic sphere, and it's almost impossible to do it surgically without it leaking into West Sacramentans' consciousness," he said.
Calbaldon said the city is trying to inform its residents to expect their voting experience to stay the same by sending out that message in newsletters and on their social media accounts. He said the sample ballots being sent out clearly state the procedures for voting.
Ryan Ronco, the registrar in Placer County, also is concerned about potential voter confusion, although he hasn't fielded any calls from voters indicating they are confused. He expects that could change after sample ballots go out. He said that is when voters usually start thinking about the election.
The message he wants to get out to Placer County voters is that nothing has changed. "People assigned to polling places will still have them and those with permanent vote by mail ballots will still get them," he said.
California residents have until May 21 to register to vote. Most vote-by-mail ballots are being mailed out this week, although voters statewide have until May 29 to request a ballot be mailed to them.