Posted on

New ‘Voters Choice Act’ should make voting easier

New ‘Voters Choice Act’ should make voting easier
Photo by Melissa Dowling

 

By Christian Kallen

You could say every election is about choice, but this year Sonoma County has put even more choice into the process by adopting the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) election model. The 2016 state law outlines ways to make it easier for every registered voter to cast their ballot – not only on Election Day, but for up to 10 days prior at designated “Vote Centers” in the county, instead of only at the neighborhood polling place on a given Tuesday.

The law is not mandatory, but allows counties to decide if they will transition into the new voting model. It was used for the first time in 2018 in a handful of counties – including Napa – and expanded in 2020 to include several others, including Los Angeles County. This spring, voters in Sonoma, Marin and 10 other counties will follow suit. The new model has already been used this spring for special elections in Santa Rosa and Windsor on April 12; it will be implemented county-wide for the California direct primary on June 7.

The results from the first year the VCA was used, 2018, were evaluated by the USC Public Policy Institute based on comparative turnouts in non-VCA counties and the previous off-year election (2014). The study showed a three percent increase in overall voting in the general election, and a slightly larger four percent increase in the primary. Turnouts among young voters, Latinos, and Asian Americans also increased by up to seven percent, though the researchers were less confident the VCA alone was responsible.

This is how it works: All active, registered voters will be sent a ballot for each election in which they are eligible to participate. They will then have the ability and right to vote by mail, returning the ballot they have been sent to the County Registrar of Voters; or to turn in their ballots at any official drop box or vote center in the county for up to 10 days prior to and including Election Day. Trained staff at the voting centers will be available to support all voters, including those with disabilities or those who may need language assistance.

Vote centers are similar to polling places except they will be open multiple days and voters are not assigned to a single location; instead, voters can go to any vote center in Sonoma County to deliver their ballot. If a voter does not have the correct ballot in hand, voting center staff can print out the ballot appropriate to his or her registered address (for instance, Kenwood voters get to vote on Measure A, Glen Ellen voters do not). It will also be possible to register and to vote on the same day, and even in this case vote center staff can supply the correct ballot as needed.

This is designed to be more convenient for voters, with mail-in voting encouraged and many more days to vote. Since all voters can vote at any location, it should all but eliminate the number of “provisional ballots” that need to be processed after Election Day. That means final voting results should be released earlier – and accurately.

The County is evaluating the areas of highest need for ballot boxes and vote centers, based on the criteria identified in the Elections Code, including demographic, election, and transportation data. To this point, they have listed three locations convenient to residents of the North Sonoma Valley as potential voting centers: at the Kenwood Fire Protection District offices at 9045 Sonoma Highway; at the Glen Ellen Fire Department, 13445 Arnold Drive; and at the Sonoma Regional Public Library at 755 W. Napa St. in Sonoma. Locations for Oakmont are pending.

On April 19, the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters will hold an open house to discuss the new voting process from 3 to 6 p.m. at 435 Fiscal Drive in Santa Rosa.

New ‘Voters Choice Act’ should make voting easier
Photo by Melissa Dowling

Share