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Calif. Could Replace Local Polling Places with "Vote Centers"

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California may go to a vote-by-mail system and eliminate local polling places. (svanblar/iStockphoto)
California may go to a vote-by-mail system and eliminate local polling places. (svanblar/iStockphoto)
August 3, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The State of California is considering scrapping the neighborhood polling place by 2018 in favor of more vote-by-mail balloting and new "Vote Centers.”

Experts testified at two informational hearings at the State Assembly on August 2 to explain the concept, which is modeled after a system used in Colorado where voter participation statewide went up three percentage points after the change two years ago.

Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis, said all registered voters would automatically receive a mail-in ballot.

"The goal is to make voting easier for people, hoping that turnout will increase and participation will increase in California,” Romero said. "That's a question mark, but that is the hope."

A majority of California voters already vote by mail. For people who still want to cast a ballot in person, the Vote Centers would be open for several weeks ahead of the election, with longer hours and on weekends. Compared to current polling places, there would be fewer Vote Centers - but voters could go to any center in the county, not just the one in their district.

Romero authored a study on voting centers released last week which found that young people and Latinos tend to favor voting in person. So, she said, extensive targeted outreach would be necessary.

"For Latinos in particular,” Romero said, "there are so many aspects of the polling place experience that they prefer: social aspects, being able to know that their vote is counted, more hesitancy in sending their ballot through the mail and trusting the post office."

Senate Bill 450, to establish Vote Centers, has already passed the State Senate and the Assembly Elections Committee. It's now in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The Vote Center program would be voluntary for counties. So far, 14 counties have shown an interest in the idea.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA