By: Joseph Montgomery 

In the wake of the most recent presidential election, many Americans have closely examined not only whom they vote for, but also how they cast their votes.  Part of this examination includes a look at the actual hardware that allows voters to exercise the fundamental right to vote, and also what methods and services are available to voters before, during, and after state and federal elections.  In California, lawmakers have begun implementing legislation that aims to streamline voting procedures for Californians and update voting hardware. 

The Voter’s Choice Act (VCA), passed in 2016, is a California state law that grants counties the option to run upcoming elections under a new model that gives voters more days to cast ballots, consolidates polling centers into regional ones offering more services (like same day registration and multilingual services), and also emphasizes the ease of voting by mail.  With regard to the vote-by-mail aspect specifically, Californians registered to vote in participating counties would be automatically mailed a ballot 28 days before an election.  This ballot could be returned by mail, taken to a drop-off location, or cast at a voting center in their county.  Furthermore, voters will be able to track their mail ballots every step of the way, using similar technology to parcel delivery companies like UPS and FedEx. 

Proponents of the VCA are hopeful that the new voting model voter turnout and participation as similar models have done in states like Colorado.  Since adopting a VCA-like model in 2012, Colorado has seen a substantial increase in voter participation, ranking either 3rd or 4th in eligible voter participation among all 50 states in the past three election cycles.  Many supporters of the VCA also note the improvements that come with the updated hardware.  Voter fraud and vote security were big issues during the 2016 presidential election, and new voting machines would help address concerns about such threats.  However, some critics of the new model argue that consolidating voting centers would create more of an inconvenience for voters accustomed to their local polling place.  Also, some voters simply do not feel comfortable voting by mail and would prefer to cast their ballots in-person at a voting center, which might not be nearby under the new model. 

While fourteen counties are currently allowed to conduct elections under the new model in 2018, many are still considering it, or at the very least, taking a good look at their current voting systems.  Despite reservations about the new VCA model, many counties in California still agree that their current voting hardware is simply not up to par.  For instance, while Orange County has decided not to roll out the VCA model for the 2018 elections, they have decided to make alterations to their vote by mail ballots and to replace outdated voting equipment.  Other counties, like Ventura, have taken a “wait and see” approach to the VCA.   They plan to watch the performance of the new voting procedures in other neighboring counties before making any firm commitment to the VCA, with the possibility of opting into the model in 2020.  Other counties like Tuolumne and Calaveras would like to opt into the new VCA model, but are unable to do so because of budgetary constraints or other concerns.  Part of joining the VCA model includes upgrading equipment, which less-affluent counties might have trouble doing before 2018 with their current budgets.   

While no one can say for certain how this will all play out, bringing voting technology and procedures up to date benefits all California voters, even if individual counties have their reservations about the Voter’s Choice Act in its entirety.  These changes help ensure the efficiency and security of the voting process in California, which is especially important as the 2018 and 2020 elections loom closer. 

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