As more and more voters cast their ballots by mail and others wait until election day to even register, Santa Clara County has approved sweeping changes in its election infrastructure, including replacing traditional polling places with new voting centers.
The Board of Supervisors earlier this month opted to implement the Voter’s Choice Act model of voting for this county, allowing the Registrar of Voters to join five California jurisdictions that successfully piloted the program in 2018 and at least four more implementing it for 2020—all in service of making voting easier.
“I am excited about the Voter’s Choice Act model coming to Santa Clara County,” said Registrar of Voters’ Shannon Bushey after the supervisors’ unanimous vote April 9. “It is going to make it more convenient for our 900,000 registered voters to cast a ballot and is anticipated to increase voter participation, (as) there will be many more options for when, where and how people can vote.”
The Voter’s Choice Act will is set to be implemented beginning with the March 2020 presidential primary election.
This new model of voting means that all voters will be mailed a ballot prior to election day. After marking their ballot, voters will have the choice of returning their ballot by mail with postage provided by the county, dropping their ballot in a ballot drop box anywhere throughout the county, or visiting any vote center within the county.
The locations of the new vote centers have not been determined.
The vote centers will replace traditional polling places and will offer an array of services, such as receiving a replacement ballot, receiving assistance or voting materials in multiple languages, voting using an accessible voting machine, dropping off a vote-by-mail ballot, registering to vote or updating a voter registration.
Vote centers also allow voters to cast their ballots at a location that is convenient to them, meaning there is no longer a wrong place to vote, which has the added benefit of reducing the number of provisional ballots issued and cast.
Public meetings will be held to receive feedback regarding the creation of the county’s election administration plan. The plan will include outreach, voter education, as well as the number and location of vote centers, the number and location of ballot drop boxes, and many other details necessary for the successful implementation of the new model.
“The new process makes sense,” Supervisor Joe Simitian said in an interview about the new plan. “It’s a net plus for our voters. But it’s a big change. We’ll have to work hard to communicate the new process to the public.”
He also noted that “the Voter’s Choice change is coming at a time when we’ll be experiencing other significant changes as well, a March primary and new voting technology among them. So getting the word out will be key.”
The Voter’s Choice Act, passed by the California State Legislature as SB 450 in 2016, was implemented successfully in San Mateo, Sacramento, Napa, Nevada and Madera counties during the 2018 elections. Two of the largest counties in California—Los Angeles and Orange—have also signed on to the model for the 2020 elections.
For more information, contact the Registrar of Voters’ Office at 408.299.8683, toll-free at 866.430.8683, or visit sccvote.org.