Voting: The Who, The How, The Where, But Just Do It

Today is Primary Election Day in California: So first and foremost: Find your polling place, and make a commitment to vote today, before the polls close. If you need to see my detailed analysis of my sample ballot, here’s the link to the summary and recap.

That said, the model of voting is changing in California. At least here in Los Angeles, we’ve been voting at neighborhood precincts with pollworkers that have been there for years, and know the folks in the community. The tools we use for voting — Inkavote here in Los Angeles — have been in use for at least a decade. But come 2020, all is changing. The LA Times had a nice article on the changes today; evidently, they are being piloted in Sacramento County, as well as a few others.

Here’s how the LA Times describes it: Local precincts where you can only vote for one day are being replaced by a smaller number of voting centers that permit voting over a longer period. There is also a greater dependence on absentee (mail-in) ballots. The Times writes:

The law sets specific guidelines for the number of centers based on voter population. As election day approaches, additional locations are added to keep up with expected voter demand. A similar system is used statewide in Colorado but is untested in many other parts of the nation. The locations offer more than just in-person voting. Citizens also can check their registration status there or have a new ballot printed if they misplaced the one mailed to them. In some counties, they can visit a center to register to vote on election day.

Why are they doing this? The primary reason is cost: Voting equipment across California is rapidly aging and public dollars to replace it are scarce. Fewer centers mean less new equipment. In Sacramento County for this election, 550 neighborhood polling places have been replaced by 78 vote centers. Additionally, the staffing requirements for pollworkers are less (meaning less cost): About 600 people have been hired to run the vote centers, down from almost 2,500 poll workers in a traditional election.

Of course, publicly, the reason isn’t cost but participation. According to the Times, most voters already have migrated to voting by mail. Fifty-nine percent of ballots were cast somewhere other than a polling place in the 2016 primary. Two decades earlier, it was only 23%. This is also why you have propositions like 71 on the ballot: results are no longer known for sure on election day, as all those absentee ballots require counting, and can come in late.

Five counties — Sacramento, Napa, Nevada, Madera and San Mateo — piloted the new system for this election. Voters were sent multiple postcards alerting them to the change before receiving a ballot in the mail, which came with a map of the vote centers and numerous ballot drop-boxes sprinkled in locations such as libraries and community centers. Los Angeles County can join them in 2020. LA County currently has a project that is attempting to place the voting centers, and they want county residents to participate. They note that many factors must be considered in identifying locations, including geographic and demographic constraints that could present barriers to voting in particular locations or near sensitive populations. To ensure these considerations are accounted for, the following parameters have been established:

  • Same day registration at all vote centers.
  • 10 days before the election (minimum 8 hours/day) at least one vote center is provided for every 30,000 registered voters.
  • On election day and the three days prior (7 am – 8 pm), at least one vote center is provided for every 7,500 registered voters.
  • Every city with at least 1,000 registered voters would have at least one vote center.

So what are my thoughts on this process? I’m not sure that I like it. Being able to vote as soon as you receive your sample ballot, although they say that allows voters to be more informed, actually makes them less informed by compressing the time available to perform research, and to discuss the candidates. Having fewing voting centers makes it harder to vote in person, and makes it more likely that lines will be longer to use voting machinery, and the pollworkers will have a greater workload. It will also make it harder to find pollworkers due to increased time constraints. Increased mail in ballots makes it harder to know the final count as of election day, due to mail stragglers. Lastly, there is importance (I believe) in knowing your neighbors, and the local polling places provide that. I’ll have to see how it all works out.