Awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature is legislation that could make election day really confusing for many Californians.
In its final days, the legislature passed a bill eliminating the traditional polling places and replacing them with a much smaller number of “voting centers,” scattered around each county. It will be like a neighborhood pharmacy, deli or family owned market being replaced by a Target.
The familiar polling places are run by volunteers and usually are in the same location at each election. We walk to a nearby DWP facility, discuss last minute voting decisions on the way and are rewarded by a nice sticker for shirt or jacket. According to one estimate I received, there would be just 645 voting centers in all of Los Angeles County. At present, there is about one polling place for every thousand of the county’s 4.3 million voters.
Under the legislation, by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), ballots would be cast at the voting center or by mail. If you don’t trust the mail, you could hand deliver your ballot to a voting center, put it in a secure drop box or fill out your ballot in person at the voting center. I don’t know if you would get a nice red, white and blue sticker.
They would be staffed by trained county employees. They would begin operating 10 days before election. You could register to vote at them, even on election day. They would be connected electronically to a county list of voters, hopefully eliminating the hassle when the polling place volunteer can’t find your name. Counties would begin installing the new system in 2018 and 2020.
Allen said it would make voting easier and increase the turnout. I think it would make voting harder. You’d have to find a center on a list provided by the county, and then drive there, fighting traffic. I hope you have GPS. The county promises parking. Good luck. Have you ever been stuck in a Trader Joe’s lot? Or, county officials say, you can take transit. I love public transit but getting somewhere involves time, transfers and walking. Good luck if you are even slightly disabled.
Eventually, backers of this scheme see everyone voting by mail. In Los Angeles County, this requires voters to apply for a vote -by -mail ballot, which has not proved especially popular. Just over 30 percent of Los Angeles County voters cast their ballots by mail. Most counties will enclose a vote-by-mail ballot with election material. Los Angeles County, with the state’s largest number of voters, has been given more time to comply with this requirement.
Allen and Dean Logan, Los Angeles County registrar-recorder-county clerk, said the legislation would increase voter turnout. There are many reasons for low turnout, including widespread disillusionment with politics and government. I don’t see that reducing the number of polling places would help that situation.