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New bill designed to pay for Vote Centers
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In September of last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into effect Senate Bill 450, or the Voter’s Choice Act, which will modernize California elections by providing voters with more options for when, where and how they cast a ballot by 2018. Now, the State Legislature has unveiled how counties will pay for new voting equipment to replace their outdated, aging voting systems with the Voting Modernization Bond Act of 2018.

The act, AB 668, will better position counties to implement the Voter’s Choice Act, which by 2018 will be implemented in 14 pilot counties. All other counties would be allowed to adopt the new system in 2020. Under the Voter’s Choice Act, temporary election vote centers will be established throughout the counties — one center for every 50,000 registered voters from ten days before the election to five days before the election, and one center for every 10,000 voters from four days before the election through Election Day.

The new vote centers will allow in-person voting prior to Election Day.

“For many working Californians it may make more sense to cast a ballot the week before Election Day at a location closer to where they work, or where they drop off their kids, or where they go to college,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla when the Voter’s Choice Act was signed into effect. “Why limit voting to one location on a single Tuesday?” 

AB 668 will authorize the Voting Modernization Finance Committee to issue and sell bonds in the amount of $450 million for purposes of assisting counties in the purchase of voting equipment and technology necessary for voting centers.

Some election officials, including the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, have lauded AB 668, as it is a step forward in the fight for more stable election funding by the state. In Stanislaus County, the 2016 General Election cost over $1 million to hold, and 77 percent of that money went toward the state portion of the election, which the county paid for entirely.

If the Voter’s Choice Act were implemented in Stanislaus County, 160 neighborhood polling places would be closed and voters would be able to return vote by mail ballots at secure drop boxes placed around the county, at the new vote center locations or by mail. There are currently 241,000 registered voters in the county, meaning 25 voting centers would be set up in the four days before an election.

Stanislaus County Clerk Lee Lundrigan described the vote center platform as a “new, expensive direction for voting in California.”

“It appears to me that this new bond is a method of forcing counties to switch to vote centers,” said Lundrigan. “If you don’t make the move to a vote center now when it’s an opportunity and money is available, they could very easily turn this into a requirement once there is no money for it. It’s interesting.”