Five Counties Weigh In on the Voters Choice Act
Five California Counties participated in the Voters Choice Act for the June 5 election, establishing a whole new way of voting. So, how did it go? Each of the Registrars in those counties responded to that question for us. Here are their answers.
Rebecca Martinez, Madera County Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters
We decided to implement the Voter’s Choice Act in Madera County to make elections more efficient, provide a better service and over time and save taxpayer dollars. In September of 2017, we identified a preferred new voting system vendor and opted to proceed with implementing the Voter’s Choice Act. Madera County immediately realized a cost savings of between $400,000 and $600,000 as a result of acquiring less voting equipment.
Between October of 2017 and May of 2018 the Madera County Elections Division
- Conducted at least 50 public presentations,
- mailed over 150,000 postcards,
- mailed over 50,000 ballots and voter information guides,
- implemented the Dominion Voting ImageCast Voting System,
- secured 6 vote center locations, 4 ballot drop locations, procured 2 inside drop boxes, 2 external dropboxes, and
- fully designed, prepped and rolled out 6 fully functioning vote centers with a team of 6 people.
The June 5, 2018, Primary was an unqualified success. Voter turnout was significantly higher than the previous gubernatorial primary. Excluding one-time costs, the County spent less conducting the election and overall the public response to the improvements was positive.
Almost 93 percent of the voters who participated did so using a vote by mail (VBM) ballot. Ballot drop boxes received 20 percent of the returned ballots, vote centers accounted for another 14 percent and some 1,754 voters opted to vote in person at a vote center.
The implementation of the Voter’s Choice Act was both historic and monumental. Counties considering implementing the VCA in 2020 would be well advised to begin planning immediately and prepare for considerable public outreach. While Madera County was able to complete the transition within nine months, we would recommend a more lengthy transition time frame, perhaps as much as 18 months.
Napa County volunteered as a pilot Voter’s Choice Act county because we were already 90 percent vote by mail and had offered vote by mail assistance centers since 2008. More ways and more days for our voters was expanded to include 24 hour/7 days, outside official ballot drop boxes that accounted for 25 percent of our returned ballots. Another 28 percent were returned at our eight vote centers which left only 47 percent of our 37,525 total ballots to arrive by mail.
Our three, 11-day vote centers saw very little traffic from Saturday, May 26 through Friday, June 1. For the November 6, 2018, general election, Napa County would urge that opening any vote center(s) before Saturday, November 3, 2018, be optional.
Our voters were used to coming to vote centers to obtain replacement ballots, to pick up ballots for family members and to drop off their ballots. We were pleased that eligible citizens could now use our vote centers to register and cast a ballot up to and including Election Day.
The Gubernatorial Primary Election in Nevada County is wrapping up as one of the most successful. Among the wealth of statistics:
- All votes were tabulated by 5:00 PM, June 22 — two weeks earlier than ever before
- This despite near-record voter turnout — 56.94 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, a full 12 percent more than in the 2014 gubernatorial election (44.58 percent)
- Mail-in balloting was popular in the extreme — 95 percent of votes cast were by mail.
In the month preceding the election, 20,665 Vote by Mail ballots were returned and 298 voted in person. On Election Day, more than 11,144 Vote by Mail ballots arrived at our offices and 1,570 citizens voted at one of the eight comprehensive Vote Centers established for the election. 563 county residents were able to register to vote and vote, on Election Day at one of the Vote Centers.
The 95 percent of voters who cast ballots by mail wasn’t totally unexpected. In the past, more than 80 percent of Nevada County voters chose that option. That was a principal reason I advocated for adopting the Voters Choice Act. Setting up, hiring and training staff and maintaining 49 separate polling stations in our rural county was increasingly difficult and expensive.
Going forward, the investment we made in new voting equipment will save Nevada County taxpayers more than $1 million by the time 2020 elections are completed.
With Sacramento County being the largest of the five counties to implement the Voter’s Choice Act the pressure was on. The implementation took months of planning and coordination. We mailed more than 740,000 Vote by Mail ballots to registered voters, opened 53 secure Drop Box locations beginning on May 8, and established 78 in-person vote centers. Eighteen were opened May 26 and the remaining 60 opened on June 2, offering a total of 11 days of in-person voting opportunities.
From May 7 through June 4, 154,538 Vote by Mail ballots were returned and 1,700 in-person voters. On June 5, an estimated 180,000 Vote by Mail ballots were returned and 16,300 in-person voters. Ballot Drop Boxes filled as quickly as we emptied them and Vote Centers were bustling with activity. With the record-breaking number of Vote by Mail ballots returned, voter turnout was 42 percent, significantly higher than the 2014 Primary Election voter turnout of 29.6 percent.
This is an incredibly exciting time for all of us and although a large number of residents did wait until the last day to vote, it was so rewarding to see residents adjusting to the new voting model. It’s important to remember that it takes time to move Vote by Mail ballots through the process of verifying signatures, separating ballots from envelopes, unfolding the ballots and finally, counting them. Moving forward, our goal will be to continue encouraging residents to take advantage of Ballot Drop Boxes that open four weeks before Election Day and visiting Vote Centers when they open 10 days before Election Day.
San Mateo County implementation of the California Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) for the June 5, 2018, Statewide Direct Primary Election was a complete success and enthusiastically received by the voters and jurisdictions of our county. The new All-Mailed Ballot/Vote Center Election Model authorized under the VCA increased voter participation and accessibility to the electoral process for all voters, particularly voters with disabilities and language minorities.
The June 5, Primary Election, resulted in a 44 percent voter turnout, with a total 172,076 voters participating in the election. Over 159,500 (92.7percent) voters cast their ballots by mail. Approximately, 12,566 (7.3 percent) ballots were cast at the 39 Vote Centers placed throughout the county. San Mateo County opened four Vote Centers in North, Central and South County 29 days before the election, and provided an Election Day “Roving Voting” program for low population areas. 28 Ballot Drop-Off Locations were established for voters to conveniently drop their ballots off during the early voting period.
One of the biggest surprises was the high number of ballots dropped off at Vote Centers, City Halls and Ballot Drop-Off Locations. Over 28,533 ballots were physically dropped off at these facilities. Approximately, 41,601 (45 percent) vote by mail ballots were received during the period of Election Day plus 3 (June 8, 2018).
San Mateo County was the first county in the state to deploy an Accessible Vote by Mail System (AVBM) to serve visually impaired and disabled voters. We saw a significant increase in the use of the AVBM system during this election and anticipate a continued growth of utilization for the November 2018 election.
Our thanks go to the many citizen volunteers that served on our Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee, Language Accessibility Advisory Committee and our Voter Education and Community Outreach Committee. The work of these volunteers was invaluable in assisting us to develop our Election Administration Plan (EAP), determining the locations of Vote Centers, Ballot Drop-Off Locations and helping immensely in our community education and outreach programs.
Finally, we will be working with Dr. Mindy Romero, Director of California Civic Engagement Project, to conduct a research study on the success of the Voter’s Choice Act in San Mateo County. We will share our findings with the Secretary of State and California Counties once the study is completed.