[Image courtesy of danashultz]
Last month, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla traveled to Denver to see first-hand how Colorado is implementing its new “ballot delivery” system that mails ballots to voters and gives them options (mail, dropbox, vote center) for returning them.
SoS Padilla must have been impressed by what he saw, because he and his allies in the Legislature just unveiled legislation that would bring the “Colorado model” to the Golden State. The LA TImes has more:
Secretary of State Alex Padilla wants the state to mail all voters a ballot and allow them to use it at any of several voting centers during a 10-day period before elections. That would allow people to vote near their jobs or other convenient locations rather than limit them to visiting polling places near their homes on election day or mailing in their ballots.
Voters also would be able to drop ballots off 24 hours a day at secure locations during a 14-day period before elections.
“California ranked 43rd in voter turnout nationally for the 2014 General Election. This problem cannot be ignored,” Padilla said in a statement. “Civic participation is the foundation of our democracy.”
His proposal has been put into legislation by Sens. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys).
In announcing the bill, Padilla and supporters cited the Colorado experience as a model for California to follow:
California officials were alarmed when just 30.9% of eligible citizens voted in the November 2014 state election. In Colorado, the number was 56.9%.
Since voting days were added in Colorado, turnout there has averaged 20.7 percentage points higher than in California, Padilla said.
Three other points worth noting:
1. The new bill (SB450) actually brings together a variety of proposals already before the legislature:
The new legislation incorporates ideas previously included in other bills. A pending bill by Allen also calls for voting centers to be open before election day. A measure by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) would create secure drop-off sites where ballots could be left before election day.
2. Like many other reform proposals in California, final implementation of the “Cali-rado” (“Colo-fornia?”) model would have to await final implementation and deployment of VoteCal, the state’s long-anticipated statewide voter registration database – an absolute necessity for a system that relies upon an accurate voter list for mail-out and check-in of ballots; and
3. Another key question in the debate over SB450 is how the Colorado model will scale to a state as large and diverse as California. In particular, the formula in the Colorado law for allocation of drop boxes and vote centers would result in thousands of locations in Southern California alone. Those election officials may welcome the ability to move away from reliance on neighborhood precincts, but it will still present an implementation challenge. Also, the sheer number of voters and the wide diversity of languages in California will require policymakers to consider how best to serve different communities (geographic, demographic etc.) should the state adopt the ballot delivery model.
Despite national attention to other reform proposals, California’s decision to move ahead with debate on the ballot delivery model is an important development which will likely test whether the Colorado model can and will “scale” to other states and jurisdictions.
California, obviously, is a big state – and this (maybe not so obviously) is a big deal.