California elections would be radically retooled, with neighborhood polling places replaced by “voting centers” serving much larger swaths and a vast expansion of early voting, under a bill announced Thursday by two lawmakers and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Padilla, along with state senators Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, say a similar system adopted by Colorado a few years ago has brought much better turnout because voters are freer to cast their ballots when and how they please.
Their SB 450 not only would let a voter cast a ballot at any voting center in his or her county, but also would require that all voters receive ballots by mail and that those voting centers be open at least eight hours a day for the 10 days before Election Day. Voters could mail in their ballot or drop it off at a vote center or a secure 24 hour ballot drop off box.
“California ranked 43rd in voter turnout nationally for the 2014 General Election. This problem cannot be ignored. Civic participation is the foundation of our democracy,” Padilla said in a news release. “SB 450 would provide citizens more option for when, where and how they vote. Providing more options will help more citizens vote, despite our often busy lives.”
Padilla and the lawmakers said that since implementing the vote center model, Colorado has been a national leader in voter turnout. For the November 2014 general election, voter turnout of eligible citizens in Colorado was 56.9 percent, compared to only 30.9 percent in California.
From 2006 to 2010, Colorado’s voter turnout was an average of 7 percentage points higher than in California; since implementation of the vote center model, voter turnout in Colorado has been an average of 20.7 percentage points higher than in California.
That’s not the only way Padilla is hoping to boost voter participation. The Assembly last week approved a bill that Padilla sponsored, AB 1461, to modernize California’s motor-voter registration system so that every eligible citizen who goes to a Department of Motor Vehicles office to get or renew a driver’s license or state ID will be registered – potentially adding millions to the rolls. Voters would retain their right to opt out or cancel their voter registration at any time, and the bill would protect those covered by existing confidentiality policies such as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.