Big changes ahead for El Dorado County voters
El Dorado County is making sweeping changes to local elections, ditching the neighborhood polling place for larger centers and giving voters an electronic-based voting option.
Elections officials anticipate the new voting process will improve voter turnout and experience.
Under the new system, El Dorado County will feature 14 voting centers spread across the county rather than the traditional precincts in each neighborhood. County residents will be able to vote at any voting center regardless of where they live, according to El Dorado County Registrar of Voters Bill O’Neill. Voters were previously required to vote at their designated polling place.
Twenty-nine days before the elections, every registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail — a first for the county under new state law. Voters can then fill it out at home and bring it to a voting center or drop-off locations, or choose to participate by filling out a ballot in person. Elections officials dub the changes as more convenient for voters.
“We’re giving people more options,” said Linda Webster, assistant registrar of voters for El Dorado County. “Even if they don’t want to make their way over to a voting center, they will be getting ballots in the mail that they can drop off at one of our dropbox locations, no postage required.”
All voting centers will be open eight hours a day except for Election Day when they will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Three centers will be open 11 days before Election Day and 10 additional centers will open four days before. There will also be one pop-up voting center, according to O’Neill.
“It allows people to get out at a time that’s more convenient for them,” O’Neill said. “They don’t have to rush on Election Day to get to their precinct. In the past, they might have been coming home from work or have a busy day with their kids. Now, they have 11 days to vote.”
There will be nine dropbox locations across the county. One each at the South Lake Tahoe and Cameron Park libraries and seven other yet-to-be-determined sites, according to Webster.
On-site, voters will have the option of filling out their ballot on a touch-screen electronic display rather than the traditional paper ballot.
Despite all the positives coming from elections officials, there are potential downfalls. O’Neill said it will likely take time for many folks to adjust.
“People are used to going to the volunteer fire station in their neighborhood or community center right down the street from their house,” O’Neill said. “People are going to struggle with that change. We’re trying to select locations for our vote centers to still serve those voters and make it easy on them.”
Only about one-fifth of voters will be affected by the move to voting centers if previous elections are any indication. O’Neill said about 80 percent of El Dorado County voters opted to mail in their ballots during the 2018 midterm election.
While the entrance of electronics to the voting process has some folks concerned over security, O’Neill noted that the new system is more secure than ever. The electronic screens voters have the option to use are not connected to the internet and no votes will be electronically tabulated, he said. O’Neill added that although voters can cast their ballot using the electronic screens, the votes will still have a physical paper trail. The new voting system was used for the Measure B election in August.
O’Neill and Webster both indicated that public reaction has been generally positive.
The changes are part of a movement up and down the state aimed at revamping and improving California’s voting system.
In 2016 the Voters Choice Act, California Senate Bill 450 was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, authorizing counties to send every voter a ballot in the mail and provide ballot drop-off locations and vote centers throughout the county to improve turnout.
In 2018 Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo counties implemented the act. O’Neill said data from the 2018 election in counties that adopted the system indicate that it may lead to higher voter turnout.
For next year’s elections, 10 more counties have adopted the act: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Orange, Santa Clara and Tuolumne, according to the secretary of state’s website.