El Dorado County ditching precincts for vote centers in 2020 election | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Dorado County ditching precincts for vote centers in 2020 election

Noel Stack
Mountain Democrat
A voter drops his ballot in the ballot box in South Lake Tahoe on Election Day 2018.
Ryan Hoffman / Tahoe Daily Tribune

PLACERVILLE, Calif. — El Dorado County voters will see changes when they cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential primary as the Board of Supervisors has agreed to shift to a vote center model.

Instead of having scores of precincts — there were 102 during the last presidential primary — the county will open larger vote centers where any registered voter can walk in and get a ballot regardless of where they live in El Dorado County.

El Dorado County Registrar of Voters Bill O’Neill said he anticipates opening about 15 vote centers throughout the county plus installing about as many drop boxes in public places where voters can drop off their completed ballots. The centers will be open at least eight hours a day for as many as 11 days, with the last being Election Day.

The change comes as part of Senate Bill 450, the Voters Choice Act, signed into law in 2016. In addition to using vote centers instead of precincts, the act requires that elections departments reach out to voters two times prior to the election and that every registered voter get a mail ballot. Voters can return those ballots via mail, in a drop box or to a voting center or the Elections Department.

“More voters want to vote by mail and are voting by mail.”— Bill O’NeillEl Dorado County of Registrar of Voters

El Dorado County has a high number of vote-by-mail voters, nearly 80% of the county’s more than 120,000 registered voters, O’Neill told the supervisors.

“More voters want to vote by mail and are voting by mail,” he said.

Moving to this model will save the county money as it requires less equipment — a purchase agreement for a new voting system will come to the supervisors this year — and all but eliminates “costly and time consuming” provisional ballots, O’Neill said.

Vote center costs will eat up some of the expected $600,000 in savings as the county will need to invest in laptops/tablets, ballot-on-demand printers and other needed equipment, O’Neill said.

On average, moving to the vote center model is slightly more expensive — about 2.5 percent (a little more than $7,000 each election) — due to the outreach required and staffing needed, the registrar added, but the benefits to voters are many.

Frank Porter with the El Dorado County Democratic Party said the model is an improvement for both voters and security.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” he told the board.

Elections Department staff will begin a public education campaign to advise residents of the changes coming in 2020.

“We have to get voters involved extensively,” O’Neill said.

Supervisors unanimously approved the item.

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