Orange County Vote Centers Coming in 2020
by Michele Musacchio
Voting in OC will see big changes from what we’re used to, but because the Registrar of Voters responded to voter trends, voting will feel more natural than ever. We’ll review the major points here, but by no means will we cover them all. To learn more, put July 15th from 10 am - 12:30 pm on your calendar and hear it straight from the Registrar of Voters, Neal Kelley. More on that meeting, and on how you can help spread the word as a League member, below.
One Stop Shop
Vote Centers are one-stop shops for all your voting needs. Everything you expect, and then some. All Vote Centers will be fully ADA-compliant and attended by language translators. Electronic voting, paper ballot options, vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot drop-off, a paper record of every vote cast, signature-confirmed balloting, and even those cardboard booths with the hanging plastic blinds will all be there. The most profound changes will not even be noticed on the level of the single voter. The only change you’ll really notice is at check-in for in-person voting. That you’ll be able to do anywhere there’s a Vote Center in Orange County. And for multiple days of voting, not just this one.
Notoriously the bottleneck of in-person voting, check-in will now be managed using electronic pollbooks (ePollbooks), where voter information is secured by encryption, and communication with the Registrar’s database happens via a secured broadband network used solely for public safety. Gone will be the precinct-limited paper roster, so you’ll be adjusting to signing your name on a screen. Check-in will also be managed by paid, Registrar-trained personnel; gone too will be the volunteer pollworker on a straight 15-hour shift, now rewarded by regaining their first Tuesday of the voting month. Your personalized ballot will be issued to you on the spot.
How many Vote Centers will OC have, and where are they going to be, anyway?
The Registrar’s office is now on a mission to set the proposed ~190 Vote Center locations, choosing those with proximity to major transportation and population density, while figuring in parking accessibility and venue stability over multiple days of voting. But this isn’t the first time they’ve tried this, and they’ve come prepared with data and experience. A given Vote Center will likely not be on a school campus, where nearly 45% of polling places had been placed in the traditional model, to the increasing concern of school districts. The most dramatic shift from the current voter experience in the new model will be for the voter choosing from roughly 1/6 the number of Vote Centers as total polling places in the old model. That increases the average distance you’ll be traveling to vote in person, still comparing several times more favorably than the average distance to grocery shopping or to a car wash. The flip side is that it gives a voter 189 more places to choose from, in contrast to the one place in the old polling place model.
One of the Vote Centers will even be mobile throughout the 10 days of voting! As many of our readers know, for many elections now there’s been a full-service Vote Center open for the 30 days up to and including Election Day: the Registrar’s Office itself, at 1300 S Grand Avenue in Santa Ana, in the heart of OC.
Vote at Any Orange County Vote Center
With the Vote Center model, voting won’t be bound by place, and it will be expanded by days. What drove the change? This is where the Registrar’s office paid attention to how people were showing up to vote. With modern conveniences, OC residents are so mobile and accustomed to engaging in any kind of transaction from anywhere, they naturally brought those expectations with them to the polling place. They want to vote wherever they see a “VOTE” sign. They want to vote when they are off work, on the weekend. They want to register the same day they vote, because it seems to go together. They even asked for drive-thru polling-place drop-offs of VBM (Vote by Mail) ballots, a habit that’s growing to beyond 60% of all VBM ballots that are cast. In the polling place model for in-person voting, the paper register used to be paramount. If you were on it, you were good; if you weren’t, you were conditional. Voters were limited to vote in the jurisdiction in which they live, and those boundaries would change from time to time. The Registrar’s office has taken that limitation and put it into software. Now every location is simultaneously accessible on the database. And every ballot cast is identifiable in real-time to ensure that only one vote counts per voter.
The last and best thing to say good-bye to (largely) is the provisional ballot. Remember the modern voter who wandered into the first polling place she saw? In the old polling place model, she would inevitably be siphoned off as a conditional voter, and would generate a provisional ballot. Which would then contribute to the bulk of the more than 24 days of post-election, behind-the-scenes work needed before certifying an election. Now all that work is managed at the front end, before the polls close: voters are identified in real time and given a personalized ballot no matter where they live in the County. Previously-cast or uncast ballots are cancelled, and their vote is stacked along with everyone else’s to be tallied after the 8 pm buzzer on Election Day. Provisional ballots in the new model will be largely limited to those people who did not update their address before the election.
Vote By Mail for All
Starting in 2020, all OC voters automatically gain the option for VBM voting, in the form of the VBM ballot delivered to their mailbox. Postage is taken care of both ways in the mail. Want to hand in your VBM ballot rather than mail it? Want to pick up a new one? What if you come in without the one that you were mailed? At the Vote Center you’ll get your ballot re-issued in whatever form you want, and you’ll have time to cast it the way you prefer, thanks to the ePollbook methods mentioned above.
What can we do as League members?
Come listen to ROV and get ready to get the word out! Voter Service will be taking careful notes and receiving presentation materials straight from the Registrar’s office. Please join us and take on a flagship League role in presenting the new Vote Center model to our voting education community in OC!