By Gregory J Diaz
Nevada County Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters
Starting with elections in 2018, Nevada County voters will find it easier to cast a ballot, thanks to the new California Voter’s Choice Act, SB450.
Under the act, Nevada County is one of fourteen California counties that will enable voters to take the ballot that will be automatically mailed to all our registered voters and cast that ballot in a very convenient place if they choose not to mail it in.
The new process will doubtless save the County money. According to a 2016 Pew Research Report citing facts from Colorado’s law, passed in 2004, election costs decreased on average by 40 percent. Currently, Nevada County has 48 polling stations. Under the new law, we’ll have 7 Vote Centers.
The new California law transforms the voting process like this:
•Every registered Nevada County voter will receive a ballot, in the mail, 28 days before the election.
•Registered voters may return their ballots by mail, just like in the recent past.
•Or, if they choose, registered voters can cast their ballots at any Drop-Off location, or at any of the new Vote Centers that will be implemented next year. All will be listed in the ballot material.
•At Vote Centers, a voter may also obtain a replacement ballot or arrange for conditional same-day registration.
Nearly 78 percent of the 68,829 registered Nevada County voters are vote-by-mail. Approximately 80% of the mail ballots cast in the November Election was returned for processing.
The new Vote Centers and Drop-Off Locations will make it simpler for those who don’t wish to mail in their ballots. Rather than having to go to a single designated polling place, voters can go to any Vote Center or Drop-Off Location.
Some Vote Centers will open as early as ten days before the election, and beginning on the Saturday before Election Day, Nevada County will have at least seven Vote Centers open through Election Day, and as many as five Drop-Off Locations.
The Vote Centers will also serve as problem-solving hubs for voters with questions.
As Registrar of Voters, my primary goal is to conduct elections that are safe and secure, as well as fair, accurate and accessible. During my nine plus years of service in Nevada County we have made great strides and introduced many changes and innovations. As a result, I can say with confidence that our elections process, from registration to tabulation, is second to none.
But I believe that we can always improve and this new voting process will do just that. We will also seek to assure that no barrier exists to discourage any voter from casting a ballot —a process I believe will assure that more of our fellow citizens participate in our democracy.
For example, security within Vote Centers will be a paramount issue. Each Vote Center will have an electronic mechanism for county staff to immediately access, at a minimum, all relevant voter registration data, such as name, address, date of birth, language preference, party preference and precinct.
The mechanism used to access this registration data will not be connected in any way to the system for verifying and tabulating ballots. Staff will be able to determine instantly whether a voter’s ballot has already been cast, making it impossible for anyone to vote more than once.
It is incumbent on me, as Registrar of Voters, to develop a draft plan detailing how I will conduct elections under this new law. The law requires that I consult with the public before sending the plan to the California Secretary of State for approval, which I, of course, will do.
In addition, I will, as required, hold education workshops with community groups, including organizations that assist voters with disabilities and language minority communities.
Personally, I’m very pleased with this new, efficient, cost-effective law. Administration will be lean and efficient, with fewer election workers at fewer locations, enabling us to recruit experienced, qualified workers and utilize fewer supplies and machines. That’s what happens when you drop down from 48 voting places to 7.
And there are other positive aspects to this wise law. Accessibility, such as under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Help America Vote Act (HAVA), will be easier and less expensive. Political parties and candidates will need fewer poll watchers. Provisional voting will be simpler: there will be no “wrong place” to vote.
In short, the new law makes the entire elections process more like it should be: easier for voters, as secure and accurate as possible, and less expensive than the current system.
And here’s my pledge: I will implement this new system with full coordination with all County officials and with our primary constituency: you, the citizens of Nevada County.