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Santa Monica Lawmaker's Voting Bill Passes Legislature
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

August 30, 2016 -- A bill co-sponsored by a Santa Monica state senator to replace traditional neighborhood polling places with temporary “vote centers” that offer early voting and same-day registration passed the California legislature Monday.

If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, SB 450 would install “vote centers” in two years in public spots in several counties 10 days prior to an election. Implementation in LA County, however, would be delayed.

Every voter also would receive a ballot in the mail that can be returned by mail or dropped off at any vote center, officials said.

The legislation by State Senators Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) is meant to reverse declining voter turnout in California by making it easier to vote.

In Southern California especially, commuters stalled in gridlock can find it hard to make it to a polling place near home.

"People's lives are more complicated than ever, and our goal is to make it easier for them to participate in the democratic process,” Allen said.

“This new system will give voters an array of convenient options including voting at one of numerous locations close to where they work, shop or congregate,” he said.

Hertzberg said the bill updates the voting process by making it more convenient and flexible.

"You can stream a movie over the internet or deposit a check with your phone at any time, but many people still go to a polling place on a single day to cast a ballot," Hertzberg said.

"It's time to bring voting into the 21st century and give Californians the same convenience and flexibility in casting a ballot as they have in so many other areas of their lives," he said.

SB 450 permits 14 counties to implement the new system beginning in 2018, with all other counties starting in 2020.

Due to “infrastructure limitations,” Los Angeles County is given a separate option from other counties, Allen said. California’s most populated county will provide more vote centers than other counties but has until 2024 to mail all ballots, he said.

According to a Los Angeles Times analysis of the bill, the County could open as few as 100 early vote centers starting in 2020, although the number would expand to about 500 vote centers countywide in the final three days of early voting and on election day.

In the June 7 primary, the county designated more than 4,500 old-fashioned neighborhood voting places.

Officials of the California Voter Foundation, which has not taken a position on the legislation, have said that such a sweeping change might have warranted a pilot project in a few counties first to gauge how voters would react.

Supporters hope SB 450 will turn the tide on steadily lower turnout in California.

Statewide, the June 7 primary turnout for the presidential race and other elections totaled more than 8.5 million people, or 47.7 of registered voters, as certified by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

Padilla said the June vote barely surpassed the 47.5 percent turnout for the state’s 1992 primary -- the lowest of the four presidential races without an incumbent in at least the last quarter century.

But the primary also included five million voters who cast ballots by mail, a record for any previous primary, he said.

Still, that was a bright spot in years of otherwise falling voter participation.

In 2014, California ranked 43rd in voter turnout among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, said Padilla, who supports the bill. Only a quarter of registered voters cast ballots in the primary that June. The November election that year garnered a turnout of only 42 percent, he added.

Los Angeles County had the lowest turnout in the state that year, with fewer than 17 percent of voters casting ballots in June and only 31 percent voting in November.

In last June’s primary, Los Angeles County’s turnout was one of the state’s lowest, with fewer than 42 percent of registered voters casting a ballot.

SB 450 is patterned after the new method Colorado now uses to hold elections. Since instituting the vote center model in 2013, Colorado's voter turnout has risen to third among all states, Allen.

The overhaul also “significantly” cut the cost of elections, he said.

SB 450 is also supported by California Common Cause and other organizations.

The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until September 30 to decide whether to sign it.

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