Big changes are coming in 2020 to the way elections are conducted in Fresno County.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to implement provisions of California’s Voter’s Choice Act which is intended to make casting a ballot more convenient. Under the new plan, every registered voter in the county will receive a ballot by mail and in-person voting will be allowed in more locations up to 10 days prior to Election Day.
Supervisor Brian Pacheco opposed the change, saying voting by mail is already simple and convenient.
“How much easier can we make it for people other than ‘put it in your own mailbox?’ ” he said.
Fewer Polling Places
The plan will eliminate Election Day-only polling places across the county and replace them with 50 “Voting Assistance Centers.” The centers will be open for more days and staffed with better-trained personnel. In addition to lowering staffing costs, the shift to VACs is expected to reduce the number of provisional ballots cast, according to a staff report submitted by County Registrar of Voters Brandi Orth.
Reviewing and verifying provisional ballots is an expensive and time-consuming process that can cause delays in reporting final election results.
While all voters will receive a ballot by mail, voters will have the option to cast a paper ballot in person or drop off their completed mail ballot at any VAC, rather than at an assigned precinct. Voter registration services, up through Election Day, will also be available at VACs in addition to the main elections office in downtown Fresno.
New Voting Machines
As part of the shift, the county will purchase new voting machines to replace existing units that have been declared obsolete by the state. By opting for the Voter’s Choice Act plan, which requires the purchase of 50 new voting machines, the county expects to save $1.6 million in equipment costs. If supervisors had chosen to keep the current precinct voting system in place, the county would have been required to purchase 268 new voting machines.
The county also expects to save on ballot printing costs through the purchase on-demand ballot printers for those who show up to vote. Currently, polling places must have sufficient paper ballots on hand for every potential voter.
But, supervisors noted, despite these savings, the overall cost to conduct elections will be more expensive under the Voter’s Choice Act. Orth estimated the county will spend over $130,000 more for each election as a result of providing every voter with a mail ballot. In addition, the county anticipates spending $250,000 per election for two post-card mailings designed to educate voters about the new voting plan. Orth says some of those costs may be offset by state and federal funding.
Complaints About Sacramento
Despite the reservations voiced by supervisors about the costs and benefits of shifting from the precinct-based voting process to the Voter’s Choice Act model, they all shared the view that the change was inevitable.
Supervisor Sal Quintero seemed to speak for all of his colleagues, saying, “It’s getting shoved down our throats from Sacramento and we really don’t have a choice.”