STOCKTON — San Joaquin County will continue to use a hybrid model of polling places and submitting mail-in ballots for future elections.
The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to oppose implementing the Voter’s Choice Act, which would have reduced the number of polling places and created voting centers during the election season.
Supervisor Paul Canepa, who represents North Stockton on the board, cast the dissenting vote, stating the county should leave the door open to using the VCA model.
“I don’t know that closing the door on this is a necessity at this point,” he said. “I think, we’re going to do our own model… I don’t know if we table this or just say no to the VCA. I think going forward, you need to leave every option available.”
According to the California Secretary of State’s elections website, the VCA model “allows voters to choose how, when, and where to cast their ballot by: mailing every voter a ballot; expanding in-person early voting; allowing voters to cast a ballot at any vote center within their county.”
But Supervisor Steve Ding, who represents Lodi and the surrounding unincorporated areas of the county on the board, said the VCA was actually anti-choice, forcing voters to cast their ballots by mail by removing neighborhood polling places.
Ding said the county needs to focus on getting voters out of their homes and into the community during election seasons, as it helps create a sense of community.
“One of the most important things we can do now post-COVID is build community,” he said. “What better way than by encouraging citizens and volunteer groups throughout San Joaquin County to build community by getting involved in the elections process and adopt a polling location in their neighborhood.”
Olivia Hale, the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters, said she didn’t know if implementing the VCA was a good idea at the moment.
She and her staff researched the the VCA’s effectiveness in other counties throughout the state over the last six months, and found that it could cost the county more than $500,000 to hold elections under this new model.
Hale added that counties already operating under the VCA model have found that it is twice as costly to run voting centers than it is to manage traditional neighborhood polling places.
Voting centers are designed to be one-stop sites, where residents can register to vote, cast their provisional and mail-in ballots, or have a new ballot printed up on the spot in the event one was lost.
In the 2020 general election, there were 34 voting centers throughout the county, including four in Lodi and one in Lockeford.
“Securing facilities that serve as voting centers over the course of several days has proven difficult,” Hale said. “In our county, we’d need eight centers open 11 days prior to the election, and we’d need to flex that to 40 centers five days before the election in order to achieve (the VCA) goal.”
Hale noted that supervisors did not need to make a decision about implementing the VCA until April, as it would not take effect until the 2026 elections.
However, she agreed with Ding that more public outreach about the importance of voting in-person was needed. There were 178 neighborhood polling locations throughout the county during the 2022 elections, she said.
“It’s still important to promote and count paper ballots, especially to get awareness out to folks in San Joaquin County to vote in public,” Lodi resident Alex Aliferis said during public comment. “Vote on election day. There’s a misconception out there that people get their absentee ballots, they must vote and send it in. No. You could go on election day, get an actual paper ballot and vote, and destroy your mail-in ballot.”
Marty Louise Kenefick, president of the San Joaquin County League of Women Voters, was the lone public voice to support the VCA.
She said the League was aware there were legitimate concerns about some of the pros and cons in the act, including the reduction of polling locations.
However, the League’s primary concern, she said, was ensuring that barriers do not hinder eligible voters from casting ballots, and the VCS does just that.
“We know that the board is aware that the participation of local voters in elections could improve significantly,” she said. “Experience in other California counties shows that the implementation of voting centers results in a 15% increase in voter turnout, thanks to early voting and expanded services.”
Board chair Robert Rickman said the hybrid voting model the county currently uses provides the public more choices on election day than the VCA claims to do.
“By supporting polling places, encouraging election day voting, along with mail-in ballots and secure drop boxes, the board supports San Joaquin voters’ method of choice,” he said. “We want to continue expanded access to allow every eligible voter the opportunity to cast their ballot.”
Source : Lodi News