Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gov. Brown Signs Assemblywoman Gonzalez’s VOTE Act To Improve Voter Participation in Special Elections

AB 1873 creates San Diego County pilot project to provide all special election voters with postage-paid mail ballots, early voting opportunities

SACRAMENTO – (September 26, 2014) – Gov. Brown signed into law today Assembly Bill 1873 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) authorizing a pilot project that will help the State of California address the low voter turnout and high costs of special elections by instituting a 5-year trial in San Diego County legislative vacancy special elections.

“As elected officials, we have a responsibility to address the plummeting voter turnout and high taxpayer costs we’ve seen in recent special elections,” Gonzalez said. “AB 1873 creates a program that makes voting more accessible and elections cheaper while protecting the integrity of the voting process.”

Upon opting in to this pilot program, the County of San Diego will be required to meet several conditions that will improve a voter’s opportunity to cast a ballot in special elections for Congress, State Senate and Assembly vacancies.

Under AB 1873, every registered voter will be mailed a ballot with return postage paid. Voters would also have the opportunity to vote either at an early voting location the weekend before Election Day or on Election Day at a limited number of polling places for special elections held in San Diego County for Congressional or California Legislative vacancies. These special elections have historically resulted in low voter participation – with often less than 20 percent of registered voters casting ballots – and millions of dollars in costs to county taxpayers that, unlike statewide elections, are not reimbursed by the state.

“The special elections held since 2012 show that a majority of voters choose to cast ballots in the four weeks leading up to Election Day by mail rather than at a polling place on Election Day itself. And for the large numbers who don’t cast ballots at all – whether it’s because they have a busy work schedule, family commitments or just plain forgot – it’s time California and their county elections offices try cutting them some slack by giving them a larger window of time to exercise Democracy,” Gonzalez said.

Even by paying for the postage of every voter’s returned mail ballot, setting up Election Day drop-off locations for last minute voters, and allowing for in-person voting before Election Day, the VOTE Act is projected to save taxpayers money when special elections are needed. For example, the cost of every poll voter who cast a ballot in the 40th Senate District special election last March cost $221.43, according to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters. For every mail ballot counted in that race, the taxpayer cost was only $8.73.

The bill was supported by the County of San Diego, as well as the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials, California State Association of Counties, California State Association of Letter Carriers, the Rural County Representatives of California and more. Assemblywoman Gonzalez worked diligently with San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu, the Office of the Secretary of State, and several disability rights, language access and voting rights activists to improve this innovative voting bill.

AB 1873 was approved by the Assembly on a 47-29 vote and by the State Senate 24-8 on August 28. Since then, the bill has garnered significant attention in debates for the upcoming election for Secretary of State, the office that oversees all elections in California.