Frequently Asked Questions:
What about voters who speak languages other than English? Will they be able to use the vote centers?
What is the Voter’s Choice Act?
Approved by California lawmakers in 2016 and established by SB 450, the Voter’s Choice Act expands voters’ options for how, when and where they cast their ballots. The VCA is an optional law which allows counties to decide if they will transition into the new voting model.
Five counties pioneered the new law in 2018: Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo. Ten additional counties will have a new and modern voting experience under the VCA in 2020: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Orange, Santa Clara and Tuolumne.
Why the change?
State policymakers and election officials hope to increase voter participation by providing voters with increased flexibility to vote when and where is most convenient for them. For example, voters in participating counties will be able to vote on weekends, at any vote center in their county, and by mail without requesting a mailed ballot in advance. The new process also modernizes California’s elections and recognizes the growing preference voters have for mailed ballots. Overall, the Voter’s Choice Act gives voters more options so they can choose when, where and how they vote.
Is my county switching to the Voter’s Choice Act?
Fifteen counties will conduct VCA elections in 2020: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Tuolumne.
California’s other counties may choose to implement the VCA in the future.
What is the timeline for implementation of the Voter’s Choice Act?
Throughout the summer and fall of 2019, counties held public meetings to receive input on their Election Administration Plan, published and posted a draft EAP for public comment, and formed two public advisory committees: a Language Accessibility Advisory Committee and a Voter Accessibility Advisory Committee.
How will the new voting process work?
In all VCA counties, every registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail one month before the election.
In all counties, voters will have three options to return their mail ballot: (1) return their ballot by mail, postmarked no later than Election Day, (2) place it in one of the secure drop boxes located throughout their county, or (3) vote in person at a vote center.
Vote centers will replace polling places, offering many services and greater flexibility because you can visit any vote center in your county. At a vote center, you can drop off your ballot or request a replacement ballot and vote in person, and you may also register to vote and cast a ballot the same day. Vote centers will rely on professional staff trained to support all voters, including those with disabilities and those who may need language assistance. All vote centers will be open from the Saturday before Election Day through Election Day at 8 p.m. Some vote centers will be open a full 11 days, including the two weekends before Election Day.
Will vote centers be open on the weekends?
What if I lose my ballot or make a mistake?
What is a dropbox?
A dropbox is a secure, locked structure where voters may deliver their ballots from the time they receive them by mail up to 8 p.m. on Election Day. Election officials will place dropboxes in convenient, accessible locations, including places close to public transportation routes. Voters are encouraged to recommend potential dropbox locations to election officials.
Can I vote at any vote center?
Why can’t we use my polling place?
In some cases, former polling places will be used as vote centers. However, many former polling places will no longer be in use. Polling places under the VCA must be available for 4 to 11 days and meet other requirements. Many traditional polling places may not be available, accessible, or meet other requirements under the VCA.
What if I’ve moved since the last time I registered to vote?
What if I’m not registered to vote?
How will the new vote centers look and feel?
Who decides where the new vote centers and dropboxes will be placed? Which criteria will be used?
The county elections office will decide where to place vote centers and drop boxes based on 14 criteria outlined in state law. These include considering where the population lives, access to public transit and parking, how frequently a community votes by mail, and accessibility for people with disabilities. Additionally, they must consider which sites are available for up to 11 continuous days of voting. Community input is also important. Counties will want to hear from a wide variety of local residents to ensure every community has access to the polls.
Will vote centers be accessible to people with disabilities?
Yes, all vote centers will be accessible to people with disabilities. Counties participating in the VCA also are required to create a Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee (VAAC) if they do not have one already. A VAAC is comprised of voters with disabilities and is integral during the planning process to make voting accessible in the transition to a vote center model. Please contact your county’s registrar of voter if you are interested in joining the VAAC.
What about voters who speak languages other than English? Will they be able to use the vote centers?
Yes, vote centers will accommodate voters with limited English proficiency. Vote centers will have well-trained staff at every location prepared to support voters with translated voting materials in languages required by law. To the greatest extent possible, counties will aim to have multilingual staff and volunteers available to help voters at vote centers.
I don’t have a car. How will I get to a vote center?
Participating counties are required to make efforts to ensure vote centers are accessible by public transit. Election officials will use data on bus and train routes as well as input from community members. They want to learn from local voters where you think it would be most convenient for those using public transportation to vote. Additionally, all voters have the options of returning their ballots by mail or in the dropboxes we will place throughout the county.
Are there going to be long lines at the vote centers?
Because this is a new system, the answer is not certain. However, lines at vote centers are not expected to be long. In fact, they may be shorter than lines at current polling places because voting will be spread over many more days. In their planning, county officials will consider factors that affect wait times, such as the length of the ballot and the types of equipment being used. Also, new features of vote centers will speed up the process. For example, counties will use computers to check people in instead of paper registration rolls.
Who made the decision to switch to this new process?
State legislators and the Secretary of State designed the Voter’s Choice Act with extensive input from community groups that represented a wide range of California voters. The law provides 14 counties the opportunity to try out the VCA first. If a county’s election official and board of supervisors decide to implement the new model, the county’s elections office is required to involve the public in deciding the details of how to implement the new law, such as where dropboxes and vote centers should be located.
Will this make it harder for me to vote in-person?
Most voters will have to travel farther than in previous elections to reach a vote center where they can vote in person. However, in many other respects, the law makes it easier to vote:
- You get to choose when you vote. Vote centers will be open four to 11 days, including on the weekends.
- You can vote at any vote center in our county, which means you can vote where you work, where you go to school, or where you run errands.
- You will be supported by well-trained professional staff.
- You can register to vote or update your registration at a vote center.
- You will automatically receive a vote-by-mail ballot and can use it to vote anytime in the month before the election.
Is this an attempt to disenfranchise voters?
No. In fact, the VCA may increase voter turnout. The law is modeled after a similar program in Colorado. When Colorado made the switch, voter turnout increased significantly. Lawmakers hope California will have a similar outcome. Still, it is very important that elections officials and community organizations ensure voters know about the new system. This is part of the reason why Voter’s Choice California was created, to identify and engage diverse partners who can educate voters and promote participation within their communities.
Why can’t I use my neighborhood polling place?
There are criteria for the selection of vote center locations and not all existing polling places will qualify under the new criteria. Polling places under the VCA must be available for 4 to 11 days, must be accessible, and be near transit, among other requirements. Your neighborhood polling place may be used if it meets the new criteria. Be sure to provide it as a suggestion during the public meetings during the election administration planning process.
Why will I be mailed a vote-by-mail ballot when I didn’t ask for one?
State lawmakers designed the Voter’s Choice Act to increase voter turnout and make voting more convenient. One convenience for voters in participating counties is no longer needing to request a vote-by-mail ballot. If you don’t want to vote by mail, you may visit a vote center and ask to vote in person.
Will I need to show photo identification at the vote center?
California voters are not required to show identification at their polling place. However, if you are a newly registered voter, you may be asked to show identification the first time you vote, per federal law. Acceptable forms of identification include a copy of a recent utility bill, the sample ballot booklet you received from your county elections office, or another document sent to you by a government agency. Other examples include your passport, driver license, official California identification card, or student identification card. For more information on identification to use when you vote for the first time check the complete list or call the Secretary of State’s toll-free voter hotline at (800) 345-VOTE (8683).
Could this make it easier for people to commit voter fraud?
No. The Voter’s Choice Act vastly improves protections against potential voter fraud:
- When a voter uses a vote center, county officials will verify in the statewide voter database that no other votes have been cast by that voter.
- The VCA nearly eliminates the need for provisional ballots, which also enhances security.
- Voters’ signatures at vote centers will be captured electronically and compared to records in the event of a challenge to their eligibility.
- Vote-by-mail ballots also require voter signatures which must match official records, and the use of vote-by-mail will increase.
- Vote centers will be staffed by trained professionals with strong knowledge of the law and proper voting procedures.
- The Voter’s Choice Act requires the use of new voting equipment with enhanced security standards.
Will the dropboxes be secure?
Will the Voter’s Choice Act cost taxpayers more money?
Some counties will need additional resources to purchase new equipment necessary to participate in the Voter’s Choice Act, such as secure dropboxes. But over time, counties should save a considerable amount of money because they will need to purchase and maintain fewer voting machines.
How might the Voter’s Choice Act affect political campaigns?
The Voter’s Choice Act will improve the capacity of campaigns to target and track voters:
- All voters will receive vote-by-mail ballots at the same time, enabling greater predictability and consistency in campaign calendars.
- Campaigns will be able to access real-time data from vote centers to learn who has cast their ballots.
The Voter’s Choice Act should nearly eliminate the use of provisional ballots, which will provide campaigns with more visible data on voter patterns and behavior.
- With fewer sites reporting and few provisional ballots, participating counties should be able to provide election results more quickly.