What Is the Voter's Choice Act?
Approved by California lawmakers in 2016, the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) expands voters’ options for how, when and where they cast their ballots. Beginning in 2018, all registered voters in participating counties will be mailed a ballot and have the option to return it by mail or place it in a secure dropbox. Voters also will be able to vote in person at a limited number of “vote centers,” which will replace polling places.
Vote centers will offer accessible voting equipment, language assistance and voting materials in all legally required languages. Additionally Californians will be able to register and vote the same day at any vote center. All vote centers will be open from the Saturday before Election Day through Election Day. Some will be open a full 11 days, including the two weekends before Election Day.
Why the change?
By adopting the Voter’s Choice Act, 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.
Who does it affect?
The law authorizes 14 specified counties to adopt the Voter’s Choice Act in 2018.
Five counties have decided to participate in the VCA: Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo. The remaining nine authorized counties have chosen not to implement VCA in 2018, but may choose to do so in future years.
All other California counties are authorized to make the switch starting in 2020.
Voter's Choice Act Implementation Timeline
Under the California Voter’s Choice Act, 14 California counties have the option to shift to the new voting process starting with the June 2018 elections. Other counties may adopt the new process starting in 2020.
Counties moving forward in 2018 will follow this basic timeline:
- Throughout the summer and fall 2017, counties must hold public meetings to receive input on their Election Administration Plan, publish a draft plan, and form two public advisory committees: a Language Accessibility Advisory Committee and a Voter Accessibility Advisory Committee.
- In the winter, counties will submit their Election Administration Plans to California’s Secretary of State for approval.
- In early 2018, LAACs and VAACs should continue to meet and election administrators may continue to adjust their Election Administration Plans, ideally with public input.
- The first ballots mailed to voters under the new system will be sent in early May 2018.
Engaging the Unengaged Voter: Vote Centers and Voter Turnout by Robert M. Stein and Greg Vonnahme, The Journal of Politics, Apr 2008
Voting at Non-Precinct Polling Places: A Review and Research Agenda by Robert M. Stein and Greg Vonnahme, Election Law Journal, Oct 2011
Colorado Voting Reforms: Early Results, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Mar 2016
The California Voter Experience: Vote-by-Mail vs. the Polls by Mindy Romero, Ph.D., California Civic Engagement Project, UC Davis Center for Regional Change, Jul 2016
The California Voter Experience: Why African-American Voters Choose to Vote at the Polls or Vote-by-Mail, and How They Perceive Proposed Changes to California’s Voting System by Mindy Romero, Ph.D., California Civic Engagement Project, UC Davis Center for Regional Change, Sept 2016