Public comment sought as county fully transitions to Voter’s Choice Act elections

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The days of casting a ballot in the local school’s multipurpose room, at a church or even in a neighbor’s garage were likely numbered even before a pandemic hit during the 2020 presidential election season.

Under the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA), adopted by the state in 2016, five counties, including Sacramento, changed the way voting occurred through the use of universal vote-by-mail ballots and vote centers that replaced traditional polling locations.

But Yolo County was still operating under the traditional model during the March 2020 presidential primary and had 96 polling places open on Election Day where residents could cast their votes.

Months later, due to the pandemic, the county replaced those traditional polling locations with Voter Assistance Centers for the November 2020 presidential election and did so again for the 2021 gubernatorial recall election. For both elections, all active registered voters had vote-by-mail ballots delivered to them that they could mail back the traditional way, deposit in ballot-drop boxes located throughout the county or deliver to Voter Assistance Centers that were open for several days leading up to Election Day as well as on Election Day itself.

In Winters, the Voter Assistance Center was at the Public Safety Training Facility and a ballot drop-box was located at Lorenzo’s Market.

Now the Yolo County Elections Office is working on fully transitioning to a model of conducting elections under the Voter’s Choice Act and is seeking public comment on a draft Election Administration Plan that will govern vote-by-mail voting, vote centers, ballot drop-box locations and the technology that will be used.

“Given the tremendous success of our pilot of a VCA-like model in the last two elections, we are excited to fully transition to the VCA model,” said Jesse Salinas, the county’s elected assessor/clerk-recorder/registrar of voters.

“As Yolo County moves to the VCA model, my staff and I are committed to an inclusive process that protects the integrity of the vote and maintains a transparent, accurate and fair election process.”

In that vein comes the release of the draft Election Administration Plan released this week and open for public comment through Feb. 14.

Following that public comment period, the plan will be adopted by the county and submitted to the California Secretary of State’s Office for final approval.

Under the draft plan, the county would have 13 Voter Assistance Centers, with three open for 11 days and 10 open for four days. An additional 14 ballot drop boxes will be placed throughout the county for 30 days leading up to Election Day.

All told, a minimum of 28 voting locations, including the elections office in Woodland, would be available for voters, who can also continue to return their ballots via the postal service.

“This new way of holding elections has many benefits for voters, as was demonstrated in the elections conducted during the pandemic,” the draft plan states.

“The new election model will help the community by increasing voter participation, convenience, and accessibility to voters with disabilities.”

The Voter’s Choice Act itself establishes criteria for placement of vote centers and ballot drop boxes, including:

* Proximity to public transportation
* Proximity to communities with historically low vote-by-mail usage
* Proximity to language minority centers
* Proximity to communities with low rates of household vehicle ownership
* Proximity to communities of eligible voters who are not registered to vote and may need access to same-day voter registration
* Access to accessible and free parking
* Traffic patterns
* A vote center location on university or college campuses

During the last two elections, vote centers had been set up at the Winters Community Center and at the Public Safety Training Facility. A Curbside Voting option was made available last November at the Public Safety Training Facility.

Additional voting centers and ballot drop boxes were located throughout the county and any county resident could use any of them.

Services available at Voter Assistance Centers were more expansive than were present at traditional polling places in the past. Voters could do a number of things, including:

* Get a replacement vote-by-mail ballot
* Get a vote-by-mail ballot return identification envelope
* Drop off a vote-by-mail ballot
* Receive language assistance
* Mark a ballot privately and independently using an Americans with Disabilities Act accessible device
* Register to vote
* Update voter registration
* Use a provisional or conditional registration ballot.

Transitioning to elections under the Voter’s Choice Act expands the timeframe for voting in person significantly, from 13 hours on a single Election Day to 93 hours over 11 days, including weekends and holidays.

The county also plans to implement a mobile vote center in order to reach voters in more rural areas.

The full Election Administration Plan is available for public viewing at https://www.yoloelections.org/voters-choice-act and will be available in Chinese, Korean, Punjabi, Russian and Spanish beginning Friday.

Comments can be submitted via email to elections@yolocounty.org or on the website’s public comment page at https://www.yoloelections.org/voters-choice-act/contact.

Comments can also be mailed to the Yolo County Elections Office, 625 Court St., Room B-05, Woodland, CA 95695.

Comments must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 14.

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