BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                     SB 450  


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          Date of Hearing:  August 3, 2016


                        ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS


                               Lorena Gonzalez, Chair


          SB 450  
          (Allen) - As Amended June 21, 2016


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          Urgency:  No  State Mandated Local Program:  NoReimbursable:  No


          SUMMARY:


          This bill authorizes counties to conduct elections in which  
          every voter is mailed a ballot and vote centers and ballot  
          drop-off locations are available prior to and on election day,  
          in lieu of operating polling places for the election.  
          Specifically, this bill: 


          1)Authorizes 14 counties (Calaveras, Inyo, Madera, Napa, Nevada,  
            Orange, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara,  
            Shasta, Sierra, Sutter, and Tuolumne), on or after January 1,  
            2018, and all other counties, on or after January 1, 2020, to  
            choose to conduct elections where all voters are mailed a  








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            ballot and where vote centers and ballot drop-off locations  
            are available prior to and on election day, in lieu of  
            operating polling places for the election, subject to  
            specified conditions, including the following:


             a)   Vote Centers. Requires vote centers to be open, in lieu  
               of polling places, on election day and for 10 days  
               preceding election day; specifies minimum hours of  
               operation; requires, for regular elections, one voter  
               center for every 50,000 registered voters from the 10th day  
               through the 4th day prior to the election, and then one  
               voter center for every 10,000 registered voters from the  
               3rd day prior to the election through election day;  
               requires equal distribution and accessibility of vote  
               centers; and requires language assistance consistent with  
               current law requirements by jurisdiction. 


             b)   Ballot Drop-Off Locations. Requires ballot drop-off  
               locations, consisting of a secure, accessible, locked  
               ballot box to be available from the 28th day before the  
               election through election day; requires one drop-off for  
               every 15,000 registered voters.


             c)   Election Administration. Requires county elections  
               officials to develop a plan for conducting these elections,  
               and specifies the elements of the plan, including voter  
               education and outreach, and the public process for  
               developing the plan. The Secretary of State (SOS) will be  
               required to review and approve the voter education and  
               outreach portions of the plan.


             d)   Requires a toll-free voter assistance hotline,  
               accessible to voters who are deaf and hard of hearing, to  
               be maintained by the county elections official no later  
               than 29 days before the day of the election until 5 p.m. on  








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               the day after the election.


             e)   Requires the county elections official to establish a  
               Language Access Advisory Committee (LAAC), as specified.


          2)Los Angeles County Option. Permits LA County, beginning  
            January 1, 2020, to conduct elections subject to the same  
            conditions generally applicable above, with the following  
            exceptions:


             a)   The county is only required to mail a ballot to all of  
               the following voters:

               i)     Permanent VBM voters;
               ii)    Precincts with fewer than 500 registered voters;


               iii)   Voters who reside in jurisdictions adjacent to  
                 counties conducting elections pursuant to this bill; and,


               iv)    Voters in precincts either more than a 30-minute  
                 travel time from a vote center, or where the precinct's  
                 traditional polling place from the last statewide  
                 election is more than 15 miles from the nearest vote  
                 center.





             b)   Vote Centers. For regular elections, requires one voter  
               center for every 30,000 registered voters from the 10th day  
               through the 4th day prior to the election and then one  
               voter center for every 7,500 registered voters from the 3rd  
               day prior to the election through election day.








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             c)   Ballot Drop-Off Locations. For regular elections, at  
               least one drop-off  location for every 15,000 VBM voters.


          3)Requires the Secretary of SOS to:


             a)   Report to the Legislature specified data from counties  
               within six months of any election conducted pursuant to  
               this bill.


             b)   Establish a task force, as specified and until January  
               1, 2022, to review elections conducted pursuant to this  
               bill to provide comments and recommendations to the  
               Legislature within six months after each election.


             c)   Enforce the provisions of this bill.


          4)Repeals limits on the individuals who a voter may designate to  
            return his or her VBM ballot, and instead permits a voter to  
            designate any person to return his or her VBM ballot.


          5)Allows a VBM ballot to be returned to any polling place within  
            the state, instead of being limited to polling places within  
            the jurisdiction of the elections official who issued the  
            ballot.


          FISCAL EFFECT:


          1)The SOS will incur ongoing General Fund costs of about  
            $280,000 for three positions to review and approve county  








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            voter education and outreach plans, provide technical support  
            for election equipment at vote centers, which will be  
            connected to the statewide voter registration database  
            (VoteCal), conduct demographic analysis of election data, and  
            staff the SOS task force.


          2)Initial costs to participating counties will likely be  
            significant, but in many cases will result in long-term cost  
            savings. Since the bill is permissible, any county costs will  
            not be state reimbursable.


          COMMENTS:


          1)Purpose. According to the author, "California saw  
            historically low voter turnout in 2014.  Only 25 percent  
            of all registered California voters cast a ballot in the  
            June primary and only 42 percent participated in the  
            November general election.  Los Angeles County - the  
            largest voting jurisdiction in the country - had the  
            lowest turnout among all of California's 58 counties.   
            Fewer than 17 percent of L.A. County voters cast a ballot  
            in the June primary and only 31 percent voted in  
            November.  While voter turnout was poor across the entire  
            country in 2014, California ranked an inexcusable 43rd in  
            turnout among the 50 states and District of Columbia.



            "SB 450 [sponsored by the SOS] is modeled on the very  
            successful way Colorado conducts its elections wherein  
            every voter automatically receives a vote by mail ballot  
            who may then return that ballot by mail or in person at  
            numerous drop-off locations and innovative vote centers.   
            In lieu of traditional neighborhood polling places, these  
            vote centers are placed in convenient locations all over  
            town and open several days prior to each election.   








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            Furthermore, voters can use any vote center or drop-off  
            location in their home county - they are not limited to  
            using the one closest to their residence.





            "Fully implemented for the 2014 elections, this hybrid  
            system resulted in Colorado achieving one of the highest  
            voter turnouts in the nation?SB 450 will replicate this  
            system in California on a county by county, opt-in basis  
            beginning in 2018?SB 450 offers the best opportunity to  
            significantly increase voter participation while also  
            saving participating counties money over the current  
            system."


          2)Colorado Election Model. Colorado's election system came  
            about through a series of changes over time.  Larimer  
            County in Colorado piloted the first use of vote centers  
            in 2003. By 2010, more than two-thirds of Colorado  
            counties conducted the statewide primary election as an  
            all-mail ballot election. In 2013, the Colorado  
            Legislature adopted and the Governor signed HB 1303,  
            which established the framework under which Colorado's  
            elections are now conducted.  



            While the provisions of this bill are modeled after  
            Colorado law, California's unique challenges will  
            necessitate policies that differ from the Colorado model  
            in some respects, particularly the requirement that many  
            California jurisdictions provide assistance to some  
            voters in languages other than English and Spanish.











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            Other challenges that California likely will face in  
            moving to an election system similar to Colorado's  
            include the state's size (both in terms of population and  
            geography), and the fact that fewer voters and elections  
            officials have familiarity with vote centers and  
            elections in which all voters are mailed a ballot.   
            Overcoming these challenges may require more robust voter  
            education and outreach, and may require other adjustments  
            to the Colorado model.  This bill contains many  
            adjustments to the Colorado model in an attempt to  
            address this state's unique challenges.





          3)Los Angeles Option. While similar to the election model  
            offered to other counties under the bill, the "Los  
            Angeles option" generally requires a larger number of  
            vote centers than are otherwise required, but does not  
            require the county to mail a ballot to every registered  
            voter.  This option is designed, in part, in recognition  
            of the fact that voters in Los Angeles County use VBM  
            ballots at much lower rates than in other counties in the  
            state.  Furthermore, the county's large population would  
            create significant logistical challenges if the county  
            were required to begin mailing VBM ballots to millions of  
            additional registered voters in a short period of time.   
            This bill, however, would require the county  to  
            transition to the election model that is applicable to  
            all other counties after four years of conducting  
            elections under the "Los Angeles option."



          4)Related Legislation. AB 1921 (Gonzalez), pending in the  
            Senate Floor, permits a VBM voter to who is unable to  








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            return his or her ballot to designate any person to  
            return the ballot, as specified.

          Analysis Prepared by:Chuck Nicol / APPR. / (916)  
          319-2081