Overview/Vote by Mail Ballots/Vote Center and Ballot Drop-off Locations/Voting Technology/Digital “I Voted” Sticker/Fiscal Impact/Summary
Senate Bill 450, also known as the California Voter’s Choice Act (VCA), was signed into law on September 29, 2016, authorizing 14 counties, including San Mateo, to conduct any election as an All-Mailed Ballot/Vote Center election commencing in 2018. This legislation was part of a broad collection of election reforms designed to increase voter participation, increase voter engagement, and expand voting options, fundamentally changing how elections will be conducted in San Mateo County and participating jurisdictions.
San Mateo County has been at the forefront of conducting All-Mailed Ballot Elections in the State of California, with over 67% of our registered voters choosing to be permanent Vote by Mail voters. The passage of the VCA was influenced by San Mateo County’s successful November 3, 2015 All-Mailed Ballot Election, conducted under the authority of Assembly Bill 2028. Many of the recommendations and methodologies contained in our AB 2028 Report to the State Legislature and the Secretary of State were incorporated into the VCA.
The County’s Chief Elections Officer is required under the VCA to prepare a draft Election Administration Plan (EAP) and after public comment, an Amended Draft EAP for the administration of elections under the new law. This Amended Draft EAP has been a collaborative effort prepared in consultation with our community partners and stakeholders. It has incorporated many of the recommendations obtained from our public hearings held on October 12, 2017, October 16, 2017, and January 18, 2018, with our language and disability communities and the general public.
With the posting of our Amended Draft EAP, the public is provided a 14-day comment period through March 15, 2018, to comment on the Amended Draft EAP. Upon conclusion of the 14-day comment period, the County’s Final EAP may be formally adopted and submitted to the Secretary of State for approval.
In an effort to continually improve the VCA elections model, the law requires the Chief Elections Officer to hold additional public hearings within two years of conducting the first election and every four years thereafter, to consider revisions to the EAP.
In the pages that follow, the Amended Draft EAP provides a brief overview of the Vote by Mail ballot process, the proposed locations of the County’s Vote Centers and Ballot Drop-off locations, and elections technology that will be deployed at Vote Centers. Our Voter Education and Outreach Plan is incorporated in the Amended Draft EAP.
VOTE BY MAIL BALLOTS
Under the VCA model, all registered voters will be mailed a ballot beginning 29 days before the election, with a postage paid envelope to return the ballot. Voters may request a Vote by Mail ballot in a language other than English. Voters with disabilities, as well as overseas voters, military personnel, and military spouses may take advantage of San Mateo County’s Accessible Vote by Mail System, which allows qualified voters to access and mark their ballot in a screen-readable format on a personal computer.
VOTE CENTER AND BALLOT DROP-OFF LOCATIONS
The VCA establishes detailed criteria and formulas for the location of Vote Centers and Ballot Drop-off locations throughout the County. The law requires that Vote Centers and Ballot Drop-off locations be accessible to voters with disabilities, located near population centers, public transportation and near low-income and language minority communities.
Vote Center and Ballot Drop-off locations were selected in consultation with the San Mateo County Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee (VAAC) and the Language Accessibility Advisory Committee (LAAC). Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software and U.S. Census Data were also utilized to ensure locations are in optimal proximity to voters.
Vote Centers: Vote Centers will operate similar to polling places, allowing voters to cast their ballots in person, whether on paper, at an eSlate or at a Disabled Access Unit. Unlike polling places, however, voters can cast their ballots at any Vote Center countywide. Voters will also be able to register to vote or update their registration at any Vote Center. Voters who have not registered before the close of registration (15 days prior to the election), will be able to complete a Conditional Voter Registration (CVR) at any Vote Center and cast a provisional ballot through Election Day. In addition to these considerations, potential Vote Center locations must have the empty physical space for voting equipment and be available for the election timeframe.
Vote Centers will have a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection to the County’s Election Management System (“EMS”), allowing Vote Center staff to verify, in real time, the voting status of each voter.
Vote Centers will be equipped with up to 10 eSlate electronic voting machines, including three Disabled Access Units. All Vote Centers are ADA-compliant, and Elections personnel will be on site to assist voters with specific needs.
Security and contingency plans will be in place to prevent disruption of voting, and to ensure that the election is properly conducted. When Vote Centers are not in operation, the site and equipment will be secured through tested and established security protocols such as tamper-evident seals and secure storage facilities. A sample Vote Center layout diagram is provided in the Addenda.
Vote Center Formula: Vote Centers will open sequentially, with greater numbers of Vote Centers in operation as the election draws nearer. The County will continue its practice of opening three Vote Centers in South San Francisco, San Mateo and Redwood City, 29 days before the election. A 29-day Vote Center has been added to the City of East Palo Alto. Additional Vote Centers will open 10 days before the election, and all Vote Centers will be in full operation beginning the third day before the election.
The VCA has established the following formula for determining the locations of Vote Centers throughout the County. These numbers are based on an estimate of 390,000 registered voters for the June 2018 Election:
Days before Election Day
Number of Registered
All Vote Centers will be open at least eight hours per day starting 10 days before the Election, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. including weekends and holidays, and open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.
Plans are for each Vote Center to be staffed by three to four Vote Center Representatives (VCRs). The County will endeavor to recruit at least one Spanish-speaking and one Chinese-speaking election worker in each Vote Center to provide language assistance. If a Vote Center is in, or adjacent to, a precinct with other language requirements, the County will endeavor to recruit a VCR fluent in the language or provide alternative methods of effective language assistance.
Ballot Drop-off Boxes: At least one Ballot Drop-off box is required for every 15,000 registered voters in the County for a projected total of 26 Ballot Drop-off boxes for the June 5, 2018 Election. These Ballot Drop-off boxes will be available no less than 28 days before Election Day and open during regular business hours. A Ballot Drop-off box outside the Registration & Election Division, at 40 Tower Road, San Mateo, and three additional sites to be determined, will be open twenty-four hours a day.
Each of the 20 City and Town Halls in San Mateo County will have a locked ballot box available for dropping off ballots during their regular business hours. Voters may also drop off a voted ballot at a Vote Center, Post Office or USPS mailbox.
A list of proposed Vote Center and Ballot Drop-off locations, along with a Vote Center and Ballot Drop-off location map, are included in the Addenda.
The County’s voting technology is comprised of two main components, voter registration and voting tabulation. These two systems are completely separated. The voting tabulation system is a closed system and does not have any connection to the internet.
The County will deploy our existing Hart InterCivic Electronic Voting System and eSlate voting machines at all Vote Centers during the June 5, 2018 Election. Each voting machine has a Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). A paper record is printed before a voter finishes casting his/her ballot. The voter verifies that the paper records matches his/her electronic ballot. The paper record is kept with the voting machine.
At each Vote Center, a network of computers will be linked to the County’s Election Management System (EMS) through a secure VPN connection. These computers will not have access to other websites or to email for security purposes. The County’s EMS is connected to the voter registration database administered by the State of California, VoteCal. This will provide access to voter registration data, enabling Vote Center staff to determine the registration and voter status of every voter in real time. This secure system was successfully deployed in the November 3, 2015 All-Mailed Ballot Election.
On-demand ballot printing printers will be used for the first time in County elections to provide voters with specific ballot styles for their voting precincts. Additionally, on-demand ballot printing printers minimize the purchase and printing of extra ballots that are needed to accommodate different ballot styles.
DIGITAL “I VOTED” STICKER
One the most popular items requested from the voting public on Election Day is our “I Voted” sticker which proudly recognizes that the voter has participated in the election. “I Voted” stickers are so popular that many of our permanent Vote by Mail (VBM) voters drop their ballots off at polling places just to obtain their stickers.
Given the popularity of the “I Voted” sticker, our County will be developing a digital “I Voted” sticker that can be copied and pasted on the voters’ social media pages and included in their online digital signatures. This will allow voters to proudly let the world know that they are active voters and voted in the election. The digital “I Voted” sticker will also recognize the years of voting a voter has participated in previous elections. A distinctive banner will be developed indicating the number of consecutive years voters have been registered in San Mateo County. This will proudly distinguish voters for their years of participation in the democratic process.
The digital “I Voted” sticker will be accessible via the “Check my Registration/Access my Election Materials/View My Voter Information Pamphlet/Track My Ballot” link at www.smcacre.org.
The fiscal impact of the VCA and related legislative mandates is unknown at this time.
The June 5, 2018 Statewide Direct Primary Election will be the first of its kind, both in terms of the new All-Mailed Ballot/Vote Center model and the new election laws which will be fully implemented for the June 2018 election. The combined effect of these new laws coming online at the same time in a major Gubernatorial Primary Election may increase election costs for counties statewide. On the positive side, the VCA over time, should have the effect of mitigating many of the additional costs associated with these new legislative mandates.
One of our principal concerns impacting election costs, will be the implementation of Senate Bill 415 (SB 415), the California Voter Participation Rights Act. SB 415 moved jurisdictions holding odd-numbered year elections to even-numbered year elections by 2020. This will result in a significant increase in the number of jurisdictions that will participate in the November 2018 Election. This change will lead to considerably larger even-numbered year elections, resulting in larger sample ballot pamphlets, longer and more complex official ballots, and more ballot styles.
AB 1436 Conditional Voter Registration Law and AB 1461 DMV New Motor Voter Law, will increase voter registration and the total number of voters turning out at the polls. The influx of new voters will add additional costs to the administration of elections.
Additionally, the VCA itself will incur startup expenses that may increase election expenditures in the short-term. Vote Centers will be open longer and staffed by County employees at higher hourly rates than traditional poll workers. VCRs will also require additional training to manage the complexity and technology requirements of Vote Centers. Creating multiple secure connections between Vote Centers and the County’s voter registration database will result in increased expenditures due to new equipment, set up, testing, and support. We anticipate that these costs will eventually be off-set by a significant reduction in the number of voting machines, labor and capital expenses. Future elections will also require less outreach and voter education, as voters will be more familiar with the new election model, further lowering expenditures.
The California Voter’s Choice Act is landmark legislation that will fundamentally change the way elections are conducted in the State of California. San Mateo County’s successful experience with the November 3, 2015 Countywide Local Consolidated All-Mailed Ballot Election provides us the unique foundation to successfully administer elections under the VCA’s All-Mailed Ballot/Vote Center election model. Successful implementation of this new method of conducting elections provides numerous benefits and opportunities to the County’s voters and participating jurisdictions. School districts, municipalities and special districts, benefit through increased efficiencies and reduced billable costs resulting from the new All-Mailed Ballot/Vote Center election model. The new election model will have the positive effect of increasing voter participation, providing greater accessibility to voters with disabilities, improving our voting systems and technology, and strengthening our elections infrastructure security.
San Mateo County looks forward to continuing our tradition of excellence and innovation with the successful implementation of the California Voter’s Choice Act.