*This was published on page 6 of the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of EPA Today.*
In this age of online shopping and instant results, we really don’t have to leave our houses to get many things done anymore. Following this trend of convenience, East Palo Alto residents might no longer have to go very far to vote either. This is because a new bill, called AB 2028, became law in San Mateo County on January 1, 2015.
AB 2028 authorizes San Mateo County to participate in an ongoing pilot project that allows certain elections–up to three–to be conducted entirely by mailed ballots. These three elections include the November 2015 and 2017 Local Consolidated Elections and one Local Special Election.
The 2016 Presidential Election, however, will not be included. But, if this pilot program is a success, the residents of East Palo Alto might be able to vote for a future president from their homes.
AB 2028 will remain in effect through December 31, 2017 and will be repealed on January 1, 2018 unless a statute is enacted before this expiration date that deletes or extends the program.
So, what should residents do to participate in the pilot program? Nothing, actually. “Every voter will get a ballot in the mail even if the voter has not signed up to vote by mail,” explained Chief Elections Officer, Mark Church, during a June 16, 2015 Special City Council meeting in East Palo Alto.
Church said that the mailed ballots will include a return envelope and paid postage.
According to the California Legislative Information website at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/, AB 2028 will also require the county to provide at least one polling place and drop off location in each city. The number of residents cannot exceed 100,000 per ballot drop-off location on the 88th day prior to the day of election.
During Church’s presentation, council members expressed their concerns about whether voting by mail would be practical for the city’s seniors or for residents with disabilities who might need assistance.
Church told the council that voters would still be able to vote in person if they choose to do so. Those with physical disabilities or those who face language barriers and require assistance while voting might prefer to visit a polling location. So, for these reasons and for similar ones, as in the case of someone who did not receive a ballot or simply lost theirs, a polling location would still be available.
Church emphasized that all jurisdictions in San Mateo County must participate in order for the pilot project to move forward. If one city council decides not to participate even though all neighboring jurisdictions want to participate, the county will not be able to conduct an All-Mailed Ballot Election.
In spite of this possibility, Church said that he is confident it would not be difficult to convince all jurisdictions to participate, given the benefits of the program.
Still, with today’s technology, the idea of doing anything through “snail mail” is almost taboo, especially for younger voters. So, it is not surprising that the majority of residents, who vote by mail in San Mateo County, are over the age of 66, while the minority of those who vote by mail are between the ages of 18 and 25.
AB 2028’s supporters hope that by eliminating a trip to the polling place and sending ballots straight to the voter’s home, the bill will make voting more convenient for everyone and, ultimately, will encourage more people to vote.
The pilot project, currently authorized by AB 2028, will target those who do not now vote by mail. In fact, the county already has a media campaign that includes radio, digital, print and social media.
“The potential benefits are significant,” Church said, citing the fact that AB 2028 has the potential to reduce costs.
He added that if more people vote by mail, the city will need fewer election officers, fewer voting machines, and fewer polling locations. These components combined could lead to both reduced risks of human errors, as fewer people will be handling the ballots, and faster results, since there will be no precinct ballots to count.
Council member Carlos Romero was supportive. “I would love to see how, indeed, we embrace this,” he said.
Since the current project with AB 2028 is a pilot one, San Mateo County is required to provide a report to the Secretary of State and to the California State Legislature. The results of the county’s report will determine the effectiveness of the program.
“I look forward to reviewing the results,” Romero said.
Lisa Yarbrough Gauthier, the mayor of East Palo Alto, expressed a personal interest in the bill’s goal of increasing voting participation: “It’s really important to me as an African American to make sure that we continue to vote,” she said ”I want to encourage people to vote.”
City council members did not make a decision on the AllMailed Ballot program until their July 7, 2015 meeting, when they passed and adopted a resolution that East Palo Alto would participate in the pilot program.