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Voter's Choice Act
Sonoma County Is Now Officially a "Voter's Choice Act" County!
Sonoma County has been approved to conduct future elections under the Voter's Choice Act election model. What does this mean? Read below to find out.
The California Secretary of State's Office recently gave its final approval for the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters Office to begin conducting all elections under the Voter’s Choice Act election model. This model requires a county elections office to:
- Mail every active, registered voter a ballot in each election in which they are eligible to participate (due to the passage of AB 37 in fall of 2021, this policy is now actually required of all county elections offices, whether they are a VCA county or not)
- Offer a combination of ballot drop boxes and vote centers in place of traditional polling places
The main advantage of vote centers is they provide voters with more options for in-person voting because they are open multiple days and voters can go to any vote center in the county they choose and still receive receive the correct ballot
In short, Sonoma County voters will have more flexibility in choosing how, when, and where to cast their ballots!
Historically, most elections conducted in Sonoma County have been polling place elections. Most voters are assigned to a single polling place based on their residence address. Polling places are only open on Election Day and if a voter's name does not appear on the roster of voters for that location, they have to vote a “provisional ballot,” which is not counted until after Election Day once the voter's eligibility to vote is verified.
Over the past several decades, another method of voting has become increasingly widespread in Sonoma County: voting by mail. In 1978, California became one of the first states in the country to give voters the option to apply for a Vote-by-Mail ballot without any excuse. In 2002, California further expanded voting by mail by allowing all voters to sign up to automatically receive their ballots in the mail for every election rather than have to fill out a new form each time. Changes like this have caused a significant increase in the number of Sonoma County voters voting by mail instead of at their polling place. Today, approximately 85% of Sonoma County voters are signed up as permanent Vote-by-Mail voters.
What is the Voter's Choice Act Election Model?
In 2016, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) into law. This law allows counties to offer a new model of voting that combines some of the best elements of voting by mail and in-person voting:
- All active, registered voters are automatically mailed a ballot in every election in which they are eligible to vote.
- One secure ballot drop box is installed for every 15,000 registered voters.
- In-person voting is offered at so-called “vote centers” instead of polling places. Vote centers are similar to polling places except they are open multiple days (not just on Election Day) and voters are not assigned to a single location; instead, they can go to any vote center in the County and receive the correct ballot. Not only is this far more convenient for the voters, but it should sharply decrease the number of provisional ballots that need to be processed after Election Day.
- One vote center must be open on Election Day and on each of the 10 days prior to Election Day for every 50,000 registered voters.
- One vote center must be open on Election Day and on each of the three days prior to Election Day for every 10,000 registered voters.
- A Language Accessibility Advisory Committee (LAAC) must be formed to focus on needs and concerns for minority language voters.
- A Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee (VAAC) must be formed to focus on needs and concerns of voters with disabilities.
- There must be increased public outreach and communication to make voters aware of the change.
- An Election Administration Plan must be drafted by the county elections official which explains in detail how the County will transition to the Voter's Choice Act election model. The elections official must also solicit public feedback and incorporate it into the plan before submitting it to the California Secretary of State for final review.
Vote Center and Drop Box Location Criteria
When a County implements the Voter’s Choice Act Model, it is required to consider multiple factors when locating ballot boxes and vote centers. Sonoma County has created map layers using available demographic, election, and transportation data, as well as a layer modeling the combined data sets, to evaluate the areas of highest need for ballot boxes and vote centers, based on the criteria identified in Elections Code 4005.
The map does not currently show the locations of vote centers, as those are in the process of being identified.