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A thriving democracy: the vote center approach


Editorial originally appeared in San Diego Uptown News 

Democracy thrives when all citizens are offered the opportunity to vote. Greater participation in democracy pushes us closer to a more perfect union. And making it easy for citizens to vote holds up our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That is why I am excited that the Board of Supervisors supported my proposal to explore the addition of one-stop ‘vote centers’ for the 2020 election. Vote centers have been shown to increase access, turnout, and improve ease of voting.

Similar to traditional polling locations, a voter can cast a ballot in person at a vote center. But one-stop vote centers also provide almost any service and resource a voter could hope for. All voters are mailed a ballot, which they can return in the mail or drop off at a vote center, or can cast a ballot in person, and register to vote. Vote centers nearly eliminate the need for provisional voting, which can delay election certification. Language, access, and translation services are offered at vote centers without the need to visit the Registrar of Voters. Vote centers are open for multiple days before the election as well as on Election Day, allowing voters additional time and flexibility to cast a ballot.

Many counties have already adopted the vote-center model and the initial results are very promising. Additionally, more than half of California’s population live in counties that have adopted vote centers, rather than traditional polling locations. According to research from UCSD, average voter turnout increased by 4% in the five counties that adopted the model in 2018 (as compared with 2014 turnout). Turnout increased the most (around 7%) for youth, and in low-income and minority communities. If these trends held true for San Diego County, average turnout using vote centers would increase by almost 71,000 voters.

Vote centers build upon other changes to state law that I have long advocated for. This includes pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds, paid postage on every absentee ballot, and automatic registration at the DMV. These policy changes break down barriers to voting, and bring us closer to the ultimate goals enshrined in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The vote-center model increases ease and accessibility for voting, particularly for communities that have been historically disenfranchised.

Most unfortunately, whenever discussions around expanding voting access is raised, there is always pushback from those who falsely believe voter fraud is rampant. This is simply not true. Ordinary voters are not conspiring to commit voter fraud. Ordinary voters are not the ones abusing the system, and claims of voter fraud are red herrings for those who wish to oppress and disenfranchise voters.

As part of vote center implementation, increased voter turnout should be a primary focus of the pilot program. A robust education and outreach campaign can help ensure a seamless transition with the various pilot locations. An advisory committee can help guide implementation of vote centers throughout the county.

We know that the vote center works. Other counties started with a pilot program, similar to what I have proposed for 2020. All voters will be able to visit their regular polling location, or try out one of a handful of vote centers. The results of the pilot program, along with the feasibility study, can help us identify what we need to tweak for future election cycles. We can scale up vote centers across the county for 2022, but we need to take these initial steps to figure out what works. Let’s build and implement a voting model that makes it easier to vote and enfranchises voters.

We should all agree that more people voting is a good thing, and voting makes our democracy stronger. San Diego is a better place when everyone has the right, ability, and ease of participating in the democratic process.

— Supervisor Nathan Fletcher was elected in 2018 to represent District 4 on the County Board of Supervisors.

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