Tuesday, June 6, 2017

CA Orange County Wants to Overhaul Their Voting Process

A massive overhaul of how California's Orange County Voters cast Ballots will be considered Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, but some Republican Leaders concerned about potential voter Fraud want any Changes postponed. Elections officials here and in other States that have implemented similar Changes counter that by saying the Upgrades make Voting systems more Secure.

“There’s no better time to make these changes than now,” said Neal Kelley, County Registrar of Voters, who says the new approach would save the County between $10 million and $20 million. The “Vote Center” system he’s proposing would do away with the approximately 1,000 Precinct Polling places typically set up in the County for each Election. Instead, the County would create new Vote Centers and Distribute Mail-In Ballots to every Registered Voter.

Besides mailing those Ballots in, Voters could drop them off at 93 “Military-Grade” Secure Drop Boxes beginning a month before the Election. They could also drop them off at one of 30 Vote Centers beginning 10 days before the Election or one of 150 Vote Centers open the Four Days before an Election. Additionally, Voters could Cast Ballots in person at those Vote Centers in the days leading up to and including Election Day.

The proposal is driven, in part, by Voters increasing preference for voting by Mail.

Currently, 61% of all county Voters are permanent Mail Voters, with the amount growing annually. Also, the number of Voters dropping off Mail Ballots in person has doubled since 2004, according to Kelley’s report. Colorado and Washington already use systems similar to the one proposed by Kelley. The California Legislature last year Authorized the use of the system, beginning by offering the Option to 14 Counties, including Orange.

“The traditional polling place model has fallen behind the needs and expectations of Orange County voters,” Kelley’s report says.

Also fueling the push is the County’s dire need to upgrade its aging Voting Machine, which was due to be replaced in 2012 and is so old that some Replacement Parts are no longer made or stocked. Replacing the system in the 1000 Precinct Polls could cost as much as $40 million while the maximum cost of the Vote-Center approach is listed in the report at $14 million. That’s largely because less Equipment would be needed for the Vote-Center model.

But other changes already approved for State’s Voting system next year also have some Republicans concerned. For the first time, Citizens will be able to Register to Vote on Election Day and then cast a Ballot. Additionally, the past requirement that a Mail Ballot can only be Hand-delivered by the Voter who filled it out or by a Relative is being eliminated, raising concerns of “Vote Harvesting.”

Fred Whitaker, Chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, said he’s concerned that the changes could mean more Activists show up at Nursing Homes, Group Homes, and other such settings where they could oversee the filling out of Mail Ballots and then collect them for delivery to Elections officials. “It encourages undue influence,” Whitaker said.

Same-day Registration has Whitaker and others fearful that Scofflaw Voters could cast Ballots in multiple Counties. “I feel that there’s too much going on already,” he said, explaining desire to forestall consideration of the Vote Centers and new Voting Equipment in Orange County. “Until we can make sure there’s no fraud going on, there’s concern that we’re moving forward too quickly.”

Kelley and his Elections office have repeatedly received praise in recent years, including a County Grand Jury Report to be considered Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors applauding the Department and finding “no evidence of widespread or organized voter fraud or vote interference” in the County.

Kelley responded to Whitaker’s concerns, saying that the proposed Vote Center system would increase Safeguards against Voter Fraud. For instance, each vote Center would have Live Access to the Statewide Voter Database, a line of Information that would prevent someone from Registering in Multiple Counties. He said the vote-Harvesting issue will exist whether or not the Vote Centers are established, and he believes abuses are more likely to be caught under the system he’s proposing.

This part of the system would require cyber-Security measures to protect that Live Access.

Officials in Colorado and Washington said there has been no increase in Voter Fraud Cases with this new systems in their States, and that they believe the new system makes it more difficult to cheat. “I believe this provides better checks and balance than (traditional) polling places,” said Denver Elections Director Amber McReynolds. Her State also has Same-Day Registration and anybody can drop off someone else’s Ballot, although there is a limit of 10 Ballots in Colorado, while California has no limit to how many Ballots can be dropped off by one person.

Because Mail Ballots require Voters Signatures on the Ballots to be matched with those in the County Database, McReynolds said she believes there’s greater Security with the increased use of Mail Ballots. Kelley said he would anticipate a similar result in Orange County. While those who cast Ballots in person are required to sign their Names, those Signatures are not checked against the database in either State.

Like most changes to California’s Voting system, one goal of the vote-Center approach is to increase voter Participation. “We saw a broad-based improvement in turnout,” said McReynolds of Colorado’s change over in 2014, the same year that same-day Registration was implemented. “It’s been almost exactly the same increase in Democrats’ and Republicans’ registration. The biggest increase has been in independent voters. … We’ve received a lot of calls from voters saying they appreciate the ease of access.”

Some Democrats complain the Republican objections to the new system is part of a desire to Suppress Turnout. “The Democrats I know are for this move,” said Democrat Nick Anas, an Orange County-based Political Consultant. “It makes fiscal sense and it makes sense for the voter. But we’ve seen elsewhere in the country that Republican are concerned about making voting easier, so I’m not surprised at all that there are objections in Orange County.”

But Newport Beach’s Mike Schroeder, a former Chairman of the State GOP, said that while the Ballot Harvesting proposed in the new Rules could benefit Democrats, he believes other aspects of Kelley’s proposal could help Republicans. “I think the idea of these regional centers will decrease voter participation on Election Day,” Schroeder said. “Traditionally, Republicans do better with (mail) ballots and Democrats do better with Election Day voting. Between this and the vote harvesting, it could all balance out.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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