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County approves study on proposed voting centers

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a feasibility study on proposed voting centers.

The 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Jim Desmond opposed, came after discussion over how much voting centers would cost, security, and possible disenfranchisement and voter fraud.

Under the vote center system, the county’s registered voters would receive a mail ballot and could then drop it off or mail it to a vote center or cast a new ballot at the vote center itself. The system would eliminate the need for provisional ballots.

The feasibility study will review pilot vote center locations for the 2020 election cycle, along with the costs and benefits; countywide deployment of the vote center model for the 2022 election cycle; an outreach and education campaign for 2020; and identify any state legislative changes that may be needed.

The county will also consider an independent audit of the voter rolls, as requested by Supervisor Kristin Gaspar.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher made the proposal to study whether vote centers are a good idea.

In a statement released after the board’s vote, he said: “Our democracy is strongest when the most voters participate in our elections. I believe we should do everything possible to make it easier for people to access the ballot. Today, the Board of Supervisors took an important step by exploring the vote center model, making it easier for people to vote. I appreciate their support and look forward to working with county staff and the community in the months ahead.”

Desmond said while the county should look for more ways to expand voting, he wasn’t convinced that “we really need voting centers, when we have 1,600 polling stations.”

Desmond also said that voter centers would be located in more densely populated areas, and possibly exclude those in more rural communities, such as farmers or ranchers.

The board will decide whether to move forward with the vote center proposal after the study is completed in 120 days.

During the meeting, several people spoke in favor of the vote center model, including Lori Thiel, president of the League of Women Voters. Vote centers give people more options “on where, when and how to vote,” she told the board.

Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UC San Diego, said that in the 2018 elections, the vote center model increased turnout by 3 to 4% in the five California counties that implemented it.

The vote center model also brought out a greater number of younger and Latino voters, Kousser added.

Pamela Marin, of Alliance San Diego, said many people cannot afford to take time off from voting or travel to the county Registrar of Voters office.

“San Diego must modernize their voting process,” Marin said, and vote centers “will expand democracy and remove barriers to voting in our region.”

Board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said she had no problem with a feasibility study, but the original proposal “(looked) like we’re being asked to do more than that.” Jacob added that voter turnout in already heavy in San Diego County, “so I’m not sure what the problem is we’re trying to solve here.”

Fletcher said his original proposal called for a handful of voter centers.

“There’s nothing in what we’re studying that would close anyone’s polling location,” he added.

County Registrar Michael Vu said a vote center pilot project would review locations based geography and population, including unincorporated areas and native American reservations. It also would address accessibility and transportation corridors, Vu said.

Vu said a vote center would result in fewer poll workers, who need skills to handle advanced technology and prevent any voting irregularities. There are security and safeguards around the entire process, he added.

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