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California legislature may ease rules for voters to cast ballots

9:25 PM, Aug 23, 2012   |    comments
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The old joke in politics is to "vote early, vote often."  But bills being either considered or ratified by the Legislature may make a better quip to "vote late, vote anywhere."

A bevy of legislation left for the final days of Capitol action in 2012 would rewrite state election law, generally making it easier for voters to cast their ballots on Election Day.

On Thursday, the state Senate approved Assembly Bill 1436 to allow voter registration right up until just before the polls close on Election Day. The proposal, which needs a quick final vote before going to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, would put California on par with ten other states and the District of Columbia in allowing some form of "same day" voter registration.

"Often the campaign culminates in the last couple of weeks before election day," says Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, the bill's author. "And it's that time when especially young people tend to get excited, but they are foreclosed now from voting here in California."

The bill does have a caveat for when it would go into effect: a delay until the state completes work on its long planned, much beleaguered, but federally required statewide voter database. That system will ultimately allow local elections officials to ensure that a voter isn't already registered somewhere else in the state.

Two other bills are motivated by recent news that the U.S. Postal Service has plans to close some of its distribution centers to save money -- a problem, say elections officials, for ensuring that vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots arrive on time.

Assembly Bill 2054 by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, would allow an absentee voter to return their VBM ballot at any polling place in the state on Election Day. On a business trip to Los Angeles? Drop your ballot off there. Similar bills, though, have been vetoed by both Brown in 2011 and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007.

And a late entrant in the quest to make voting easier: amendments that turned Assembly Bill 1466, championed in its new form by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, to loosen the rules on ballots that don't arrive on Election Day. Steinberg is seeking to give voters an extra 72 hours for their vote to count - as long as it's been postmarked by Election Day, or if the voter signs a legal certification that the ballot was filled out on time. Current rules say if it's not in the hands of elections officials when the polls close, it's not counted.

"If we want to make sure that all people that vote have their votes counted," Steinberg said Thursday, "this law is necessary in order to account for the fact that the Postal Service may not be able to deliver all of the ballots on time."

But efforts to allow later submissions of VBM ballots pose some problems, says Sacramento County registrar Jill LaVine.

"If we had ballots in several counties that needed to be returned this could be very expensive," said LaVine by email. "We would need some rules on the method to return the ballots."

LaVine also points out that the slower counties - usually the big ones - could hold up certification of results and races in other counties. So enough people from, say, Stockton who drop off ballots in Los Angeles could hold up the results in a close San Joaquin County legislative or congressional race.

"Would they have to hold up certification until the big counties are done?," said LaVine in her email. "Would we need legislation to extend the canvass [of votes]?"


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