Napa County is one of only five counties rolling out California 2016 Voter’s Choice Act for the June 5 election, meaning all voters will receive their ballots by mail.
Under the pilot program, voters can return the ballots by mail, at drop boxes or at voter centers that replace the traditional polling place.
This won’t be a dramatic change for many voters, given Napa County has promoted vote-by-mail for more than a decade. The county has 75,000 registered voters and only about 10,000 used polling places in recent elections.
Registrar of Voters John Tuteur is finalizing such issues as the location of drop boxes in local cities and towns. He is working with various community members involved with nonprofits and other groups on the new, local election regime.
“We see this as a valuable opportunity to start a new level of civic engagement in our community, that is one of very diverse members,” said Elba Gonzalez-Mares, executive director of Community Health Initiative.
Tuteur and community members helping with the Voter’s Choice Act effort gave an update recently to the county Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Belia Ramos heard the planned locations of voter centers and the hoped-for locations for drop boxes. She thought the county could do still more by having temporary centers make appearances in such places as American Canyon mobile home parks – to create what these days are called pop-up shops.
“That’s a cool term, Mr. Tuteur, right now,” Ramos said. “You could be a pop-up shop … I don’t see the extra mile here. I think we’ve still got work to do. I’d like to see you be cool and be a pop-up shop and take your show on the road.”
Tuteur said election officials have discussed the idea. But outfitting a motor home to be a pop-up shop might cost $60,000 to $70,000, given security and technology issues. He prefers taking baby steps by seeing if the need exists during the June election.
“There’s a cost to striding out there,” Tuteur said. “And, secondly, we don’t know how this is going to go …. My preference as a fiscal conservative is to see how June goes.”
Ramos said she’d consider having the county spend more money for the June election to encourage higher voter turnout.
“I can appreciate your fiscal (conservatism) in this and to say there’s a cost to all of this,” Ramos said. “But there’s a cost to disenfranchisement. There’s a cost to disengagement. And there’s a cost to voter apathy.”
Some voter centers will be open for 10 days through Election Day and some will be open four days. People will be able to go there to drop off ballots, receive replacement ballots, register to vote or update their registration, ask questions and use a voting machine.
Several community members want voter centers open into evening hours prior to Election Day. They think the planned daytime hours won’t suit working people.
“American Canyon is largely a commuter town,” Pastor Fel Cao told supervisors.
Tuteur said the Election Division isn’t necessarily opposed to the idea. But workers would have to work extended hours. He noted all of the centers will be open the weekend before the election and some will also be open the Memorial Day weekend.
Drop-off boxes will be available 24 hours a day. Tuteur is looking to have them at locations frequented by people during daily life, such as near stores and at bus hubs.
Tuteur told supervisors the planned locations of the voter centers.
City of Napa locations will be the downtown county Election Division office and CrossWalk Community Church; the American Canyon locations will be Holiday Inn Express and library; the Yountville location will be the Veterans Home of California at Yountville; the St. Helena location will be the Napa Valley College Upper Valley Campus; the Calistoga and Angwin locations will be the fire departments.