All registered voters will soon be getting their ballots for the June 5 primary election in the mail, even if they have previously voted in person.
Madera is one of only five counties in California currently engaged in a new effort to auto enroll all registered voters in the existing vote by mail system, according to Rebecca Martinez, the Madera County Clerk/Recorder/Registrar.
“I’m hoping this will increase voter participation. That’s what it’s all about. People exercising their right to vote.” Martinez said.
Called the Voter’s Choice Act, the goal is to provide every registered voter with a new range of voting options that will be more convenient and to increase voter participation, with voting expanded over 10 days but still allowing people to vote in person should they choose to.
Voting by mail is secure and efficient, Martinez said, but not every voter is aware of it, nor has requested that option. Sending the ballots automatically to the voters address should hopefully increase participation.
There will be also be secure ballot drop boxes for those voters wishing to save the postage and deliver their ballots themselves. “Two ballot drop boxes will even be drive through, one at the Madera County Government Center at 200 west 4th Street, in Madera. Another secure, convenient drive through drop box will be in Chowchilla at the Civic Center, at 130 S. 2nd Street.
There will be six new strategically located vote centers across the county where anyone registered to vote can walk in and cast his or her ballot 8a.m. to 5 p.m., over 10 days starting May 26th through June 5th. Voters are also no longer limited to their previous precinct locations. Some previous polling locations are no longer being used.
Madera voting equipment was long due for an upgrade, according to Martinez. “The last system we had installed was in 1990. It was reliable but antiquated. We knew we had to buy a (new) voting system, so we looked into and opted into this program,” she said.
The new voting system is secure and not connected to the internet, Martinez said, and still relies on paper ballot cards as a verifiable paper trail.
Ballot card methods are ideal because signatures and addresses on the envelopes are initially verified with original signature cards by the elections department staff before votes are tabulated and counted by machines, a labor intensive but necessary process to ensure the validity of elections.
Voters changing their names or addresses at the Department of Motor Vehicles will now automatically also be enrolled in the vote by mail system if they are (legal) citizens, or unless they specifically opt out at DMV, she said.
There was a lot involved in the new process, she said, with staff training and community education required, Martinez said. “We held workshops, drafted an elections administration plan, held public hearing for comment, revised it, then got it approved by the state. There are lots of procedures, regulations regarding security, the times of pick up of ballots from vote center locations, etc. It’s a long drawn out process.” she said.
Approximately 54,000 people are registered to vote in Madera city and county, out of the 155,000 people residents roughly tallied by the 2016 census.
The vote by mail system is the way of the future, is secure, efficient and saves taxpayers money, she said.
“About 67 percent of our registered voters already vote by mail. This should provide more voters a better opportunity to cast their votes, over an expanded time frame,” Martinez said.