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Imperial County Supervisors Deny Voting Center Proposal

-Editorial

A proposal to create a new election system failed to get approval from the Imperial County Board of Supervisors as it didn’t get the required majority to be implemented in 2024.

The board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of implementing the Elections Administration Plan which would conduct elections under a model which provides greater flexibility and convenience for voters. Vote Centers replace traditional polling places. Voters have the freedom to cast a ballot in person at any vote center in their county instead of being assigned to a single polling location. Supervisors Ryan Kelley and John Hawk voted against it. The item needed 4 votes to pass. 

Both Hawk and Kelley had concerns about the lack of time to do outreach to the community about this new system. Hawk had concerns about the elderly who might be taken aback by not finding the polling place they have voted for years. 

“If we go through this we will be behind the curve,” Hawk said. 

Kelley was concerned about the people that live in the unincorporated areas like Heber, Ocotillo, Seeley, and others who were not listed as places that would have voting centers. 

Reacting to this action was Calipatria Councilman Michael Luellen. 

“Today is a perfect example of the status-quo politics that continue to plague our County. A motion to expand civic engagement and voting accessibility for our community, particularly our disabled, aging, and non-English speaking population, which was presented in the form of a transition to the Voter’s Choice Act failed to reach the 4-1 threshold needed to pass,” Luellen said. “I commend Supervisors Jesus Escobar, Michael Kelley, and Luis Plancarte for voting in favor, but am extremely disappointed that it did not receive a fourth vote. It is a shame that those in positions of authority continue to do the same thing and expect growth or genuine results!”

Established by Senate Bill 450, the California Voter’s Choice Act modernizes elections in California by allowing counties to conduct elections under a model, which provides greater flexibility and convenience for voters. This election model allows voters to choose how, when, and where to cast their ballot by mailing every voter a ballot; expanding in-person early voting, allowing voters to cast a ballot at any vote center within their county; and providing secure ballot drop-off locations throughout the county.

To direct the County into this new model, staff drafted the Election Administration Plan (EAP) containing detailed information and guidance on all facets of the transitions. Had it been approved, the EAP will be reviewed and revised every two years to ensure all areas of the new model are implemented accurately and efficiently.

In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Imperial County like other California counties began integrating some aspects of the plan into the Registrar of Voters’ activities. For instance, beginning in 2020, every registered voter in Imperial County is mailed a vote-by-mail ballot and temporary ballot drop boxes were installed at locations throughout Imperial County. In 2021, the ballot drop box program was expanded by permanently installing eight ballot drop boxes at accessible locations throughout Imperial County.

Voting centers would have been open 10 days before the Election and through the Monday before Election Day, one vote center is required for every 50,000 registered voters. On Election Day and Saturday, Sunday, and Monday leading up to Election Day, one vote center is required for every 10,000 registered voters.

The EAP proposed a total of 12 vote centers strategically located throughout Imperial County. Three of the identified vote centers located in Brawley, Calexico, and El Centro would be opened 10 days before Election Day from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Election Day from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The estimated total cost of one-time costs associated with the transitions is $485,380 and the estimated annual fees associated with this new equipment are $56,980. In addition to equipment, supplies, and technical support, the department expected to incur costs associated with outreach efforts to educate the public on the new voting options. It was anticipated these budgetary increases were going to decrease in the long term through learned efficiencies and fewer equipment purchases. Vote centers are open longer and although the number of poll workers needed will decrease, because of the extended number of days vote centers are open, the cost associated with poll workers will likely not be.

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