PD Editorial: State ready for mail-only balloting

Our democracy grants every qualified citizen the right to vote. Yet for most of America’s history voters had to find a way to get to the polls on the right Tuesday to cast a ballot, a custom that looks rather quaint and inefficient in a world of instant communication from anywhere to everywhere. Our antiquated voting system has led to shrinking voter turnout. These days it’s rare that a true majority of the people chooses an elected official or passes a tax measure.

Tuesdays, after all, are work days. Many adults are strapped for time between jobs, families and other responsibilities. Squeezing in standing in line at a polling place isn’t possible or affordable for some.

The nation and the technology aren’t ready for Internet voting, but other states have pioneered successful election modernization. Oregon has conducted vote-by-mail elections since 2000, and it regularly beats California in overall turnout. Colorado mails out ballots in advance, and there, too, voters participate at a higher rate than here.

California should follow their lead by adopting Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s proposal to switch exclusively to vote-by-mail for state elections. Senate Bill 450, jointly sponsored by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, would allow counties to mail a ballot to every registered voter. Voters could return their ballot by mail or deposit it at secure drop boxes that each county would set up. In addition, counties would set up “vote centers” that would be open eight hours a day for the 10 days prior to an election.

Based on the results in other states, those changes would help increase voter turnout and reduce costs.

“California ranked 43rd in voter turnout nationally for the 2014 general election. This problem cannot be ignored. Civic participation is the foundation of our democracy,” Padilla said. “SB 450 would provide citizens more options for when, where and how they vote. Providing more options will help more citizens vote, despite our often busy lives.”

For years, naysayers opposed to election reforms have expressed concerns about voter fraud, loss of community if we don’t all vote together on one day and even that turnout could drop. Nothing of the sort has occurred in more progressive states that have implemented election reforms. Indeed, the only reason for opposition is to keep turnout low, a goal that serves only partisans who think it will help their candidates.

Lawmakers should welcome the new ideas to broaden participation. The results from a statewide survey, released by the Public Policy Institute of California, found that 70 percent of adults favor sending every registered voter a vote-by-mail ballot. Currently, citizens must request a vote-by-mail ballot when registering to vote.

Also, more than 8 in 10 California adults say low voter turnout is a problem, and 59 percent called it a big problem.

The numbers make the case. California’s turnout in the 2014 general election was 31 percent. Colorado, with its mail-in and advance voting options, recorded a turnout of 60 percent. Oregon recorded an impressive 71 percent.

Democracy works best when the full chorus of public views is heard. California can encourage that with sensible election reforms.

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