Supervisors vote against democracy
By JENNIFER BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
The right to vote is one of the building blocks of democracy. It’s one of the key ways “We the People” participate in our self-governance. Voting enables us to reflect our values in the representatives we choose and the issues we face. Simply and clearly, in a democracy our vote is our voice.
Because voting is so foundational, we intuitively, and it turns out correctly, believe that any improvement that increases voter participation and efficiency while protecting the sanctity of each vote does not just merit consideration, it likely merits our strong support.
That wasn’t the case here in Orange County on June 13, when the Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal from the Registrar of Voters Office to begin an urgently needed overhaul of the county’s voting system. More astonishing and offensive, the five elected supervisors did so without a single word of discussion.
The new vote center model proposed by Neal Kelley, the registrar of voters, and the dedicated workers in his office would optimize the voting process for voting by mail, which increasingly is the way Orange County voters want to cast their ballots. Recent figures show that 60 percent of participating county residents vote permanent absentee and that percentage increases every year.
Yet the vast majority of the county’s resources, both financial and human, committed to voting go toward setting up 1,200 polling places across the county that fewer and fewer voters are utilizing.
The vote center model puts the emphasis on voting by mail. Instead of hundreds and hundreds of polling places, a number of strategically placed vote centers across the county allow people to still vote in person or simply drop off their ballots. Vote center models in other states have been an unqualified success story, increasing voter participation by making the process much more convenient and lowering costs.
And in Orange County, moving to the new model would have had the added benefit of saving between $10 million and $20 million in taxpayer dollars.
Why maintain an antiquated status quo that we know impedes voter participation? The all-too-common excuse is concern over voter fraud. As Neal Kelley’s proposal clearly indicates, the vote center model increases security. Vote-by-mail ballots provide a paper trail that can be checked against voter registration data.
All of this makes the Board of Supervisors’ decision to put the brakes on the vote center model—and essentially direct the registrar to keep using the old system—so troubling.
Across our country, voter suppression is being practiced at an alarming rate. In 2016 alone, PBS reports that at least 14 states enacted restrictive voting laws. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, these include, but are not limited to, limitations on voter registration, photo ID mandates and shorter time periods for early voting. In states like Texas and Wisconsin, these restrictions have been overturned by the courts with judges labeling these efforts deliberate attempts to stifle the participation of minority voters.
That kind of abuse is unlikely to happen in California where laws such as the Voter’s Choice Act encourage voter participation. Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last fall, the law gives counties more authority to use vote-by-mail procedures.
Which brings us back to the question of, “Why?” Why would the elected members of the Board of Supervisors choose to continue using a voting process that requires more resources, provides less ballot integrity and discourages voter participation?
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told the Orange County Register that he was, “surprised … shocked and deeply disappointed” by Orange County’s decision. So are we.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously against the vote center model without saying a word. If they are going to suppress our voices at the ballot box, they need to use their voices to explain why.
Jennifer Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: June 23, 2017