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Sacramento Is Ditching Polling Places For ‘Voter Centers.’ Will People Be Confused?

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Kelly Pope walks into the North Natomas Library to drop off her ballot.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Sacramento County is switching to a “voter center” model for today’s election, but some people are concerned the change may confuse voters.

In the past, voters had to go to their specific precinct to vote in an election. Now, the county has adopted a new way, where people can go to any voting center to cast their ballot.

This model was tested in San Mateo County three years ago. Jim Irizarry, that county’s assistant chief elections officer, says the system was a tremendous success.

“It increased voter participation, it lowered election cost for the participating jurisdictions. It was an efficient election to administer,” Irizarry said. He added that the returns were processed quickly and they were able to determine the winner of the election clearly.

He says San Mateo was chosen by the state because of it’s a diverse, urban area that served as the perfect petri dish to try out a new voting system.

“We have a diverse population in terms of both ethnic groups, economics-- geographically, we’re very diverse. We have rural areas, we have urban areas. And that economic and cultural diversity is a good microcosm for the state,” Irizarry said.

But Kim Alexander, who heads the California Voter Foundation, says that, for the upcoming election in Sacramento County, she’s afraid the change wasn’t publicized enough, and that voters will be confused come election day.

“We had hoped that there could be signs put at polling places to let people know, ‘Hey, this isn’t available for you, go to this other location,’ I don’t think that’s going to be happening,” she said.

Irizarry says that is a viable concern. That’s why his team has used their resources to get the word out. They’ve done community education, outreach, public service announcements, postcards, newspaper ads, social media blasts, and meetings with city councils and community-based organizations. He says these elections are successful, but only when the voter is engaged throughout the cycle.

“Remember, the ballot goes out 29 days [before the election]. If you’re like me, you probably put it on your kitchen table and it just got buried under 29 days of mail. … And therein lies one of the biggest challenges: to make sure that people stay engaged,” Irizarry said.

Alice Jarboe with the Sacramento County Registrar’s Office says voting information is readily available for people online and in print.

“We’ve printed the entire list of drop boxes and vote centers in the guide, along with corresponding location maps. This information is also provided to all voters in their official ballot packet,” she said.

Another twist to this election: If you haven’t registered to vote yet, you can register and vote on the same day, today. You can also vote-by-mail, as long as it’s postmarked by Tuesday.

 Election 2018

Adhiti Bandlamudi

NPR Kroc Fellow

Adhiti Bandlamudi is a visiting NPR Kroc Fellow. During her fellowship, she has worked as a reporter for the National Desk and as a producer for Weekend All Things Considered and Planet Money.   Read Full Bio 

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