California’s top election official has accused Orange County’s governing board of playing politics and whipping up unfounded fears of voter fraud by rejecting a proposed overhaul of the county’s voting system that proponents say could boost turnout and save taxpayers more than $20 million.
In a letter to the county Board of Supervisors sent Thursday, June 24, Secretary of State Alex Padilla urged the five members to reconsider their unanimous June 13 vote to reject the proposed voting system changes, an action taken without public discussion.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson said Friday that he opposed the overhaul, proposed by Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley, based not on fear of voter fraud, but worries that a sudden change might confuse some voters and reduce election participation.
Under Kelley’s proposal, the county would send every voter a mail ballot beginning in 2018. The county also would install 93 “military-grade” secure drop boxes in various communities and replace more than 1,000 precinct polling places with 150 “vote centers.” The vote centers would open 10 days before an election to allow people to cast ballots in person or drop off mail ballots.
A county analysis shows the changes would be significantly cheaper than replacing aging voting machines at each polling place. Kelley argued the shift reflects a new reality: 61 percent of county voters are permanently registered to vote-by-mail and that number continues to grow.
Similar models have been implemented in Washington and Colorado, where election officials report increases in voter turnout.
Despite the potential benefits, the county’s all-Republican board voted down Kelley’s proposal without explanation. Supervisor Todd Spitzer later said he was concerned the new system could allow increased voter fraud if it occurred at the same time as other pending revisions to statewide election rules. The state changes, which go into effect in 2018, will allow people to…