Friday, September 24, 2010

Election Reform: Vote-By-Mail Elections with Neighborhood Vote Centers

Voter participation in Los Angeles city elections is appallingly low. It’s time to remove the barriers to convenient voting by giving people access to the ballot. Starting with special elections, we call on Los Angeles to set up Neighborhood Vote Centers AND automatically mail ballots to voters, giving us a choice of when and how we cast our ballot. This added convenience will also save tax dollars spent on administering elections.

  • As more and more voters cast ballots by mail, we need to develop a voting system that gives people easier choices about how to cast their ballots.
  • The City should set up Neighborhood Vote Centers that are convenient, accessible, and secure, with trained staff to assist voters in a service-friendly and respectful manner.
  • In addition, we can remove hurdles by mailing every voter a ballot that can be returned by mail or dropped off in person at a Neighborhood Vote Center. In the 2009 municipal primary election 37% of all voters did so by mail, a significant increase from past contests.
  • The City would locate Vote Centers in strategic locations to allow all voters to vote in person and receive assistance if they need it. Initially, we should try to maintain at least half our polling sites.
  • In addition to having the option to vote at Neighborhood Vote Centers, all registered voters would also be automatically mailed an actual ballot and multi-lingual materials, if needed.
  • Neighborhood Vote Centers could be set up in large, well-equipped facilities that are fully staffed, with easy access to public transit and parking.
  • This could save up to an estimated $600-700,000 (35-40%) per election, according to the City Clerk.
  • Giving people the options of either voting in person or by mail increases voter convenience significantly.
  • Voting integrity would be increased because every signature would be checked before counting ballots.
  • A 2009 PEW Research Center study found that voter participation can be increased by mailing a ballot to all voters, particularly in low turnout elections. Participation is also strong across income or education groups.
  • Cities like Burbank and Denver, and the states of Washington and Oregon use similar voting systems.
  • This approach would be tested first with special elections for vacant Council districts and only rolled out citywide once the Clerk had perfected the process and sufficient staffing was identified to process all the ballots.