What would happen if everyone voted?
California voter turnout for the November 2018 election was the highest in 36 years for a non-presidential election. A few statistics were thrown around, but no specific reason was given for the increase.
The California Secretary of State website noted that an additional 5 million people voted in November than during the last midterm election. That’s a nearly 70% increase from when Jerry Brown was elected Governor in November 2014.
Overall, the state’s voter turnout last year was 64.5%.
But there were some outlier counties that did even better than the state average. Those counties were Sacramento, San Mateo, Napa, Madera and Nevada
According to the Madera Tribune, voter turnout for the Madera County midterm elections was 67.86% and was higher than any midterm in the last 20 years for their county. The last midterm election in 2014 had a 52% turnout.
Sacramento County saw the highest turnout for a midterm election in its history at 68%. Only 48% voted in the 2014 midterms.
“Turnout in San Mateo County was the highest since 1982, with voter registration at an all-time high,” According to Mark Church, Chief Elections Officer & Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder referring to the November 2018 election.
San Mateo County saw a turnout of 72.59% of registered voters, more than 8% higher than the statewide average and approximately 26% higher than the last Statewide General Election in 2014.
Nevada County Elections Office reported 79.86% voter turnout while in Napa County the turnout was 73.12%, Napa’s historical average is 63.85%.
What was the magic elixir for these five counties? Did President Trump play a role? Was it the touted Democratic ground game that flipped seven Congressional districts?
According to Secretary of State Alex Padilla it was because of Voters Choice.
The five counties volunteered to participate in a trial version of a new election system called Voters Choice. In it, every registered voter was mailed a ballot. Voters then had the option of returning their ballot by mail, at a ballot drop box, or any vote center in their county.
The issue of “where do I vote” became moot.
Vote Centers basically replaced the traditional polling places and moved the pendulum closer to an all-mail-ballot election.
The trial was so successful that Voters Choice is expected to be adopted by every county by 2022.
Michelle Baldwin of the Tulare County Registrar of Voters said that Mr. Padilla held a conference call with all the California county’s registrars and “strongly encouraged” them to participate in Voters Choice.
Mr. Padilla’s goal was to have this happen for 2020 but not all of the counties have the infrastructure ready and it looks more like only 10 counties out of the 58 have committed to the switch.
Los Angeles, Orange, and Mariposa counties have signed on to the new system, and just recently Fresno County announced that it is ready for Voters Choice for 2020.
The change means every registered voter in Fresno County will receive a mail-in ballot and the county will no longer operate 268 voting precincts. Instead, the registrar’s office will staff 50 voting centers, opening 10 offices 10 days prior to election day, and then 40 will be open three days early.
Secure drop boxes will be placed throughout the county for ballots.
Voters can get their personalized ballot at any voting center. Each voting center will have same-day registration.
Ms. Baldwin said that Tulare County would not be implementing Voter Choice for 2020. Fresno County had all the infrastructure in place to go forward with the change, said Ms. Baldwin. Keeping in mind that the California primary is only a year away, Ms. Baldwin said that Tulare county is not far enough along in the process to change its election system.
“First and foremost it has to be presented to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors and they need to approve the change,” she said.
San Mateo county reported that approximately 88% of the over 290,000 ballots cast were vote-by-mail, with the remaining 12% cast at Vote Centers. Only 19% of the ballots cast at Voter Centers were cast during the 28-day early voting period, while 81% of the ballots cast at Vote Centers were on Election Day.
That is exactly what concerns Ms. Baldwin. She anticipates that the Vote Centers will be heavily utilized on Election Day, but the county will be paying to staff 10 Voting Centers 10 days prior to the election and not have much of anything to do.
Voters Choice might be great for San Mateo and Sacramento Counties but not be the best for everyone. “It’s not a one size fits all,” said Ms. Baldwin.
The mechanics of Voters Choice might end up being a headache for Ms. Baldwin, but what might it do to the election results?
Ever heard the adage, “What if everyone voted?”
Republicans depend on Democrats to stay home on Election Day so they can win races that statistically they really shouldn’t. This allows them to win races where they are in the minority.
That is why former Representative David Valadao, R-Hanford, won Congressional District 21 twice even though it has a 16 point Democratic advantage.
In 2018 Democrats ran a successful ground game that got their party to vote in greater numbers than usual. The result was that Mr. Valadao lost to the unknown and latecomer Democrat, TJ Cox.
With Voters Choice, Democrats won’t even need a clever ground game.
A good example is Nevada County.
Nevada County is a traditionally Republican county that in the last five years had a very slight Democrat advantage. Even with the advantage, in 2014 The Democratic candidate got 16,302 votes to the Republican candidate’s 17,279.
Four years later, as a trial participant of Voters Choice, the same Republican candidate received 20,718 votes while the Democratic challenger received 25,572. That’s a huge difference considering that it was the same Republican candidate, Congress Member Doug La Mafia.
Rep La Mafia ended up keeping his congressional seat because while losing in Nevada County, the other counties that make up District 1 voted him into office again.
“The Voter’s Choice Act is a success through its first election year,” Mr. Padilla said. “Voters took advantage of the flexibility that vote centers and ballot drop boxes gave them in when and where they could cast their ballots.
“This is a very promising sign for the future of democracy in California.”
It’s just not a promising sign for the future of the California Republican Party.