Though several speakers criticized the move as potentially inviting fraud, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously adopted all provisions of the California Voters’ Choice Act, changing election processes to ensure a ballot is mailed to every registered voter while still allowing for in-person voting if a resident prefers.

The VCA, introduced as Assembly Bill 37 during the most recent legislative session, was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 27 and permits counties to opt in or opt out of some of the requirements.

Riverside County Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer told the board that if the county continued to operate outside the VCA, costs would escalate due to a mandate that counties that remain within the former parameters of the Election Code establish a minimum of one voting center per 30,000 residents.

“If we were to stick with the polling places, we would be required to have 600,” Spencer said. “If we go with the VCA, there’s only a need for 150.”

The registrar estimated an additional $7 million more would need to be spent on equipment, and staffing 600 polling stations was viewed as steeply challenging in the COVID era.

“This gives us more opportunities to vote, in person or by mail,” Supervisor Chuck Washington said. “The way we certify elections is still the same; this is more efficient.”

The VCA specifies that while every registered voter is entitled to receive a mail-in ballot, a recipient can still exercise the privilege of in-person voting — without casting the vote-by-mail ballot.

According to AB 37, county elections officials must “permit any voter to cast a ballot using a certified remote accessible system for any election.”

Voting centers, which will be outfitted with at least five computers on which residents can input their votes, must be available for 11 days prior to statewide elections, officials said.

“A vote center will allow a voter to vote in-person, drop off their ballot, get a replacement ballot, vote using an accessible voting machine, receive assistance, request voting material in multiple languages, register to vote and update their registration,” according to the county Office of the Registrar of Voters.

Spencer said the VCA permits same-day voter registration. However, voters who miss the cut-off date for registration ahead of an election will still be required to cast a provisional ballot, resulting in greater scrutiny.

Under the VCA, voters are supposed to receive an absentee ballot at least 29 days before an election, and any ballot bearing a postmark on or before election day must be processed up to seven days after the election.

But ballots are not required to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. According to the legislation, “a bona fide mail delivery company” may also drop ballots, as long as there is some indication “the date on which a ballot was mailed.”

“Our voting system is everything,” Supervisor Chuck Hewitt said. “I got a feeling this is going to be changing quite a bit every election cycle. But everything I’ve seen with our (countywide) system is pretty sound.”

Riverside-area resident John Parker deemed the VCA “flawed straight out of the gate.”

“You need to be going in the opposite direction,” he told the board. “Both parties have complained about (deficiencies) in mail-in balloting for years.

County resident Yvette Anthony condemned the move as “a drastic change to our election system” that should have been subject to public hearings.

“This is putting electronics at every stage of our elections, and there are going to be glitches,” she said. “I think you’d find your constituents want less machines and more direct participation.”

San Gorgonio Pass resident Roy Bleckert said the board was “throwing voter polling stations into the trash heap of history” by adopting the VCA.

“We should look at what they discovered in Pima County, Arizona,” he told the board, referring to election integrity hearings in the Arizona Legislature focusing on alleged mail-in ballot fraud. “People were over-voting. We should probably reform a lot of things in our election process. Nothing is more sacred than `one man, one vote.”’

Board Chair Karen Spiegel acknowledged that it was past time to “clean up our voter rolls.”

“This requires that we work toward weeding out fraud,” she said. “Some people are not happy with the VCA, but I think it’s a good direction.”

The board earlier this year approved a bevy of changes to operations within the Office of the Registrar of Voters in response to an “after-action report” on the Nov. 3, 2020, general election, which uncovered discrepancies.

Revisions included hiring new vendors to print and distribute ballots, increasing the registrar’s budget and ensuring that the county is consistently in sync with the state’s ballot tracking system, which provides voters a means of seeing whether their ballots have been processed.

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