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Chris Gilbert


Little County Tries Big New Way to Vote

If you are in the news reporting business like I am, it seemed like this day would never come. Not because it’s such a momentous occasion, but because we’ve been talking about it for-ever. Of course, we’ll be talking about it afterward, and then will be talking forever about the next one coming up in November. That’s just the thing, though. We’re always talking. Of course, that’s what we do is talk, but at least now we get some results. Today, voters go to the polls for the June primary election.

Throughout California, voters will narrow choices of 27 candidates for Governor and 32 for Senate, down to just two. In rural Nevada County (population 100,000), the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City, the incorporated town of Truckee, and the unincorporated areas around, will pick a sheriff, district attorney, county supervisor, and decide a couple of local measures, but they will do so in a way that most Californians won’t.

Nevada County is one of just five counties in the state (Madera, Napa, Sacramento, and San Mateo are the others) that is trying something new—a pilot program called the Voters Choice Act. Instead of going to your local polling place to vote, each registered voter is mailed a ballot. That voter can fill it out and turn it in, postage paid, or if there are any questions or problems, or if the voter just prefers to vote in person, they can go to one of seven “vote centers” scattered around the county.

The idea is to have people vote by mail and get the ballots in, but the vote center model is also designed to expedite the vote count on Tuesday night when the polls close. Instead of rounding up ballots from dozens of different polling places, many in remote locations, and get them to Nevada City where it might be one in the morning before they are tabulated, they just bring the ballots in from the seven different vote centers—the farthest two being an hour away, and hopefully have the computers spitting out the totals by 10 or 10:30pm.

The idea also means fewer poll workers, which means you don’t have to pay them, but the county is also taking some heat for a large up-front expenditure for some new machines and equipment. The Clerk Recorder, who is championing the program, is also up for re-election, and is facing two challengers.

Nevada County is a large voter-turnout county anyway, which is maybe why it was selected for the pilot program anyway. The hope from the state is that if people can vote from home, or drive to their nearest vote center if they choose, it will be more convenient and will increase participation. The county has been largely Republican in the past, but is now more moderate, and certainly more independent. The county (ironically shaped like a gun if you look at it on a map) voted for Hillary Clinton for President two years ago, but also went along with the rest of the rural 11-county district when choosing its Republican Assemblyman and Congressman. Voter turnout in November of 2016, was the third highest in the state.

As of Friday morning, five days before the election, eleven thousand ballots had been returned out of about 67-thousand sent out. People could start voting even before Memorial Day, but it seems most are choosing to wait. And while the most highly anticipated race in Nevada County may be for Sheriff, where the incumbent is retiring and three people want to take his place, the bigger story is the new system used to make that determination. We’ll have numbers tonight to tell you who the winners are in all the races, but whether or not the Voters Choice Act is a hit or miss, is a race that’s too close to call.

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