California Voter’s Choice Act (VCA)
California lawmakers approved the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) in 2016, known as Senate Bill 450. The VCA “modernizes elections in California by allowing counties to conduct elections under a model which provides greater flexibility and convenience for voters.”1 The VCA expands the options for how, when, and where voters can cast ballots in an attempt to provide more accessible voting options and increase voter participation. With options such as voting on weekends and voting at any center in the voter’s county, as well as by mail without requesting a mailed ballot in advance, voters have additional opportunities to be heard. In addition, the VCA provides accessible multilingual materials.
In this blog, we’ll dive into some of the details of the VCA and provide resources for interested parties.
Key Components of VCA
The following are key components of VCA:
Vote-by-Mail (VBM) Ballots
Voters will no longer need to request a mailed ballot in advance. Instead, counties will mail a ballot to every registered voter 28 days before Election Day. Voters can then mail the VBM ballot, drop it in a ballot drop box or return it to a vote center.
Vote centers will replace traditional polling places. Voters may vote at any vote center within the county instead of being tied to a single polling location. Voters can vote in person, drop off their VBM ballot, receive a replacement ballot, register to vote, and get help with voting through material in multiple languages and using accessible voting machines.
Ballot Drop-Off Locations
Voters can drop off their ballots in ballot boxes postage-free starting 28 days before Election Day at various drop-off locations.
Voter Education and Community Involvement
Counties are required to hold education workshops with community groups, including organizations focused on limited English proficient communities and those with disabilities.
In an ongoing effort to develop best practices and ensure a smooth transition to VCA, the Secretary of State works with various community groups and election administrators. They’ve established a taskforce of election experts and administrators, as well as disability and language experts, to provide input on VCA implementation.
Goals and Benefits of the VCA
The VCA’s goal is to increase voter turnout by providing more flexible options for voters, and in turn, creating a more “successful” (accurate, full participation, and results) election. The VCA creates more accessible voting for individuals, which can increase turnout and encourage participation from community members that could otherwise be further marginalized by physical disabilities, language access, and educational awareness. In addition, the Election Administration Plan (EAP) process gives the public opportunities to provide input to shape the voting process based on community needs.
Although the VCA came about before the pandemic in 2020, the VCA helped modernize the election process to meet remote lifestyle preferences.
Process for Adopting VCA Plans
Every county that plans to follow the VCA model must create an election administration plan (EAP) and follow an open, public process for revisions and approval. The county must develop the EAP in consultation with a Language Accessibility Advisory Committee (LAAC) and a Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee (VAAC). Once the plan is drafted, the county will submit it to the Secretary of State for review. After approval, the county must post the plan and translated versions in a format that’s accessible for people with disabilities.
The VCA is an optional law, so counties can decide whether they want to follow the new voting model. As of April 2022, the following 28 of 58 counties have been or will be transitioned to the VCA in 2022:
- El Dorado
- Los Angeles
- San Benito
- San Diego
- San Mateo
- Santa Clara
- Santa Cruz
As of February 2022, two additional counties are currently under local review and are awaiting board approval.
Languages and Disability Needs
The language and disability requirements are outlined in the code and are also summarized in this checklist. To verify the languages assigned by the Secretary of State, review this memo. For newer updates, check here. The LAAC and VAAC provide input to the Elections Office for these voters.
Translating election materials requires precise, timely work using language that’s often tied to the election process and not often used in everyday communication. The English content can be difficult to understand for a native speaker, let alone for those who are limited English proficient. As a result, it’s usually best to use a translation provider with experience in multilingual election translation work. They should have glossary management, terminology management, and resources and processes to make the work run smoothly.
Best Practices for Implementing the VCA Model
A Voter’s Choice Act research team conducted a study to identify key successes, challenges, and lessons learned from the five initial counties that implemented the VCA model. The team put together several briefs on the results of the study on topics such as:
- Voter outreach and education
- Vote center and drop box sitings
- Collaboration and key considerations on implementation
Access the briefs here.
In addition to all the best practices briefs, the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund has created a Voter’s Choice Act Toolkit for interested counties.
Conclusion and Resources
Proponents of the VCA foresaw benefits including potential increased voter turnout due to more voting options. As a result, more and more counties are adopting the VCA model.
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1California Secretary of State California Voter’s Choice Act