A bill that guarantees California voters have a place in which to vote on Election Day has been signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Proposed by Palo Alto resident Lynn Silton and presented by State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), SB 1342 addresses the recent trend of mail-in voting, which has affected the availability of polling stations.
Under current law, people who wish to vote in person must go to a specific polling location designated by their precinct. Precincts cover about 1,000 registered voters, many of whom are permanent mail-in voters and thus do not use the polling areas.
This causes scenarios in which "some voters walk into polling places that are overstaffed and virtually empty, while other voters are waiting in long lines at polling places that have the maximum number of Election Day voters," Simitian said in a statement. "This makes no sense."
In addition, if the number of in-person voters drops below 250 in a precinct, the county eliminates the local polling place completely, forcing voters to either cast their ballot by mail or find a polling station in another precinct.
The new law, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2011, allows election officials to subtract permanent mail-in voters from the precinct's 1,000-voter cap. As a result, officials can redraw precincts to accurately reflect the number of in-person voters and provide Election Day polling stations for everyone.
The idea was first developed by Redwood City resident Dennis McBride, who won Simitian's annual "There Oughta Be a Law" contest in 2007. Though Simitian later turned McBride's idea into a proposal that passed through the state legislature, the bill was vetoed by Schwarzenegger.
This year, Silton co-proposed the bill with McBride for the "There Oughta Be a Law" contest and was one of three winners.
"My concern was that I wasn't getting a choice," Silton said in a March 29 Palo Alto Weekly article. "I don't doubt the honesty of our current registrar, but whenever possible, citizens should be involved in the process."
She traveled to Sacramento twice to testify in favor of the bill.
"I'm hoping that the area where I live will have a polling place again," Silton said.
"I appreciate that the governor was willing to give this idea a fresh look."