MADERA COUNTY — Beginning with the June 5 election, voters in Madera County will be able to vote in person for nearly two weeks ahead of the election, and every registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail.
Madera County Clerk/Recorder/Registrar Rebecca Martinez says she hopes everyone will be excited about the improvements to the voting process. Martinez will be explaining the new process at a Town Hall meeting on Mar. 27, at 6 p.m. at the Blue Heron in Yosemite Lakes Park.
“I am devoting all my time to making sure this is successful and will be well-received,” says Martinez.
Madera County is one of five counties, out of the fourteen who were designated, to be first to implement the Voter’s Choice Act (SB 450) which was passed in 2016. The others are Sacramento, San Mateo, Nevada and Napa Counties.
With more than 67 percent of Madera County voters now voting by mail, the Madera County Elections Department is moving forward to modernize, streamline and simplify the process.
Every registered voter in the county will receive a ballot in the mail. Voters can vote and then mail in the ballots. They will also have the option of dropping their ballot into one of four secure drop boxes, postage free, as much as 28 days ahead of the election.
There will be a 24/7 drive-up box at the Government Center in Madera, which Martinez says will be secure and monitored, meeting the most stringent security criteria including cameras. Other drop-off locations will be set up in government offices or businesses during regular business hours.
Up until now, voters could only vote in person on election day between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. With the new process, voters who wish to vote in person may do so in the 11 days leading up to, and including election day – which includes two weekends – at two vote centers; one in Madera and one in Oakhurst.
At any vote center, a voter may:
- Vote in-person
- Drop off their ballot
- Get a replacement ballot
- Vote using an accessible voting machine
- Get help and voting material in multiple languages
- Register to vote or update their voter registration
Beginning three days before the election – which again includes weekend days – four additional vote centers will be open, for a total of six, which include the Government Center in Madera, a second location in Madera, one in Chowchilla, Madera Ranchos, Oakhurst, and an additional location in the mountain area (exact location to be determined). Vote centers will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on election day when they will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
On election day, the number of voting centers which have operated in the past will be reduced from the current forty, down to six — two in the mountain area and four in the Valley.
Voters will be able to register to vote right up until election day. Those late registrants will have their ballot handled the same way a provisional ballot is processed – the ballots will be held until the registration process is complete, then counted.
These changes will reduce the number of poll workers necessary from 350 to about 50, says Martinez. It will also allow people to vote at any polling place, not just the one in their area.
Madera County has also replaced their 30-year-old voting system with state-of-the-art touch screen machines. These new machines do not tally the votes, they simply allow voters to make their selection on the screen, which then marks and prints a paper ballot. Voters can then review their ballot to make sure it is correct before depositing it into the ballot box. If any mistakes have been made, the ballot will be voided, and the voter can redo their ballot up to three times.
For those who like to vote in person, they can still do so, and can even deliver the ballot they received in the mail to a voting center. However, the number of voting centers will be reduced, so residents should check votemadera.com for the location nearest them.
To ensure that the voters of Madera County have a voice in the process, the Elections Department will be holding public hearings early in 2018 (exact dates to be announced) and will have a 30-day pubic input period. The department is also required by law to make direct contact with every registered voter twice between Jan. 1 and election day. That will be done through mailers that will inform everyone of the changes to the process, so watch for those in the mail.
“By adopting the Voter’s Choice Act and upgrading and improving the process, I am hoping that everyone will get engaged and exercise their right to vote,” says Martinez. “We want people to be excited about the improvements, and hope that this will bolster voter participation.”