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By Shawn Raymundo
With much of the state transitioning into a new voting system that utilizes mail-in-only ballots, the county elections office will be installing drop boxes around San Clemente in which voters can cast their ballots during this year’s elections.
At the recommendation of the Planning Commission, the San Clemente City Council gave the Orange County Registrar of Voters the OK last month to have the metal drop boxes placed at three locations within the city: the Municipal Golf Course, Jim Johnson Memorial Park and the new city hall building.
The use of drop boxes is part of the county’s implementation of the California Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) that former Gov. Jerry Brown enacted in 2016. The VCA is meant to move away from traditional polling precincts and modernize the way people vote.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors’ decision last February to implement the VCA came at a time when the county saw a rising trend in voters opting to use mail-in-only ballots. According to the registrar’s office, more than 1.1 million of those ballots were issued to the county’s electorate in the 2018 elections, making up nearly 70% of the total registered voters.
Under the VCA system, voters will receive their vote-by-mail ballots and be given three options to cast their votes: return the completed ballot to the registrar’s office via mail; drop the ballot into a drop box; or deliver it in person to a vote center.
The unmanned drop boxes, like the three that will be placed in San Clemente, will be available for voters to deliver their ballots within 29 days of a Primary and General Election. They’ll also be open 24 hours a day during those voting periods.
The VCA also requires there to be one drop-box location for every 15,000 registered voters. Because there are about 40,000 registered voters in San Clemente, the city needs to have three drop boxes.
For the state’s upcoming Primary in March, nearly 200 vote centers, which will operate similar to polling sites, are expected to open throughout the county days before the election. The county plans to open 32 of those centers 11 days before the March 3 Primary and another 161 sites four days before the election.
Planning commissioners had met in early December to deliberate the placement of the drop boxes that the registrar’s office had proposed. The elections office offered four potential sites, asking the commission to select only three as recommendations to the council.
The four initial sites, which included city hall and the golf course, as well as San Gorgonio Community Park and Forster Ranch Community Park, were proposed because they met certain VCA requirements, such as proximity to public transportation hubs and parking availability.
Commissioners, however, nixed the San Gorgonio and Forster Ranch parks from the list, and instead added the Jim Johnson park because of its central location in the city. The commission’s recommendation to the council also asked that the license agreements for the drop-box locations be limited to only one year.
Initially, the city and the county were prepared to authorize five-year license agreements; however, the commissioners raised concerns over the permanency of those spots and wanted to be able to revisit their placement in the future.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.