By Melody Gutierrez
California will overhaul its election system beginning in 2018 so that voters have more options on when and where to cast their ballots in future elections, under a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed Thursday.
SB450 by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, allows counties to opt into the new system, and if they do, those counties would be required to mail all voters a ballot that can be cast at voting centers up to 10 days before election day. The ballots can also be returned by mail.
"People lead increasingly complicated lives; we should provide them with maximum flexibility when it comes to voting," Allen said in a statement. "Under this new law, people will be able to choose the time and place to vote that is most convenient for their lifestyle and their schedule."
Lawmakers modeled the law after Colorado's election process, which has increased voter turnout and reduced the cost of holding elections.
Supporters of the bill said the increased flexibility will especially help working Californians and hopefully lead to higher voter turnout.
"Why limit voting to one location on a single Tuesday," said Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who sponsored the legislation.
The bill was introduced in the wake of steadily declining voter turnout, including a historically low voter turnout in 2014, when only a quarter of all registered voters cast a ballot in the June primary and 42 percent cast a ballot in the November general election. California ranks 43rd out of 50 states for its voter turnout rates.
Under SB450, 14 of the state's 58 counties can opt into the new system beginning in 2018, including San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in the Bay Area. The remaining counties in the state may start in 2020. If a county opts in, mail ballots would be sent to every voter 28 days before the election. Voters could then vote in person at a voting center or mail their ballot in or drop their ballot off.
Voting centers would replace neighborhood polling places and instead be open for anyone within a county to cast their ballot. While there would be fewer voting centers than polling places, the centers would be open longer, including on the two weekends leading up to the election, and workers there would help voters with same-day registration, replacing a ballot or providing materials in a different language.
Brown signed and vetoed dozens of bills Thursday ahead of Friday's deadline to act on legislation.
Brown signed two bills Thursday to protect traumatized foster children from psychiatric care that is overly reliant on risky medications, adding to what is now the most comprehensive set of such laws in the nation.
SB1174 by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and SB1291 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, will subject overprescribing physicians to stepped-up investigations and ensure that counties offer mental health services for foster children that include nondrug treatments.
Brown also vetoed a bill that would have enhanced juvenile court oversight of prescribing.
Among the other bills the governor signed:
--AB1732 by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, makes all public single-stall restrooms gender-neutral. The law would go into effect March 1, 2017, and would not affect multistall restrooms.
--SB1150 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, extends homeowner protections against foreclosures to surviving family members. The bill requires lenders to work with the next of kin of a deceased homeowner to avoid foreclosure and extends other protections in the California Homeowner Bill of Rights to widows and other survivors.
--SB443 by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, creates stricter rules for law enforcement agencies to seize a suspect's money, car or other assets. Supporters of the bill said a loophole in the state's civil forfeiture laws created an incentive for officers to seize money and property to increase their own budgets, even when the suspect was not charged. SB443 requires a criminal conviction before police can permanently seize less than $40,000 in cash or property in drug cases.
--AB1494 by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, allows voters in California to take selfies with their ballot and post them on social media. Previously, California law prohibited sharing the contents of a ballot, although federal courts have found those restrictions are likely unconstitutional.
--SB438 by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will create the California Earthquake Early Warning System Program to help the state drive investments in an early warning system.
(c)2016 the San Francisco Chronicle