An updated election system, launched during the March 2019 election in the Palm Drive Health Care District, has been implemented to increase the use of automation, improve efficiency, decrease waste and be more cost effective. It will also decrease the need for extra help and overtime costs while being able to produce periodic updates of election results.

A redesigned ballot will appear in the March 2020 primary election. At polling places, there will be the option to use a paper ballot, or a new Accessible Ballot Marking Device that still prints out a paper ballot. In addition, there will be a new Accessible Voter Information Guide and a revised election night reporting system.

She said in 2017-18 county funding was available, and state funding was imminent to help finance new certified election systems. In Sonoma County, a Voting Systems Replacement project got underway under the direction of a hired special projects manager. An online public survey was conducted along with a demo day to display the new device and process.

This new system, known as “Democracy Suite,” replaces the county’s previous 35-year old ballot style and tallying system. The Registrar of Voters Office purchased the new system following approval by the Board of Supervisors August 14, 2018.

The previous Mark-A-Vote system, installed in 1983, was a paper-based, optical scan voting system that became antiquated. The equipment was no longer manufactured, and replacement parts were almost non-existent. A single qualified (and semi-retired) technician maintained the hardware. Furthermore, some software in the old system was no longer supported and no periodic updates were possible.

The Registrar of Voters conducted an RFP, and the contract was awarded to Dominion Voting Systems. This firm’s ImageCast Central optical scan vote tabulator supports a full range of ballot sizes and complexities and can process paper ballots at speeds of over 150 ballots per minute.

The Dominion Voting System’s ImageCast X is a ballot-marking system designed to provide privacy and accessibility to voters who are blind, vision-impaired, or have a disability or condition that would make it difficult or impossible to mark a ballot in the usual way. This technology also provides language assistance to voters who are more comfortable speaking a different language or who need help to better understand written instructions.

Other election-related changes include the new Motor Voter DMV voter registration system combined with a signature curing period if there is a mismatch with signatures on record or if no signature is presented.

In 2017 voters using Vote By Mail (VBM) could choose to designate anyone to return their ballot, instead of only being able to authorize a family or household member to return a VBM ballot. A postage paid ballot return envelope was introduced in 2019, and a Remote Access Vote by Mail (RAVBM) system will be available in 2020.

A RAVBM system is a ballot delivery option that allows voters with disabilities to access their ballot in a screen-readable format using any computer with Internet access. Voters can use their assistive devices to read and mark the ballot outside of a polling place and then print and return it to the county elections office by mail or in person. Voter selections are not stored or transmitted over the Internet.

Under terms of the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA), passed in 2016, the county has the option to move in the future from having polling places to Vote Centers. If the VCA model is adopted, six Vote Centers would be open for 10 days prior to an election, and 30 Vote Centers will open for four days before an election.

Conditional Voter Registration (CVR) is a new safety net for Californians who miss the deadline to register to vote or update their voter registration information for an election. While citizens may not be able to vote at their regular polling place or vote by mail, there is still an opportunity to cast a ballot by completing the Conditional Voter Registration process.

Eligible citizens who miss the deadline can go to their county elections office or a polling place to complete the paperwork to register and vote conditionally. Their ballots will be processed once the county elections office has completed the voter registration verification process. Voters can complete the Conditional Voter Registration process 14 days before an election all the way through to that Election Day.

Proto said there is an increasing number of legislative changes being proposed for the election process, evidenced by 134 bills so far this session in Sacramento. Some of the pending law changes set to take place in the coming year include SB 72, requiring CVRs in all polling places (by 2020); AB 681, a new Business Address Registration option for those living at a business address (2020); SB 523, a signature curing deadline to allow time for matching updates (2020); and SB 212, Rank Choice Voting (2020), a law that must be passed by 50 percent of voters.

In addition, after the Federal Census is conducted in 2020, electoral districts will be redrawn in California to balance the populations in each district based on new census data.

As Clerk-Recorder-Assessor and Registrar of Voters, Proto also described the mission of her department as being committed to assuring honest and open elections, maintaining and preserving property and vital records, and setting fair and equitable values for tax purposes in an accurate, timely, professional and courteous manner.

She also provided SCA members with an overview of her department over the past 20 years, its consolidation, staffing, duties and responsibilities, while also addressing its challenges.

In the Registrar of Voters division, Proto has a full-time staff of 14, and during large elections from 50-65 additional temporary workers have been needed, along with 800 to 1,000 poll workers, to staff some 180-200 polling places (prior to the reduction in the number of Vote Centers). She has approximately 110 staff members in the entire department.

She said there are some 278,000 registered voters in the county, 78 percent of which choose to vote by mail. The office conducts between two to four elections a year. In addition, her department is responsible for signature checking and handling an average of 10 petitions a year – a number that continues to increase.