New California election law: What does it do, and when will it take effect in Kern County?

By Jenny Huh,
March 29, 2024


The 2024 election cycle is well underway, and in California, voters may be able to return their vote-by-mail ballots in person. 

In fact, voters in some counties, like Fresno and Tulare, have already participated via this new method for the March 5 Presidential Primary Election. 

Assembly Bill 626 was introduced by Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, chair of the California Assembly’s Elections Committee and former chief elections official in Santa Cruz County.

Experts said the new law is to make voting more accessible and speed up vote counting.

“To return a vote by mail ballot to an in-person voting location, and that [voters] don’t have to place that ballot in the identification envelope in certain circumstances,” Chris Micheli, adjunct professor at the McGeorge School of Law, discussing what the law does. 

The main “circumstance” is that in-person voting locations must be connected to their county elections network to verify the identity of the voter and ensure each only votes once.

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Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, said more people vote by mail than in person.

Therefore, the quicker mail-in ballots are cast, the more can be counted before Election Day. That would also mean more results are available quicker. 

“It’s very difficult for our elections officials to process and prepare election night vote counts on time due to the thousands of mail ballots that are returned either by mail or by drop box,” said Micheli.

Alexander added, “[That results] in a mountain of ballots that have to be processed, signatures verified … It’s incredibly labor intensive, and that’s why it takes a while to get our election results in California now.”

Alexander also pointed out the differences in elections by county. 

For instance, there are “Voter’s Choice Act” counties, meaning those that have vote centers, provide countywide voting and are already linked to county election headquarters, as Alexander said. The elections expert noted such counties are better equipped to implement AB 626. 

“Their voting sites are open starting ten days before election day, so it’s not just a single day people can go in there and return their ballots in this way,” Alexander added of Voter’s Choice Act counties. 

Kern is not one of those counties. Instead, we have traditional polling sites and central tabulation, meaning all ballots must be counted at Kern’s election headquarters. 

“We have a long way to go before we are gonna be at a point where every county could provide the service to voters,” said Alexander. 

She recommended counties like Kern provide an option to drop off VBM ballots in person at county elections offices, stating that such would eliminate the limitation  voters face of waiting until Election Day to vote in person. 

All 58 California counties have the discretion to implement AB 626. 

Kern was one of several counties unable to implement the new law for the March primary. (Full Story)