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More Californians will vote by mail and fewer at polling places under a new law

 (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

California voters may be asked to cast more of their ballots by mail as soon as 2018 under a sweeping law signed Thursday, one that would eliminate thousands of neighborhood polling places.

Gov. Jerry Brown's signature on Senate Bill 450 sets in motion a major remodeling of the state's election operations, inspired by a similar system in Colorado. Counties that opt to implement the new system will open community "vote centers" in the weeks before election day that offer last-minute registration and limited in-person voting.

Those counties will also have more places to drop off completed ballots.

“This landmark law will provide voters more options for when, where, and how they cast a ballot," said Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a written statement.

But the move away from polling places could some as a surprise to Californians who have spent decades voting in their neighborhoods. A report released two weeks ago by UC Davis' California Civic Engagement Project found the "vote center" model raised fears with some African Americans about voter suppression and voting access.

Supporters of the new law say voter education efforts will be key to making it work.

The changes to election operations will come in two stages: 14 counties will be able to move toward less in-person voting in 2018, and the remaining counties will be allowed to opt in to the new system in 2020. Counties that implement the new system will have to mail ballots to all registered voters, though Los Angeles County will not have to do so until 2024.

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