Latino Life: Why it will be easier to vote in Fresno County this year

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- If you live in Fresno County, you have a new choice on when and how you cast your election ballot.

The Voter's Choice Act changes the previous precinct model to a Vote Center model, allowing voters the flexibility to receive assistance at any of the 53 Vote Centers located throughout Fresno County, regardless of address.

Luis Huerta-Silva is a Civic Engagement Coordinator with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

He joined Graciela Moreno on Latino Life to share information on the new changes affecting local voters.

Graciela: So tell us about the Leadership Counsel. What is it that you folks do?

Luis: Yeah, we are a nonprofit organization that works in the San Joaquin and East Coachella Valleys, and we really advocate for our communities around environmental issues, thinking about the air quality, healthy land use, and ensuring that our governments are ultimately accountable to our most vulnerable populations in the valleys.

Graciela: Wonderful, and that's where this comes in, right? You're here to talk about the Voter's Choice Act.

Tell us about it.

Luis: Exactly, so the Voter's Choice Act is a new voting system in Fresno County where every correctly registered voter and up-to-date registered voter will receive a vote-by-mail ballot in the mail and will have more accessibility to voting as an action.

Graciela: Okay, how so? What extra accessibility will they have?

Luis: Well, first, every registered voter will receive that mail-in ballot. Second is that, as opposed to before, there was about 11 hours of voting time. Now there's 96, with 53 vote centers open throughout Fresno County.

Graciela: Okay. And so it says here that it changes the precinct model, right, to allow -- that's make it more voter-centered. How so? How can they get this assistance?

Luis: Voters can attend -- or can choose whichever vote center and be served then and there. And on top of that, there is additional services on language. Every single vote center will have a Spanish-speaking personnel there, as well as additional ADA-compliant machinery to, again, make voting more accessible. Plus, some will be -- 10 will be open for 11 days prior to the election, and the rest will be three days before election.

Graciela: So aside from the language, what else can people ask for assistance when they're at the voting center? What else -- What kind of other help can they get?

Luis: They can register to vote there. Before, it was there was a cutoff date. But now one can register to vote as a conditional voter. All that means is that their registrar's office just has to verify your voter registration, and your ballot is then counted. But the point is, you can go in the same day and vote.
Graciela: Okay. So what should voters in Fresno County be thinking about now as we get closer to Election Day?

Luis: So right now, check your voter status, because on February 3rd is when vote-by-mail ballots are mailed out by the clerks.

Graciela: Okay.

Luis: And then also look at --review the County Clerk's website to see the voter center nearest you.

Graciela: Okay, so you look for the voter center nearest you, but can you go to any voter center?

Luis: Correct.

Graciela: Okay.

Luis: You could live out in the rural areas and work in Fresno and attend any voter center in

the city of Fresno or in the county.

Graciela: Okay, 'cause this was different, right, than what we've had in the past in terms of you having to go specifically to whatever your --

Luis: Correct, you had to go to a specific office at a specific time on a specific day.

Graciela: Okay.

Luis: But now you have from February 22nd forward to cast your ballot.

Graciela: So what are some of the issues that you were seeing primarily when people were going out to vote? Or what are some of maybe the complaints or some of the problems that folks were having that brought about this change?

Luis: Well, we want to ensure that voters are aware that they'll be receiving their ballot via mail and that it is not a sample ballot. It is their real ballot that they are able to cast. And additionally, there will be voter boxes throughout the county. There's 43 secure ballot boxes where, just like a drive-up, leave your mail, you can leave your ballot. And this is in addition to the vote centers.

Graciela: Okay. And so is there a way that you're getting the word out? Obviously by being here on the program. But how are you getting people to get informed about what's happening?

Luis: Well, the city and county has looked towards nonprofit organizations that are already embedded in the communities that are most vulnerable. And so we are door-knocking, informing voters of the upcoming changes. We are making phone calls. We are posting on social media. We are using our outlets. And also I think that is very important, especially in the Latino community, is the word of mouth. Relying on our local leaders to spread this word to their family members that are eligible to vote or someone that knows someone who can vote.

Graciela: So I would imagine that particularly in the outlying communities, right, in some of these rural towns that people -- maybe it was even more difficult for them, right? Because, I mean, I had a polling place down the street from my house, probably two doors down. But here it was a lot more limited, right?

Luis: Right, and unfortunately, it still remains a bit limited in terms of southwest Fresno County when it comes to voter center locations. So we still would like to advocate for the communities in those rural areas, but ultimately, there are still more offices as compared to before and more hours.

Graciela: Okay. You mentioned Spanish language assistance. Will there be other languages that will also -- depending on what community we're talking about?

Luis: Definitely. The county is working to have, specific to geographic locations, which population is culturally -- which language is culturally appropriate. So this includes Hmong. This includes Punjabi, Vietnamese, and many other languages.

Graciela: Alright. So what do you hope to see after these elections in terms of numbers?

Luis: I hope to see -- Ultimately, in an ideal world, I would love 100% voter turnout of all 400,000-plus registered voters that will receive their ballots.

Graciela: Well, let's hope it happens.

Luis: Let's hope so.

Graciela: Thank you so much, Luis. Great to have you here.

Luis: Thank you for having me.

Fresno County Voting Information

(559)600-VOTE.

https://www.co.fresno.ca.us/departments/county-clerk-registrar-of-voters
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