Only 16 counties remained faithful to the traditional model of assigning each voter a polling station without grouping the districts.
The PPIC study found that precinct consolidation widened the turnout gap for Latino and black voters, particularly for black voters who were not previously registered to vote by mail and were therefore not accustomed to a ballot arriving in their mailbox.
“The in-person locations were so varied across the state that people had to get used to that difference,” said Astrid Ochoa, a public affairs consultant who advises the secretary of state’s office on changes to the state. electoral administration. “Just because you’re mailing a ballot to every voter, there still needs to be an emphasis on voter education and awareness of this practice.”
Both studies tackled the difficulty of identifying voters from different racial or ethnic groups, as most voters do not provide this information. Instead, the researchers analyzed registrant surnames, census block demographics, and survey data to determine voter demographics.
More changes to California’s voting practices are on the horizon this year, when at least 11 more counties — including Alameda, Marin and Sonoma — will join California’s Voter Choice Act, which allows consolidation. permanently from polling stations to polling centers, where any elector in the county can vote and benefit from electoral or linguistic assistance.
The USC report also looked at longer-term trends in electoral fairness, namely that the turnout gap between black and white voters in California has grown in recent years, even as the gap between whites and other ethnic groups has shrunk.
James Woodson, executive director of the California Black Power Network, pointed to the long-term effects of gentrification and displacement in disrupting civic participation in black communities.
“Black residents are being pushed out of traditional urban centers into new emerging communities that don’t necessarily have an established organizing infrastructure, don’t have groups reaching out to engage them around elections,” he said. -he declares.
The USC survey found that black voters in California were twice as likely to take public transportation to the polls in 2020, compared to voters from other racial or ethnic groups.
Organizers say voting disparities could be further exacerbated as more black voters move to suburban and exurban communities with fewer transit options and greater distances between polling locations.
“We are not in an urban center, many of our places are still rural,” said Minister Quay Williams, organizer of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement, or COPE. “Even taking public transport to get to a polling place can be difficult, you may have to walk down the street to get there.”
For local election officials, clustering polling locations helps offset the cost of mailing a ballot to each voter. Election funding has been plentiful in 2020, but there is no guarantee that the largesse will continue for years to come.
But PPIC’s McGhee said state lawmakers should take the findings as a caveat that “maybe we need to rethink some of this in-person consolidation, or at least how we’re doing it and maybe how much.” we do this because of the equity impacts.”