Contra Costa County elections officials plan to resume a controversial practice involving vote-by-mail ballots after Tuesday’s primary election.

At issue are the ballots mail-in voters are given if they show up at a polling station on Election Day and want to cast a vote using a different ballot. This year many “no party preference” voters wanted to exchange their ballots so they could vote in the Democratic presidential primary.

For years the Contra Costa registrar’s office has directed poll workers to give these voters provisional ballots instead of replacement ballots — a practice state officials and voter advocates say is against California law.

Unlike replacement ballots that are counted on Election Night, provisional ballots are counted afterward.

After hearing reports of Contra Costa County’s practice, the Secretary of State’s Office contacted local elections officials. On Monday, they announced they would change their practice and offer these voters replacement ballots.

“This is going to make a difference for a lot of voters,” said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. “We’ve been telling voters for weeks now that they have the right to switch out their ballot at the polling place if they received a vote-by-mail ballot that isn’t the ballot they want to cast. That has been the law in California.”

But on Tuesday, Contra Costa officials wanted to make it clear: The change is temporary.

“We have not changed our policy, which we believe to be within the law and more secure than the requested practice,” Scott Konopasek, the assistant registrar of voters for the county, said in an email. “We agreed to accommodate the Secretary of State’s Office and others for this election only.”

State elections officials reiterated Tuesday the county needs to abide by California’s voter rules.

“We are pleased that the Contra Costa County Registrar’s office took action to comply with state law during the June 7, 2016 Presidential Primary,” said Sam Mahood, a spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla, in an email. “We will continue to ensure compliance in future elections.”

Author

Ted Goldberg

Ted Goldberg is the morning editor for KQED News. His beat areas include San Francisco politics, the city's fire department and the Bay Area's refineries.

Prior to joining KQED in 2014, Ted worked at CBS News and WCBS AM in New York and Bay City News and KCBS Radio in San Francisco. He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1998.

You can follow him at @TedrickG and reach him on email at tgoldberg@kqed.org

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