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‘It makes me feel like I actually voted’ | Despite mail-in option, many voters drop ballot at vote centers

Every registered voter in California now receives a ballot in the mail. So are physical voting locations still important? Experts say: Yes, very much so!

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After filling our her mailed ballot, Kathryn Guerriero, of Carmichael walked into a vote center located in the Citrus Heights Community Center to drop it off, Friday afternoon.

“It makes me feel like I actually voted,” she said with a laugh. “I've been voting since I was 18 and I don't think I've missed an election, and it just makes me feel like I part of the whole picture. Part of these great United States.”

She was part of a steady stream of voters opting to drop off their mailed ballot at a vote center instead of a U.S. Postal Service box.

“I want to make sure that they get to the place they're supposed to be,” said Citrus Heights voter Donna Thomas.

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Celia Acido of Carmichael said, “You know, I really wanted to make sure that I handed it to someone. You hear all kinds of stories of things going on with mail-in ballots. I brought my mail-in ballot, handed it in.”

“It struck me as very secure,” said Citrus Heights voter John McWade, who dropped off his and his wife’s ballots Friday afternoon.

Mindy Romero, Director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at USC’s Price School of Public Policy, said “in-person opportunities to vote are really important for everyone, but particularly for historically underrepresented groups.”

In California, Romero said, studies show mail-in ballots are widely used by people across all demographics.

“Vote-by-mail is still used predominantly by everyone,” she said. “But even looking at likelihoods – voters of color, young voters or low-income voters are more likely to need or choose an in-person voting location.”

Romero says for some, it’s a matter of services available at voting sites.

“You might need language assistance. You might be a voter that has a disability and you want to use an in-person, accessible voting machine,” said Romero.

For others, history is a driving factor.

“Some of it is just wanting to be seen and wanting to represent the community. Especially, we found in our research, among Black voters,” she said.

Voter Donna Thomas shared her thoughts on voting and whether she thinks her vote counts with ABC10.

“I feel like I have a right to vote. As an African American woman in this country — I was born and raised here — and so I know that my people have died for the right to vote. So I do have a right,” she said. “Do I think it makes a difference? That's a hard question. Sometimes. And sometimes not, you know? Are the people where these votes are going 'is everybody honest?' I don't believe so. But it is my right. And so, yeah, I'm going to vote.”

Thanks to a law passed last year, every registered voter in the state of California now receives a ballot in the mail for statewide elections in June and November.

But even with that, experts and voters alike say keeping the physical vote locations is important.

“You have to have access different ways, right? Whether it's mail-in, walk-in access, the day-of voting access,” said Acido. “There's nothing wrong with having different ways to get your ballot in.”

“Our research has shown that, you know, some of the main reasons are people don't trust the mail system, even a drop-box. They don't know if it's actually going to get there even though it's not going through the mail system, as a drop box is, as you know, run by the registrar's office,” said Romero. “They want to see it physically go into a staffed location, where they know that it's safe and secure.”

“Voting is really our voice. That sounds kind of lofty, but it's true,” Citrus Heights voter John McWade said. “It's serious. I mean, the privileges we have here in this country and the freedom we have in this country…was won for us by other people at that cost lives, blood and vision and all of that, you know. We're the inheritors of that, all of us. We don't want to take that lightly.”

Watch more from ABC10: California Election 2022 | What to know about early voting in Sacramento County

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