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CVF in the News

Below are excerpts from news stories and commentary highlighting CVF's work or featuring comments from CVF staff and board members. Archived CVF in the Media stories are also available.

California Assembly OKs bill to raise ballot initiative fee from $200 to $8,000

Los Angeles Times, By Patrick McGreevy, May 26, 2015

Excerpt:

Amid outrage over a proposed initiative that calls for the execution of gays and lesbians, the California Assembly on Tuesday approved legislation that would increase the filing fee for a ballot measure from $200 to $8,000.

The proposed increase would discourage outlandish ballot initiatives, proponents say, though others opposed the legislation as an attack on California’s system of direct democracy, in which citizens can petition for law changes if their lawmakers refuse.
Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), a co-author of the bill, said the current fee paid to the attorney general to prepare the title and summary of initiatives has failed to keep pace with the actual cost, which he said averages $8,251.

“The $200 fee was first set 72 years ago,” Low told his colleagues. “This reform is overdue, but more importantly it will also deter frivolous proposals from being submitted."

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) said the higher fee would make it difficult for individuals and nonprofit groups to file for an initiative. She said that if the increase in the cost of living since the fee was implemented was figured in, it would now be $2,700.

Some increase is warranted, but setting the fee at $8,000 is “wrongheaded,” according to Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which works to improve voter participation.

“Californians are very protective of the initiative process and they will likely view an absurdly high increase in the filing fee to be an attempt by the Legislature to thwart they public' access to that process,” Alexander said. She said a $1,000 fee would be reasonabl

Grove said she agreed that the anti-gay measure should never have been filed. “But we still have to stand and allow people of this state to have the freedom to file an initiative without the overburden of expense to do that. (full story)

Your Call: What will it take to increase voter turnout and why is it so low?

KALW, By Ngoc Nguyen, April 23, 2015

Excerpt:

On the April 23rd edition of Your Call, we’ll have a conversation about policies that could get more people to cast ballots. In the 2014 midterm US elections, we saw the worst voter turnout in 72 years. Oregon is tackling this problem by becoming the first state in the country to automatically register voters who go to the DMV. California is considering a similar law. What are other states doing to make voting easier? It’s Your Call with Rose Aguilar, and you.

Guests:

Dr. Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the Center for Regional Change at UC Davis

Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation

Dr. Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University in Oregon (Full Audio)

Measure aims to automatically register eligible voters

YourCentralValley.com, April 1, 2015

Excerpt:


We're learning more about a system that would automatically register people to vote in California.

The measure is modeled after a new Oregon law that uses the DMV to automatically register eligible voters. Supporters say it will increase voter turnout. According to the state's elections office, California has nearly 7 million eligible but unregistered voters.

"It could be a game changer in the way that all these people who currently are not being courted by anybody. Not being invited to participate by anybody will suddenly have the door open for them," Kim Alexander, President of the California Voter Foundation, said.

The idea is being pushed by California's Secretary of State. (full story)

How would automatic voter registration work in California?

News 10, March 31, 2015

Excerpt:

Proponents of automatic voter registration believe it will increase voter turnout. California saw a historically low voter turnout in the November 2014 election with 42 percent of registered voters voting and that number was only 31 percent of eligible voters, according to the state's elections office.

California has nearly 7 million eligible but unregistered voters.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, addressed some of the questions and issues about automatic voter registration.

How would automatic voter registration work in California?

"As I understand it is that someone who comes to the DMV to get a driver's license for the first time, they're turning 18. The DMV knows how old they are and they can tell the Secretary of State: Hey, we have this Californian who came into our system. Here's their address. Here's their birthdate. Here's the date that you need to get them on to the voter rolls. Now you also need to know that party's … that person's party preference. We also want to know do you want to vote by mail ballot? We'd like to know if you want to vote in the polls. We want to know if they have a language preference," Alexander explained.

Does automatic voter registration increase voter turnout?

Alexander said computer and political scientists looked at that after the 2012 national election and based on search engines they studied, "they estimated there were anywhere from 3 to 4 million Americans who would have voted in the 2012 presidential election had they had the opportunity to register on Election Day if they hadn't already missed that deadline." (full story)

California’s Severe Voting Drought

San Diego Free Press, By Anthony York, March 31, 2015

Excerpt:

A record-low percentage of Californians bothered to cast ballots last November, and there is no shortage of explanations being offered. Everything from voter apathy to sophisticated micro-targeting by political campaigns has been cited as the reason for the abysmal 42 percent turnout among registered voters.

But a new analysis of voting statistics and economic data suggests that California’s surging poverty and inequality rates are also partially to blame for the poor turnout.

“As home prices soar throughout the state and the middle class shrinks, we are increasingly creating a democracy where a growing number of people on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder are not participating,” says Mike Madrid, president of GrassrootsLab and author of a forthcoming study on poverty and voter turnout. “The result is a political system that increasingly ignores the political needs of poor people.”

Socioeconomic status has long been a good predictor of voter-participation, Madrid adds. Wealthy Americans vote at much higher rates than those of lower socio-economic status. During the 2008 presidential election, only 41 percent of eligible voters making less than $15,000 a year voted, compared to 78 percent of those making $150,000 a year or more.

“Poorer people by and large vote in smaller numbers than more affluent people,” he says. “It is no accident that turnout has decreased as our underclass grows.”

The record-low participation comes as California’s poverty rate is surging. About 24 percent of the state’s 38 million residents live in poverty, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau report.

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The Central Valley is also the heart of Purple California, where more competitive races and cheaper media markets lead to more voter contact in down-ticket races. But in many ways, the region is a different animal than Los Angeles and San Francisco — the two urban centers and economic engines of the California economy.

What else is contributing to the decline?

Some voter-participation advocates, such as Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, say more sophisticated micro-targeting of voters by political campaigns is also part of the problem. Data companies offer likely “turnout universes” and give campaigns the ability to speak to a refined universe of likely voters.

But even the most sophisticated analysis boils down to a basic fact — economic status is one of the major determinants of a person’s propensity to vote.

“You can do 85 percent of voter targeting by age and home ownership,” says Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., which provides data and turnout models to hundreds of political campaigns. “If you were to create a universe of older homeowners and line that up to the most sophisticated voter-targeting universe, they’d look remarkably similar.”

But overlaying those facts with the current trends in the state’s economy paints a bleak picture, says Madrid.

It is a problem that is vexing to California’s elected officials. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said she will try to address some of the problems through the legislative process this year. Secretary of State Alex Padilla said boosting turnout is also a priority for his new administration.

“We have our work cut out for us to get more people to cast ballots,” said Padilla in an interview. “[Last] year’s turnout rates were very disappointing.” (full story)

Calif. Lawyer Proposes Ballot Initiative To Kill Gays And Lesbians

NPR, By Richard Gonzales, March 24, 2015

Excerpt:

California's system of direct democracy — the voter initiative process — has produced landmark laws reducing property taxes, banning affirmative action and legalizing medical marijuana.

Now there's a bid to declare that "the people of California wisely command" that gays and lesbians can be killed.

You read that right.

The "Sodomite Suppression Act," as proposed, calls sodomy "a monstrous evil" that should be punishable "by bullets to the head or any other convenient method."

The act would punish anyone who distributes "sodomistic propaganda" to minors with a $1 million fine, and/or up to 10 years in prison, and/or the possibility of a lifetime expulsion from California.

The proposal comes from a Huntington Beach-based attorney, Matt McLaughlin. He did not return calls for comment, and his voice mailbox is full.

Now maybe you're thinking there's no way such a blatantly illegal measure would ever be approved by California voters.

But here's the rub: We might get a chance to find out, because it appears that there's no legal way for state officials to stop the author of this proposal from collecting enough voter signatures to put it on the ballot.

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One, given that it costs only $200 to submit an initiative and start the signature-gathering process in California, perhaps the fee should be higher to discourage people from abusing the process. (On the other hand, that could make it prohibitive for legitimate grass-roots petitions to gain traction without well-off backers.)

Two, some advocate that the state attorney general, the official whose job duties include writing a title and summary for any proposed initiative, should have the authority to kill a proposal that would conflict with superseding law — like murder. (Of course, then elected partisan officials with their own political agendas would be the filters.)

But both of those ideas raise their own problems, Amar said.

"Anyone who has 200 bucks for an initiative, probably can raise 2,000 bucks," he said. "But raise it to something meaningful like [10,000] or 20,000 bucks, then you're sending a message about the accessibility of direct democracy."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, favors raising the fee, even though she said, "It won't stop people from submitting crazy ideas."

Like Amar, Alexander does not favor the idea of allowing an elected official, in this case Attorney General Kamala Harris, to block the measure outright by calling it illegal.

The initiative process "needs to be kept at arm's length from the Legislature and the politicians who frequently want to usurp its power," Alexander said.

The initiative's author has provoked discussion and controversy. In fact, there have been calls for McLaughlin to be disbarred for advocating murder. (full story)

Odius initiative shows system's pitfalls

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, March 19, 2015

Excerpt:

For less than the cost of an Apple iPad, Matt McLaughlin started a statewide legal conversation.

An attorney from Huntington Beach, McLaughlin in late February spent $200 to propose a ballot measure that authorizes the killing of gays and lesbians by “bullets to the head,” or “any other convenient method.”

McLaughlin’s “Sodomite Suppression Act” now is testing the limits of free speech and raising the question: Why can’t the state’s initiative process screen out blatantly illegal ideas?

The Legislature’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus wrote a letter to the State Bar, asking for an investigation into McLaughlin’s fitness to practice law. More than 3,800 people signed a petition to State Bar President Craig Holden asking that McLaughlin lose his law license for advocating to “legalize the murder” of gays and lesbians.

Yet the measure is likely to proceed to the signature-gathering stage. At the moment, its fate rests with state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is charged with writing a title and summary for the proposal. Legal experts say she has little choice but to let the process continue and that McLaughlin is unlikely to face professional repercussions.

Over the years, the $200 price tag for submitting an initiative has enabled California political activists to draft and submit thousands of orphan causes: eliminating divorce, requiring public schools to offer Christmas caroling, making criminals of those who lie during political campaigns.

Carol Dahmen, a media consultant in Sacramento who started the petition to disbar McLaughlin, argues that this one is different. Along with disbarment, Dahmen wants to draw attention to reforming the system, calling McLaughlin the “poster boy of what is still wrong with the initiative process.”

“It’s an interesting discussion about free speech, and I get that,” Dahmen said. “But this is a lawyer, and he’s advocating for murder.”

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The growing number of proposed initiatives – from 47 in the 1960s to nearly 650 in the 2000s – prompted lawmakers to revisit the issue in recent years. They contended that raising the fee would help defray the average $8,000 in administrative costs for state officials to prepare the title and summary for each proposal. It could also dissuade people from pitching multiple variations of a plan, or from turning in what would generally be viewed as a frivolous proposal.

Kim Alexander, an expert on ballot measures, said she believes raising the filing fee is a good idea. Alexander said while she generally opposes changes that make the initiative process more restrictive, those serious about advancing a successful measure are going to need considerable resources.

“Increasing the fee, even to $500 or $1,000, would help ensure that those who put initiatives into circulation are sincere in their efforts,” said Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. “I don’t think the fee should cover the costs, but it should provide more of a disincentive for people to submit initiatives for which they have no serious intention of attempting to qualify, which seems to happen a lot if you follow initiatives in circulation that fail.”

The most recent legislation, in 2011, would have raised the fee to $2,000. The language was stripped from the measure and it became a vehicle for requiring that all initiatives appear only on general election ballots.

Before that, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a pair of similar bills by Democrat Lori Saldaña in 2009 and 2010, writing he “cannot support increasing the fee ten-fold,” and adding that “while well-funded special interest groups would have no problem paying the sharply increased fee, it will make it more difficult for citizen groups to qualify an initiative.”

Jennifer Fearing, the president of Fearless Advocacy and a veteran of lower-wattage campaigns, said she isn’t sure “there’s a price that stops crazy.” (full story)

L.A.'s low voter numbers push state officials toward easing process

Los Angeles Times, By Patrick Mcgreevy, March 14, 2015

Excerpt:

Alarmed by the dismal voter turnout in this month's Los Angeles city election, California lawmakers are considering a massive expansion of vote-by-mail balloting and legalizing pop-up polling stations at shopping malls to help increase the convenience and appeal of voting.

Opening polling stations weeks early and allowing teenagers to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the general election, strategies already being used in Colorado and Oregon respectively, also are being debated.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) said he felt compelled to take action after California saw a record low turnout in the November 2014 state election. His commitment to change the system took on new urgency after only about 10% of eligible voters in Los Angeles participated in the March 3 municipal election.

"My heart sinks. It's just horrible. It's embarrassing," Hertzberg said. "It just puts a lot less meaning on the democratic process. We've got to do something to change the game."

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And then Los Angeles held its election.

"Here we were complaining about the 31% [statewide] turnout in November, and then just when we thought tsporthings couldn't get worse, it drops down" to 10.3% for Los Angeles, said Sen. Benjamin Allen (D-Santa Monica). "How sad."

Experts believe some help will come for Los Angeles elections from a newly approved measure to align city votes with state and federal elections.

But the state has been slow to respond to low voter turnout, said Kim Alexander, president of the non-profit California Voter Foundation, which advocates for the use of technology to promote the democratic process.

A new computer system called VoteCal, which would allow voters to register at satellite polling stations on the same day they vote, was supposed to be operating in 2009 but has been delayed until 2017 by problems that include ballooning costs and the firing of the original contractor.

In addition, the governor and Legislature have underfunded counties' voter registration and vote-by-mail programs by up to $100 million, Alexander said.

She said newly elected state officials, from Allen to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, appear to be bringing new energy and momentum to the issue.

Many of the bills are likely to make it through the Democrat-controlled Legislature, but money could become an issue for some of the more expensive proposals. (full story)

Security not yet available for online voting

Sacramento Bee, Letters to the Editor, December 13, 2014

Excerpt:

California’s record low turnout for November’s elections is indeed worrisome, and incoming Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s promises to increase the voter rolls are laudable. However, the editorial board’s desire to see online voting as the natural evolution of our voting systems is misplaced.

Yes, we do bank, shop and communicate online, but a quick review of the latest headlines proves these transactions aren’t secure. Cybercrime is estimated to cost businesses billions every year. Elections are unlike financial transactions because they’re extremely vulnerable to undetectable hacking.

Because we vote by secret ballot, there is no way to reconcile the votes recorded and the marks the voter actually makes with technology currently available. Unlike with retail transactions, we can’t call up county election offices and ask if our votes for a particular candidate were accurately recorded under our name. For this reason, the Department of Defense canceled an online voting trial project, and a top official from the Department of Homeland Security has warned against online voting.

Our democracy is founded in the confidence of our elections to correctly represent the will of the people. Let’s not allow good intentions to take us down an insecure path. (full story)

Pam Smith, Carlsbad
President Of Verified Voting

Kim Alexander
President & Founder,
California Voter Foundation

The Riggs Report: A troubling turnout trend

KCRA, By Kevin Riggs, December 10, 2014

Excerpt:

At the sun-drenched Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, business leaders from across the country gathered this week to hear a sobering assessment of voter turnout in the just-concluded midterm election.

Most of those leaders probably feel much better about their own state after hearing about California’s dismal performance. Just 42 percent of registered voters filled out their ballots at home and at the polling place. That’s an historic — and embarrassing — low for the state.

Although midterm-election turnout has been trending downward in recent years, there were some specific reasons for voter disengagement this cycle. Most significant: the lack of a competitive race at the top of the ballot.

Gov. Jerry Brown employed an unusual campaign tactic. He didn’t really tell anybody he was running for re-election, holding few campaign events and buying no TV ads promoting his candidacy. He ended up winning re-election to a fourth term in a landslide.

What worked for Brown was something unusual for any politician. He didn’t talk much about himself. He didn’t really need to. California’s economy has been improving, the state’s budget has stabilized for now, and Brown faced an unknown and untested rookie opponent.

It wasn’t just the lack of a competitive governor’s face, though. There was also the lack of controversial, hot-button ballot measures. No death penalty measure, no controversial social issues like same-sex measures or assisted suicide.

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How to turn this around? There are lots of suggestions making the rounds. Given the growing interest in vote-by-mail, there’s been talk of moving to an all-mail election like they’ve had in Oregon for years. There’s also support for distributing ballots and election material by e-mail, while still requiring that ballots be completed and mailed or turned in.

Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation notes there is a need for greater voter education, in order to reduce vote-by-mail ballot errors. Alexander also supports greater efforts to boost registration through motor-voter outreach at the DMV. Register your car, register to vote.

Alexander’s group also notes that businesses can play a greater role in encouraging participation by ensuring that workers know they can take time off, if needed, to cast their vote. That time off is allowed now, she says, but the notification process should be streamlined.

Alex Padilla, California’s incoming secretary of state, talked at length during his recent campaign about better civic education. Voting rights groups will be watching closely to see how he follows through. (full story)

Across California, Many Politicians Picked By Few Voters

KQED, By John Myers, November 28, 2014

Excerpt:

A nail-biter of an election is the pièce de résistance in political reporting, a dramatic finish that can leave everyone on the edge of their seats. But 2014’s close contests are also a bit of a distraction from the real news: the apparent nadir, in some California communities, of representative democracy.

Case in point: the surprise defeat of an incumbent Los Angeles assemblyman by 467 votes, a stunning upset that now has the political world focused on musings about the order of names on the ballot or alleged chicanery on the part of Republicans seeking to influence a Democrat versus Democrat contest.

The real story, though, is not how the incumbent lost … but how few of his constituents even bothered to vote. And even then, it’s part of a larger story, about how several California lawmakers — now packing their bags for Sacramento or Washington, D.C. — were chosen by incredibly small slices of the electorate.

The abysmal turnout of California voters in the Nov. 4 elections was widely predicted. The final numbers won’t be available for a few more days, but the statewide vote appears to reflect a turnout of about 42 percent, a new record for lowest turnout in a California gubernatorial election.

But a deeper dive into the numbers finds a much lower percentage of votes — in some cases less than half of that statewide turnout – cast in several races for the California Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.

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The real killer, though, was overall turnout. The final tally by Los Angeles County elections officials shows only 45,033 votes were cast in the Bocanegra versus Lopez race. That’s only 22 percent of all registered voters in the San Fernando Valley district.

Even worse: Lopez will take the oath of office on Dec. 1 in Sacramento with the backing of just 22,750 voters — that’s slightly less than 5 percent of all the people who live in her Los Angeles County district (using census data compiled during the 2011 redrawing of political districts).

“I think we have to take a long, honest look at our voting process and better understand why so many people are choosing not to participate,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

“This is not good for the health of our civil society. It’s in everybody’s interest to maximize voter participation and give all the people in our state a path to make themselves heard.” (full story)

Snail-mail the solution to slow Silicon Valley vote tallies?

Contra Costa Times, By Eric Kurhi, November 23, 2014

Excerpt:

Santa Clara County is thinking snail-mail might be the answer to Silicon Valley's sluggish election result tallies.

More than three out of four Santa Clara County voters already cast mail-in ballots -- among the highest rates statewide. And with outdated precinct equipment producing slower election night results than almost any other California county, Santa Clara County board of supervisors President Mike Wasserman said it's time to consider dropping traditional polling places altogether rather than spending millions of dollars on new machines.

"It's a trend, and it's undeniable," Wasserman said during an election post-mortem at the board's meeting last week. "Simply changing the polling place voting system we have will not do much to expedite counting anything other than a shrinking number of votes."

A decade ago, only 30 percent of Santa Clara County voters opted for mail-in ballots. Since then, the number has steadily increased to a whopping 76 percent this year.

Conducting elections entirely by mail is hardly unheard of in the Internet Age. Oregon voters made it the first state to go all vote-by-mail in 1998, and Washington and Colorado have since followed suit. California already allows counties the option of conducting certain local elections entirely by mail.

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Kim Alexander, founder and president of the Sacramento-based California Voter Foundation, said there are concerns that mail ballots favor a more conservative demographic.

"What you see is that they are disproportionately white, upper-middle-class voters, homeowners, those who aren't likely to move around a lot," Alexander said.

But in Santa Clara County, both precinct and mail ballots yielded similar results in this month's election, and liberal candidates and measures largely carried the day.

Alexander also argued too many mail ballots end up being disqualified. Uncounted mail-in votes in California accounted for 3 percent of those cast in the June primary, she said, due to people getting them in late, or missing or non-matching signatures.

"That's a higher error rate than the hanging chad," Alexander said, invoking Florida's notoriously questionable ballots that led to Supreme Court intervention in the 2000 presidential race.

Even so, Simitian said what was once "a very hard sell" has seen growing acceptance among lawmakers. "The prospects for such an approach are substantially better than they were a decade ago."

Santa Clara County supervisors need not go farther than neighboring San Mateo County for an idea on how all-mail balloting might work. That county, as well as Yolo, is part of a state-approved all-mail ballot pilot program for city, school and special district races. (full story)

New Law May Prolong Vote Counts

Capital Public Radio, By Steve Milne, November 19, 2014

Excerpt:

A new California law that takes effect on January 1st will allow election workers to count ballots that arrive up to three days after the election, as long as they're postmarked on or before Election Day. Right now, mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day are not counted.

Kim Alexander is with the non-partisan California Voter Foundation. She supports the new law and says it could mean election workers will have a lot more ballots to count.

"This is good news for voters who've previously been disenfranchised because their ballots have been rejected due to late arrival. But it's going to be bad news for anxious campaign observers and politicians who are awaiting election results in close contests."

California will join 11 other states and the District of Columbia that count absentee ballots received after Election Day. (audio)

California officials ponder all-mail voting

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, November 14, 2014

Excerpt:

When all the ballots are finally tallied from last week’s election, the proportion of Californians voting by mail is expected to break the record set in 2012, the first time more than half of the state’s electorate voted absentee.

The uptick has more Californians pushing for the state to go all the way and ditch traditional polling places. Washington, Colorado and Oregon require all of their elections to be run entirely by mail, and at least 19 others permit some of their elections to be all mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

County elections officials have touted the potential increase in voter interest and significant savings from avoiding the task of recruiting and training polling place workers. And some believe an all-mail system could even help speed up and avoid some overtime ballot-counting.

“I say, ‘yes, please,’” said Jill LaVine, the registrar of voters in Sacramento County. “I would love to go all vote-by-mail.”

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Every election, many ballots go uncounted, including those that are filled out incorrectly, missing valid signatures or simply mailed in too late. Research out of UC Davis shows that nearly 3percent of the vote-by-mail ballots received – or roughly 91,000 – in the June primary election were not counted. It was 1percent, or 69,000 ballots, in the 2012 general election.

“California has one of the highest uncounted mail-ballot counts in the nation,” said Kim Alexander, founder and president of the California Voter Foundation. “At a time when civic participation is in decline, I think it’s important to nurture the voting process as much as we can, which means operating polling places and keeping voting a visible, public act rather than something people only do in the privacy of their homes.”

Other experts doubt moving to all-mail would indeed speed up the counting process. Much of the lag time is attributable to the large number of ballots that pour into county elections offices in the final days and hours.

Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., said Los Angeles is preparing to use a new law in its 2015 elections that will allow mail ballots postmarked by Election Day to count. That means ballots could trickle in on Wednesday, Thursday and potentially up to the weekend after the election. “That will make for an even longer process as they won’t even have all the ballots for a few days,” he said.

Meanwhile, the impact on voter participation remains unresolved. The report on Yolo County found turnout in the all-mailed ballot elections did not differ much from two prior traditional polling-place elections.

All-mail elections are not new in California. Monterey County held one of the first vote-by-mail elections in the nation in 1977, when voters considered a flood control measure. San Diego County used the the system on a measure that proposed building a $224million convention center in 1981. (full story)

Verifying ballots is key to making them count

Ventura County Star, By Timm Herdt, November 12, 2014

Excerpt:

When the outcome of Ventura County’s still-too-close-to-call 26th Congressional District election is finally determined, there is a good chance the number of rejected ballots will exceed the margin of victory of the eventual winner.

Close congressional contests in Ventura and Sacramento counties, where tens of thousands of uncounted ballots are still being processed, have brought to the fore several problems associated with California’s haphazard transition to an election system dominated by voters who cast their ballots by mail.

The Pew Center on the States’ Election Performance Index found 0.5 percent of vote-by-mail ballots in California went uncounted in 2012, down significantly from a full 1 percent in 2008 but still considerably higher than the rates for most other states.

Ballots are rejected primarily because they are received too late; a recent study determined that was the reason behind about 60 percent of all rejections.

But other ballots are not counted because they were returned unsigned or contain a signature that does not match the one on file with county election officials.

“The Legislature created the vote-by-mail program, but it did so piecemeal,” said Kim Alexander, founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “We think there has to be a wholesale review of the whole program. People like the convenience, but there’s a lot of work to do in this area.”

One of the key problems, identified in a report released by the foundation in August, is that while the authentication process relies on verifying voters’ signatures by matching those on their mail ballots with signatures on their voter-registration affidavits, there are few state guidelines on how to verify those signatures.

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CAREFUL REVIEW

A state law that took effect last year has given election workers a helpful new tool, Saucedo said. They now can check signatures on other voting documents, such as an application for permanent vote-by-mail status or prior registration affidavits, and compare the signature on the ballot with multiple other renditions of a voter’s signature.

Observers associated with the candidates stand over the shoulders of elections workers as they verify signatures in close contests. Observers can challenge an election worker’s decision if they believe it may have been in error.

In Sacramento County’s 7th Congressional District last week, the processing of votes was dramatically slowed as about 3,000 challenges were issued. That has not become an issue in Ventura County, Saucedo said, with fewer than 200 challenges being made through Monday.

STATEWIDE TREND

The processing of mail ballots becomes a greater challenge with each election as Californians increasingly choose to become permanent vote-by-mail voters.

In last week’s election in Ventura County, for instance, it appears that when the final tally is calculated, about 60 percent of votes cast will have been on vote-by-mail ballots.

Many vote-by-mail voters, either out of personal preference or because by the time they complete their ballots it is too late to mail, drop off their ballots at designated drop-off locations before Election Day or at a polling place on Election Day.

It is that last group of ballots — vote-by-mail ballots dropped off at a polling place — that constitutes the bulk of votes that remain to be processed and counted across the state.

In Ventura County, 24,180 such ballots remain to be processed. Since 83 percent of county voters live in the 26th Congressional District, if the remaining ballots are proportionately distributed, it would mean about 20,000 such votes will decide the outcome in the contest between Democratic incumbent Julia Brownley and Republican challenger Jeff Gorell.

As of the most recent numbers released Friday, Brownley led Gorell by 1,028 votes, or 0.8 percent, out of more than 136,000 votes cast. Another vote update is scheduled Wednesday. (full story)

Ose leads Bera by 530 votes in Sacramento-area race

KCRA-TV, By David Bienick, November 12, 2014

Excerpt:

The Sacramento area's tightest race for the U.S. House of Representatives got even tighter Monday when elections officials announced the margin of difference had shrunk to 530 votes.

According to an update posted Monday afternoon by the county registrar of voters, Ose has 76,133 votes compared with Bera's 75,603 votes.

That is a difference of about a third of a percentage point and a fraction of the 2,100-vote lead that Ose held on Election Night.

"Doug Ose still maintains his lead in the race for California’s 7th congressional district. This has been a close race from the beginning, and we have full faith in the Sacramento County Registrar to ensure that every legal vote is accounted for," said the Ose campaign in a statement issued by spokesperson Michawn Rich.

Bera told KCRA 3 that he credits the closing gap to his campaign's success at getting vote-by-mail voters to drop off their ballots at polling places on election day.

"A lot of those folks who hadn't turned in their ballots yet, I think we talked to them (and) said, 'Hey, go drop your ballot off,'" Bera said.

Those last-minute drop-off ballots account for many of the ones currently being counted, elections officials said.

Voter registrar Jill LaVine said about 33,000 ballots remain to be counted for the entire county.

She said that includes about 9,000 provisional ballots, which she said can sometimes take weeks to process and count.

The deadline for county registrars to submit final results to the California Secretary of State is Dec. 2.

- - - - - - - - -

The California Voter Foundation recently studied the processes in three counties: Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Orange.

For example, only Orange County checked for differences in the way voters made their F's, G's, Y's and Z's.

And only Santa Cruz County verified signatures by viewing them upside down.

"That lack of standardization creates a challenge that could be exploited by a political campaign wanting to argue that voters aren't being treated equally," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

Voters who are concerned that their signature may have evolved over time can check it in two ways.

If they registered on-line, the signature on their driver's license will be the one used to make a match.

If they registered in person, they can visit their county registrar's office and request to fill out an updated registration card with a new signature. (full story)

Californians Will Soon Have More Time to Turn in Mail-In Ballots

KQED, By Lisa Pickoff-White, November 11, 2014

Excerpt:

Late voters will have more opportunity to mail in their ballots, thanks to a new law that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. The law stipulates that vote-by-mail ballots will need to be postmarked by Election Day and received up to three days later, rather than the current requirement that ballots must actually be in the hands of election officials by Election Day.

Election officials hope the date change will help alleviate voters’ concerns about mailing in their ballots. Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, for example, says she’s seen trays of ballots go uncounted because they were mailed in too late.

“Now we’ve given voters more opportunity to vote, and there’s a trade-off that it takes longer to tally the results,” she said.

Still Counting

California voters finished casting their ballots last week, but many counties are still tallying the actual votes. That’s partially because of the success of vote-by-mail.

In theory, vote-by mail gives county registrars a jump.

“That’s how we can give you results at 8:05 p.m.,” said Tim Dupuis, registrar of voters for Alameda County.

But most counties don’t receive vote-by-mail ballots until Election Day. (full story)

Voter Group Concerned Over Bera/Ose Race Vote Count

FOX 40, By Lonnie Wong, November 7, 2014

Excerpt:

A couple of dozen observers from the campaigns of Congressman Ami Bera and Doug Ose as well as national political parties are challenging thousands of mail-in ballots.

The Sacramento County voting offices routinely allows people to watch them count ballots.

But the hotly contested race which broke campaign spending records has required voting office staffers to create a specialized team to rule on ballot challenges. That usually entails matching signatures on the ballots with signatures on voter registration documents or other sources.

Kim Alexander, President of the California Voter Foundation, was observing the observers. She says campaigns try to use every advantage they can to win tight races, including utilizing challenges.

“There can be a lot of strategy involved there based on particular precincts, based on voters with different surnames so its an issue keep an eye on because we don’t want to see anyone disenfranchised,” said Alexander.

She worries about how vote counters will react to the pressure.

“Sacramento may also be rejecting more ballots because they’ve got these election observers who are standing over their shoulders telling them that ‘we disagree’,” said Alexander. (full story)

Ballot counting closely watched in District 7 race

KCRA-TV, By Sharokina Shams, November 7, 2014

Excerpt:

Right now. Ballot-counting becomes a high-pressure, high-tension challenge in sacramento county, with accusations that one candidate is trying to win the election by denying some people a vote. Right now -- Doug Ose has about a 2000 vote lead over congressman ami bera. But KCRA 3 has learned, thousands of ballots are being contested and elecions workers are having to take a closer look. KCRA 3's Sharokina Shams tells us why and what this might mean for your votes. There have been attorneys and an army of observers from both sides of the race inside of the county elections office watching. The day started with a doug ose he -- ose's campaign coming under fire. Now both are under fire. You see only six election workers here, sitting down. (video)

Abysmal turnout marks 2014 vote

Monterey Hereld, By Jason Hoppin, November 5, 2014

Excerpt:

In 2010, Jerry Brown's triumphant return to the governor's mansion after a tough campaign against Republican Meg Whitman brought with it a healthy amount of voter interest.

That year, more than 63 percent of Monterey County voters flocked to the polls. But with an all-but-certain outcome to Brown's bid for an unprecedented fourth term, the 2014 ballot was left without a marquee matchup to drive midterm turnout: voter participation will likely settle in the mid-40s, an unprecedented low.

Why?

"I wish I knew. More and more people are bringing their ballots at the last minute to the polls, that's one of the things that happening. But the low turnout, I don't (know)," Monterey County Registrar of Voters Claudio Valenzuela said. "Midterms are different."

Midterms have always trailed presidential elections when it comes to turnout, but Monterey County has posted respectable numbers, and 2010 turnout was robust but not extreme. It was 61 percent in the 2006 governor's race, and 58 percent in 2002. The 2014 figures will likely set a benchmark for voter lethargy.

"Nothing good ever comes of anything," said one Salinas woman, who declined on Wednesday to give her name and didn't vote on Election Day. "I am a voter, I do go vote, and (Tuesday) I was just not in the mood."

The problem is not unique to Monterey County: turnout was low across the state. Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, outlined several factors she believes are pushing the numbers down, including declining home ownership, long ballots, less partisanship — a quarter of the state's voters no longer align themselves with a political party — and California's top-two primary system, which often pushes minor-party candidates off the general election ballot.

Alexander also cited a rise in negative campaigning and the influence of fundraising, with well-heeled candidates hiring professional advisers to target campaigns at likely voters, leaving infrequent voters out of the loop.

"We have a really skewed system where some people receive way more information than they need, and other voters, who really need it, receive absolutely none," Alexander said.

Brown's shoo-in campaign was also a factor, she added. The governor put little effort into his re-election bid, which did nothing to stir interest in the race.

"Every ballot needs a loss leader. Every ballot needs something that's going to draw people out, and we didn't have that on this ballot," Alexander said.

Furthermore, 70 percent of Monterey County now gets a mail ballot. Stunningly, in a county of 415,000 people and 165,000 eligible voters, just 15,000 people went to a polling place on Election Day.

Alexander said mail ballots can contribute to turnout problems. Some voters lose ballots without realizing they can request another, or don't know they can drop the ballot off on Election Day. In addition, 3 percent of the mail ballots statewide weren't counted in the June primary, due to a number of factors.

"That's a higher error rate than the hanging chads of the 2000 presidential contest in Florida," Alexander said, adding the state needs to help fund local mail ballot programs.

"We need a wholesale review of the program, because you've got a lot of ballots out there that are not connecting with voters," she added. (full story)

California’s election may set record for apathy

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, November 4, 2014

Excerpt:

California voter turnout will likely sink to just 46 percent on Tuesday, a new record for apathy in a statewide general election, according to Field Poll estimates.

The absence of competitive statewide contests combined with a dearth of compelling ballot propositions should produce the least attended general election in the state’s modern era, replacing the previous low of 50.6 percent in 2002, when incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis held off Republican Bill Simon.

“It’s going to be a record low, and by quite some margin,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. “This is really a sad news story for the state.”

Released on Monday, the survey anticipates 8.2 million of the state’s nearly 18 million registered voters will cast a ballot. That means less than 34 percent of the state’s 24.3 million adults who are eligible to register will cast ballots, again demonstrating that Californians are even less engaged in nonpresidential elections.

- - - - - - - - - - -

He described the approach as “just doing my civil duty.”

The more people make predictions of low voter turnout the more likely it is that infrequent voters may sit it out, said Kim Alexander, founder and president of the California Voter Foundation in Sacramento. Those who tend to vote in every election also are more prized by campaigns and tend to get more attention – brochures in the mailbox and in-person visits from the candidates, she said. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The survey found that while registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 15 percentage points, their advantage among likely voters will fall to 9 points. Voters aged 50 and older, who make up nearly 50 percent of the statewide voter roll, will represent nearly 60 percent of the electorate this year. Similarly, white voters, who account for 60 percent of the total, will make up 70 percent of the voters. Latinos and Los Angeles County residents will be underrepresented in today’s final tally. (full story)

Campaign mailers clog Sacramento mailboxes

Sacramento Bee, By Bill Lindelof , November 3, 2014

Excerpt:

Election Day has arrived, promising an end to the torrent of campaign mailers that for the past month has packed mailboxes, filled the bags of postal carriers – and left some voters exasperated.

Kim Alexander, who founded the nonprofit California Voter Foundation to improve the election process for voters, was so struck by the amount of campaign mail she received that she weighed it. “Our household is up to 4 pounds at this point,” she said Monday. “The last time I was moved to weigh my mail (in the June primary), it was 2 pounds. This time it was twice as much.”

Alexander lives in Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood, where a hard-fought school board race, the city’s Measure L strong-mayor proposal and two competitive legislative races have boosted the amount of mail going to households of frequent voters.

Sacramento political consultant Doug Elmets, who has used campaign fliers to elect candidates, has been receiving eight to 10 pieces of campaign mail each day at his home in the Sierra Oaks neighborhood of unincorporated Sacramento.

“I, like everybody else, have been inundated,” he said.

Alexander has noticed that her mailman has been delivering as late as 7 or 8 p.m. as the campaign season has gone along.

Gus Ruiz, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the amount of mail being processed each day at the region’s West Sacramento hub jumped 10 percent in October – the result not just of political mail but also catalogs and parcels marking the beginning of the holiday season.

Not that the folks at the postal service mind. With overall mail volume nationwide dropping by double digits between 2006 and 2013, anything that boosts business is welcome. “It’s actually our job – to deliver the mail,” Ruiz said.

Political mail may seem like an old-fashioned way to reach voters, but Alexander noted that it can be micro-targeted, focusing on gender, traditional voters, independents and other factors.

Elmets said television ads can’t be fashioned to appeal to specific voters like direct mail, which costs far less. “TV ads are expensive and they are a scattershot,” he said.

“People avoid television commercials, but with direct mail there are three places where that voter is likely to see that piece: when taken from the mailbox, when they put it on their counter and when they throw it in the trash,” Elmets said.

“At each step of the way, it is very possible that it will catch the eye of the voter.”

Campaign mail comes in at least two forms: the smiling candidate, spouse on arm, with smiling children – or the children of a supporter – and the attack mailer. With the state’s new election rules allowing the two top vote-getters in the primary to advance, regardless of party, candidates belonging to the same party are increasingly attacking each other to gain votes. Alexander said she thinks the new primary system has contributed to the mail volume, since even seats that are securely held by one party or the other are still up for grabs.

“You have contests that would have been decided in the primary going on to the general,” she said.

Alexander said she is convinced that there has got to be a better way to conduct a campaign. She lamented the money, planning and voter profiling involved in the mailings.

“Ninety percent of the people who got them are not going to look at them,” she said. “They are going to go right into the recycling bin.” She called them wasteful and inefficient, but conceded direct mail probably works or campaign staffs would not employ the method.

She said most mailers are designed to scare and confuse – not to inform. “That is sad because most running for office are good people with important messages,” she said. (full lstory)

Midterm elections 2014: Making sense of CA ballot props through song and animation

KPCC, By Alex Cohen , November 3, 2014

Excerpt:

There are six propositions on the California ballot this year. Maybe you've already read your voter guide cover to cover and know exactly how you are going to vote, but perhaps not.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the ballot measures and don't have much time to hunker down and study, there are a few ways to get quickly up to date on each of the propositions and maybe even have a little fun doing it. (full story)

Mailed ballots suggest low turnout in California

Fresno Bee, By Fenit Nirappil , October 31, 2014

Excerpt:

California appears to be on track for another low-turnout election as county clerks and analysts report that mail ballots are trickling in slowly compared with previous election cycles.

Many political observers expected low voter interest this year in a cycle with a governor's race devoid of drama and no U.S. Senate race or high-interest ballot initiative. Primary turnout already hit a record low this year when just one in four registered voters cast ballots in June.

"We are not seeing the same call volume in 2010, the same Web hits and the same number of questions — and that's matching returns," said Neal Kelley, the Orange County registrar of voters and president of California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.

In 2010, the last non-presidential statewide election, 2.9 million vote-by-mail ballots had been returned by this point, according to an analysis by the firm Political Data Inc. This year, that number is just 2.2 million, even though the number of absentee voters has grown by 3 million.

From 2010 to 2014, the number of Los Angeles County voters requesting mail ballots nearly doubled to 1.5 million. About one in six voters have returned their ballots this year compared with more than half in the last election.

These aren't necessarily signs of widespread voter apathy, according to some officials who expect more absentee voters to drop their ballots off at polling stations instead of mailing them. Ballots must be received by Election Day to be counted.

"More and more voters are getting the message that the mail is taking longer," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

The secretary of state's office announced Friday that 17.8 million Californians are registered to vote, with registered Democrats holding a 15-point lead over Republicans. (full story)

Election 2014: Propositions And Campaign Finance

Capital Public Radio, By Beth Ruyak , October 30, 2014

Excerpt:

Kim Alexander, president and founder of California Voter Foundation, has the latest Proposition Song. Take a listen. (Audio)

Don't Wait Too Long To Return That Vote-By-Mail Ballot

Capital Public Radio, By Ben Adler , October 28, 2014

Excerpt:

If you’re voting by mail this election, you might want to drop that ballot in the mail very soon to make sure your vote counts.

“Under current law, the ballot has to be received by Election Day,” says Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation. “Postmarks do not count. It’s not like a tax return.”

She says some voters hang onto their mail ballots too long.

“So if you want to make sure your vote-by-mail ballot gets counted, the best thing to do is to mail it in the week before the election – not the Friday before, not the Saturday before. Give it a full week to go through the post office.”

Or, Alexander says, don’t mail it at all. “Hold onto it, return it in person at your county election office, or take it to any polling place in your county on Election Day.”

Other tips: make sure you sign your ballot’s envelope – not the ballot itself – and make sure your signature matches the one your county has on file. That’s your DMV signature, if you registered to vote online. (audio)

Improving voter turnout a priority for secretary of state candidates

Los Angeles Times, By Patrick McGreevy, October 23, 2014

Excerpt:

The record-low voter turnout in California's June primary has added urgency to the contest for the state's top elections post.

The two candidates — Republican Pete Peterson, the director of a public policy think tank, and Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla — agree that a top priority is to get more Californians to the polls.

Activists concerned about the 25% turnout in June say this election is an important chance to turn things around.

"We need the next secretary of state to be a highly visible champion for expanding participation and improving the California election process," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that advocates improving the voting process.

Her group doesn't endorse in the race. "They are both strong candidates," she said.

Both candidates agree the office has not performed well in recent years and has been plagued by delays in computer modernization as well as a lack of direction.

Current Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Democrat prevented by term limits from seeking reelection, recently disclosed that she suffers from debilitating depression that has forced her often to work from home.

Padilla and Peterson have similar ideas for improving the function of the office; their biggest disagreement is over who is better qualified to get the job done.

Padilla, 41, of Pacoima, is finishing his eighth and final year in the Senate. An MIT engineering graduate, he was previously president of the Los Angeles City Council.

He said his legislative service puts him in a better position to improve the office, which depends heavily on action by lawmakers and the governor. (full story)

Corporations, Advocacy Groups Spend Big on Ballot Measures

Time Magazine, By Liz Whyte, October 23, 2014

Excerpt:

Bonnie Marsh is worried that many of her neighbors’ health problems stem from big companies farming genetically modified crops around her in Maui County, Hawaii. So she helped collect enough signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that would ban growing such crops until an environmental study is done

“We’ve come forward because we feel there’s a real threat to the health of the Earth,” said Marsh, a nurse who focuses on natural remedies. “We are done being an experimental lab.

Marsh said her group, Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina, has raised about $700,000 so far for what is the first-ever citizen-initiated ballot measure in Maui County. They’ve used about $17,000 of it to buy TV ads to help get the word out. But Marsh’s group is being outraised and outspent by business-supported opposition.

Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, a group backed by agricultural giants Monsanto and DowAgroSciences, has already spent more than $2 million — or $23.13 per registered voter in the county — on television ads arguing that the ban would kill jobs, cost the local economy millions of dollars and block crops that have been proven safe.

- - - - - - - - -

In California, competing messages about the drug-testing-for-doctors proposition are abundant on the airwaves. Recent transplant James VanBuskirk, a 34-year-old marketer for a property insurance company, says he sees one every time he watches prime-time TV.

Prop 46 tops the ballot measure spending pile in this election, with $23 million spent on thousands of ads across California.

Consumer Watchdog, a national advocacy group, teamed up with trial lawyers to back the measure. Trial lawyers stand to benefit from Prop 46 because, in addition to testing doctors for drug use, it also increases the maximum judges can award for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits. Groups backed by them spent $3.9 million so far on ads supporting the measure.

Consumer advocates and the California Nurses Association have also thrown their money behind Proposition 45, which would require insurers to receive approval for rate hikes from the California insurance commissioner, an elected regulator. Ballot committees supporting the measure have aired more than $679,000 on ads so far.

But their messages have been crowded out by those of insurers and doctors, who are spending big to oppose both measures on the airwaves — with more than $38 million spent on ads so far, about $19 million on each measure — nearly a third of the total amount spent on ballot measure ads nationwide. And there are likely many more ads to come: Groups opposing the two measures together have raised more than $100 million, according to California campaign finance records.

“It’s definitely in the upper stratosphere of California fundraising,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that produces online voter guides.

That doesn’t mean the insurance companies are necessarily going to win. In 2010, a group backed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spent almost $14 million on ads supporting a ballot measure that would require local voter approval for any new government-backed utilities. The electric company lost, even though its opponents did not buy any airtime. (full story)

Want Your Absentee Vote To Count? Don't Make These Mistakes

NPR Radio, By Pam Fessler, October 22, 2014

Excerpt:

Millions of voters — about 1 in 5 — are expected to vote absentee, or by mail, in November's midterm elections. For many voters, it's more convenient than going to the polls.

But tens of thousands of these mail-in ballots are likely to be rejected — and the voter might never know, or know why.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission found that in 2012 more than a quarter of a million absentee ballots were rejected.

The No. 1 reason? The ballot wasn't returned on time, which in most states is by Election Day. Sometimes it's the voter's fault. Others blame the post office.

Kim Alexander, who runs the California Voter Foundation, says this past June almost 600 absentee ballots arrived at the Santa Cruz County election office the morning after the primary. Too late to count.

"It's absolutely heartbreaking. Because the only thing worse than people not voting is people trying to vote and having their ballots go uncounted," says Alexander. "And most of these people have no idea that their ballots are not getting counted. They could be making the same mistakes over and over again."

- - - - - - - - - -

Absentee voters who are confused and vote twice is another concern.

Alysoun McLaughlin, deputy director of the Montgomery County, Md., board of elections, calls these "just in case" voters. First, they send in their absentee ballot.

"They're concerned that maybe it won't get back to us in time. So then they also go to the polls and they vote," says McLaughlin.

That vote is a provisional one, but when election officials get that second ballot in the mail, both ballots are rejected. It's illegal to vote twice — even by mistake.

Paul Gronke, who runs the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Oregon, says he's concerned about all these lost votes.

"After the 2000 election, a lot of attention was paid in this country to voting machines to make sure that no one was denied the right to vote because of a machine that didn't function properly, or a chad that did not hang properly," Gronke says.

But absentee voting hasn't received that same attention, he says. And in a close election, those ballots could make a difference.

Gronke says it's also important to know which voters are affected the most. A study by the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis found that absentee ballots cast by young voters or those using non-English ballots were more likely to be rejected.

And Gronke says a study he did in Florida found that lots of absentee ballots got tossed in precincts made up entirely of senior citizens.

"As many as a third of the ballots in some cases were rejected because of errors," he says.

Gronke doesn't know what those errors were, but he thinks the findings do raise questions about whether instructions on how to vote absentee are clear enough.

Election officials are doing more to try to educate voters about the rules. Their big message is to get the absentee ballot in the mail as soon as possible.

Better yet, says Alexander, they should notify voters when their ballots have been rejected and tell them why — so they don't make the same mistake twice. (full story)

Is California's Top-Two Primary System Blocking Third-Party Candidates?

KQED Radio, October 16, 2014

Excerpt:

In the June election, for the first time, California used a top-two primary system for statewide offices. Under the system, the candidates receiving the most and second-most votes advance to the November general election -- regardless of party affiliation. While supporters say top-two helps promote more moderate candidates, others criticize the system for shutting out third-party contenders. (full audio)

California politicians would never suppress voting, but they might not count all the ballots

Sacramento Bee, By the Editorial Board, October 13, 2014

Excerpt:

It’s tempting to be smug in the face of other states’ fights over voter suppression. California, thankfully, isn’t Texas, where voter-ID requirements were compared to a poll tax by a federal judge last week.

Signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, the ID requirement was just one of many ways in which the Lone Star State historically blocked participation among minority voters, said U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who ruled that the requirement had an “impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”

And Texas, of course, isn’t the only part of the nation where voter protections aren’t, well, Californian. A year after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision narrowing the Voting Rights Act, 15 states controlled by Republicans have imposed tighter restrictions on voting for the Nov. 4 election, the Los Angeles Times reported last week.

Democrats here and elsewhere are calling on voters to cast their ballots as an act of defiance, redoubling registration efforts, and appealing to the courts.

In Georgia, voters in a largely African American precinct will be able to cast votes on the Sunday before the election, to the dismay of a Republican state senator, who fretted that the polls would be open in an area “dominated by African American shoppers and … several large African American mega-churches.”

- - - - - - - - - - -

The problem of uncounted mail ballots is particularly perplexing because more than half of the electorate in California chooses to vote by mail, 51 percent in November 2012, and 69 percent in June.

In her latest report, Kim Alexander, head of the California Voter Foundation, details why vote-by-mail ballots aren’t counted: the signature on the envelope doesn’t match closely enough the signature on file with the elections office, the voter neglects to sign the envelope, or the ballot is mailed in too late.

Few counties bother to inform the voters that their votes weren’t counted. Disenfranchised voters may make the same mistakes year after year.

Voter education matters. A 2011 survey found that many people don’t realize that they are not obligated to vote on all races for their ballots to be counted.

On Nov. 4, voters will pick Alex Padilla or Pete Peterson as the next secretary of state, replacing the termed-out incumbent Debra Bowen. Whoever wins ought to pledge to make voting more convenient, by opening polls on Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate working people who have a hard time getting to the polls on workdays. And they should promise to make sure that every vote cast is counted. (full story)

Thousands Of Mail-In Ballots Going Uncounted

Capital Public Radio, By Katie Orr, October 10, 2014

Excerpt:

In the 2012 general election more than 50 percent of votes were cast by mail. In the 2014 June primary that number shot up to 69 percent. But Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation says for various reasons thousands go uncounted each election. She says in June 3 percent of mail-in ballots were not counted.

"And when you have a contest like the Controller’s primary race which was decided by about 400 votes," she says, "those tens of thousands of ballots that didn’t get counted could definitely have made a difference."

Alexander says ballots are often not counted because they're returned too late, or with the wrong signature or with no signature at all. She says confusing, cluttered instructions and different procedures in California’s 58 counties cause problems too.

"The state has built the vote-by-mail program piecemeal over years," she says. "And that’s one of the problems, nobody has looked at it comprehensively and said, well are all these rules making sense put together now where we’re at?"

But Alexander says the state and counties could improve the situation. Alexander says ballot instructions should be clear and standard throughout the counties. And she says ballots returned to the wrong county should be forwarded to the correct location. Most of all, she says the state should provide counties with the money they need to run smooth elections.

Alexander recommends mailing you ballot back at least a week in advance of the election to ensure it is received in time. You can also drop it off at a polling location in your county on Election Day. (full story)

Why Voting Machines Are About To Wreak Havoc On Another Election

Think Progress, by Lauren Williams, September 26, 2014

Excerpt:

In 2012, hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. waited, at first patiently and then with growing frustration, in lines that ventured out the doors and wrapped around street corners. They werent waiting more than seven hours in line to buy the new iPhone  they were waiting to vote on an electronic touch-screen machine.

Technology has made life easier, simplifying common tasks such as banking, publishing a book, talking to friends and paying for things online. But when it comes to voting, technology is stuck in 2002. And with the decade-old electronic voting machines that states use falling apart  creating long lines that cause some not vote at all  voters are slowly losing access to their voting rights.

Theres been renewed emphasis on voting rights in the last year, since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act. The Court ruled that voter discrimination wasnt rampant enough to support a law restricting Southern states from implementing new voting policies. Since then, states, particularly Republican-run states, have been fighting for voting restrictions like reduced early voting times and voter ID laws, laws that previously would have been blocked by the federal government.

Civil rights advocates contend that such laws, especially those requiring all voters to present government identification, could potentially disenfranchise the poor and people of color and reduce voter turnout.

Where a voter lives can dictate whether or not he or she can quickly go to the polls before work or spend the better part of the day waiting in line to cast a ballot. City voters, who tend to be Democrats, are more likely to encounter long lines due to voting restrictions, according to a 2012 report from The New York Times. And the poorer voters are, the more likely they are to stand in long lines to exercise their voting rights.

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The online tool allows disabled voters  about 5 percent of Marylands population  to privately mark absentee ballots with technology such as voice-recognition software. Once finished, voters take the printed out ballot to their local polling locale.

But, as with electronic voting machines, critics of the new online voting initiative say any form of online voting is at risk of being compromised by hackers. Every election there is a new crop of politicians, some of whom think Internet voting is like any other governmental process that can be migrated online. It isnt. And it cant, Kim Alexander, voting rights activist and founder of the California Voter Foundation wrote in a 2013 blog post.

Previous pilot programs in Washington, D.C., and West Virginia ran mock online elections for overseas military in 2010. But Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science professor, and his team of students hacked the D.C. internet voting system almost as soon as it was up and running. There havent been any similar tests since, NCSL told ThinkProgress.

For Internet voting to work, voting tech expert Barbara Simons believes technologists would have to solve one of the major problems in computer security, particularly human error and making computers bug proof.

Computer security is like the tax code. Its written in English, so in theory everyone can understand it. But no one understands the whole damn thing. Thats why there are experts for certain sections of it, Simons said. Theres a complicated logic thats hard follow as one body of work, because each section of text interacts with another but theyre not side by side. full story

Major challenges await Bowen's successor in California

The Fresno Bee, By Jim Miller, September 26, 2014

Excerpt:

Voting equipment around the state is breaking down. There is limited money for new systems.

A complex statewide voter registration database has been years in the making. And while hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars change hands every day in California, the states public-disclosure system confuses searchers and occasionally stops working.

Whoever gets the keys to Californias secretary of states office in January will inherit a lengthy to-do list for the posts role overseeing voting and elections, its most public responsibility. The office also handles businesses filings.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who recently disclosed that she is battling depression, has defended her tenure and blamed politics for would-be successors criticism of her office during this years campaign. Budget cuts during the recession and a lack of new funding have hampered efforts to improve some programs, she has said, such as the Cal-Access campaign-finance website.

But whether it is Republican Pete Peterson or Democrat Alex Padilla, Californias next secretary of state will need to hit the ground running, county registrars and other experts say.

The November winner will be Californias fourth secretary of state in less than a decade. Former secretary of state Kevin Shelley resigned two years into his term amid allegations of wrongdoing, and appointed replacement Bruce McPherson served a similar time before losing to Bowen in 2006.

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In addition, the aging system sometimes breaks down, leaving the public in the dark about who is raising money and from where. Fixing Cal-Access, and quickly, has to be a high priority for Peterson and Padilla, said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

Peterson, the executive director at Pepperdine Universitys Davenport Institute, says he thinks outside nonprofits such as Berkeley-based MapLight could take the lead on presenting campaign-finance data collected by the secretary of state. Padilla, a state senator from Los Angeles, says he thinks Cal-Access should be dramatically improved but suggested that the public-disclosure website stay in-house. Neither candidate has been clear about how the state should pay for improvements.

Unlike Cal-Access, there are tens of millions of federal dollars set aside for VoteCal, a new statewide voter registration database. VoteCal would allow people to check their registration status online and also would make it easier for people to register when they interact with other government agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. VoteCal is scheduled to launch by mid-2016.

VoteCal, though, has been beset by technical difficulties and disagreements between vendors and the state since it began in 2007. In August 2013, a state audit questioned the secretary of states setting aside up to $131 million in HAVA money for the project, preventing its potential use for other election-modernizing efforts, such as new voting equipment. But Evan Goldberg, the chief deputy secretary of state, said it is the offices legal interpretation that it cannot certify its compliance with HAVA until it finishes VoteCal.

Meanwhile, counties machines are near the breaking point, said Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley.

That has to be No. 1 on their agenda, as far as Im concerned, Kelley, the president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, said of Padilla and Peterson.

Some county officials blame Bowen for the situation. Responding to concerns about touch-screen voting machines, Bowen launched a top to bottom review of state voting systems after taking office and in August 2007 decertified some types of touch-screen equipment.

Counties around the country also face a problem of aging equipment. In California, though, the problem has been exacerbated by decertification of equipment, Logan said.

Goldberg said Bowen stands by her decision, which earned her the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2008. Lets remember what this is all about: its about ... having confidence that their votes are being accurately counted.

Most counties have turned to older, state-permitted machines and paid for any repairs themselves. In Riverside County, for example, the county has relied on vote-by-mail machines to handle all of the countys ballots.

Weve had basically eight years of no new voting systems, said Gail Pellerin, the Santa Cruz County clerk and registrar of voters. We are dealing with a voting system that is old, breaking down, we cant find parts, and theres no wiggle room for improvements.

Registrars are not the only ones looking for closer relations with the next secretary of state. Leaders of nonprofit organizations that work on elections and voting issues have become frustrated with the office in recent years.

There are a lot of organizations and people in California who have the passion, skills and expertise to bring into the election process, Alexander said. They see the next administration coming and hope for more open lines of communication.

Just 25 percent of registered voters, and only 18 percent of eligible adults cast ballots in June. As of Sept. 5, an estimated 6.6 million people were eligible to vote but not registered. Nonparticipation rates are particularly high among Latinos, Asians and young people, studies show.

Both candidates have pledged to improve registration and turnout. Padilla said its time to employ an all-of-the-above strategy. Peterson, an expert in civic engagement, and Web and printing design, said he would bring those skills to encouraging people to register and vote.

Budget hurdles also will confront the November winner. In June, as California election workers processed late-arriving primary mail ballots, legislative budget writers in Sacramento refused to restore $100 million in state reimbursement for counties vote-by-mail costs in the 2014-15 budget.

Advocates want the next secretary of state to be a vocal advocate for office funding. We need someone whos going to fight for this, said Alexander, whose organization recently released a three-county study that found 0.8 percent of mail ballots cast were never counted. full story

Secretary of state candidates face off in debate

KCRA-TV, September 11, 2014

Excerpt:

A face-off in Sacramento on Thursday featured Pete Peterson and Alex Padilla, the two candidates in a tight race for California's top elections chief.

"I think in many ways, the Secretary of State's Office has been a closed door," Peterson told a packed crowd at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento.

Peterson, the Republican candidate for Secretary of State, is currently the executive director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement at Pepperdine University in Malibu.

"Protecting voting rights is absolutely going to be a priority of mine," said Peterson's opponent, Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, of Los Angeles.

But in June, only 25 percent of all registered voters in California actually bothered to cast a ballot.

"We had the lowest turnout in history in our June primary," said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. "We had the highest use of vote-by-mail ballots."

Tens of thousands of those ballots were never counted -- primarily because they arrived too late, well after the polls had closed.

"We are behind with our statewide registration database," said Kim Alexander, president of California Voter Foundation.

The pressure is on from Alexander and many others to increase voter participation in California -- something both candidates have pledged to do. (full story)

Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s Depression

KCRW, September 8, 2014

Excerpt:

Two months before the next statewide election, California’s elections officer has told the LA Times she’s away from the office a lot more than she wants to be. Depression—which she has suffered from since college—has returned with a vengeance. Debra Bowen spent 14 years in the Assembly and Senate before being elected Secretary of State 8 years ago. Kim Alexander is President of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit that works closely with Bowen’s office. (Audio)

Depression of elections chief raises concerns

Modesto Bee, by Fenit Nirappil, September 8, 2014

Excerpt:

California's top elections chief has won praise for publicly sharing her battle with depression, but her frequent absence from office raises concerns about whether she can perform her job ahead of the November general election.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who will be termed out of the office in January after serving eight years, said she has been able to work remotely and "everything is on track" with the election. Bowen said she has moved out of the home she shares with her husband and is seeking professional help to cope with her depression.

Pete Peterson, a Republican running to replace Bowen, said the office needs a leader who actively promotes civic engagement and he questioned whether she can do that this year.

"In the era where we've seen really low voter turnout, the secretary should really be out there promoting voting," he said. "I very much hope the secretary gets the help she needs, and I also hope the office gets the help it needs."

Bowen, a Democrat who also served 14 years in the state Legislature, said she wants to reduce the stigma around depression and show it is a health condition that can be managed within a successful career. She said much of the work of administering elections is handled by her staff and by county officials.

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Civics groups often have criticized the secretary of state's office for a slow rollout of online voter registration and its difficult-to-navigate campaign finance portal, Cal-Access.

"This is the first time we've really understood the difficulties she's going through," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "Elections have been run competently for many years in California, so I don't see it being an issue."

Kathay Feng, executive director of the nonpartisan good government group California Common Cause, said the job of secretary of state is not part time. She said the secretary of state's office should assess its operations in light of Bowen's frequent absences.

Others said they are not concerned.

"The secretary of state doesn't have to make life-or-death decisions at a split second," said Jack Pitney, a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College, who noted other public officials including Abraham Lincoln had depression.

Bowen says depression should be viewed like other medical conditions such as diabetes, and she questions whether criticism stems from stigma around mental illness.

"People who want to make an issue of this really need to think about the message they are sending to the people who are dealing with this for the first time," she said. (full story)

Bowen vows to press on as election nears

Fresno Bee, by Jim Miller, September 8, 2014

Excerpt:

Secretary of State Debra Bowen was in the office Monday, two days after her struggles with depression became public, making clear that she intends to oversee November balloting and finish out her term as California’s chief elections officer.

“I feel great today,” Bowen said. “I’ll continue to make sure that all the big projects are where they should be. No major decision gets made without my input.”

Bowen said she has received “so many supportive messages” since the Los Angeles Times reported in Saturday’s editions on Bowen tearfully describing a “debilitating” flare-up of the depression that she has battled for decades. The Times also reported several tax liens since 2009 against Bowen alone or with her husband, the last of which, he said, was paid off Friday.

There have been no calls for the Democrat to leave the post she first won in 2006 following 14 years in the Legislature. Bowen, who will be forced out by term limits at the end of the year, insisted that she can continue to do her job, whether it’s in the office or from the mobile home she recently moved to. She said a medical leave isn’t necessary. Colleagues and election officials have rallied to her side.

“For me, I’ve never let depression be the winner. I wouldn’t be where I am if I had. I keep going,” Bowen, 58, said Monday. “I know if I keep going I will eventually feel like myself again.”

“I am taking care of myself,” Bowen added. “This isn’t different than diabetes or anything else. Everybody has setbacks, everybody has challenges.”

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Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, also said she did not know of Bowen’s illness. Alexander credited her with introducing online voter registration in time for the November 2012 election and making it available in 10 languages. The office also introduced an online polling place search tool before the June primary election.

“The fact is she’s been suffering from health challenges for some time now and, despite that, has been able to carry out her duties competently and has been able to for some time,” Alexander said.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones noted that he worked for former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who, while in office in 1995, announced that she had Parkinson’s disease.

“Janet said, as I believe Debra has said, ‘Look, I’ve got this illness, I am doing everything I can to manage it. I believe I can continue to perform my office,’ ” Jones said. “I believe that Debra is addressing it in a public and thoughtful and straightforward way.”

Other California officials have continued to serve amid illness, such as the late lawmakers Dave Cox, Jenny Oropeza and Nell Soto. The late state Sen. Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, took a medical leave during the final months of her term. State law offers few ways for statewide elected officials to be relieved of their duties.

On Monday, Pete Peterson, a Republican who is seeking the office and has been critical of Bowen’s tenure, said, “I pray she’s getting the help she needs.” He said he has no opinion on whether Bowen should step down.

“But this is a full-time job. I hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that this office has not been performing well, not just for voters but for businesses, whatever the reason might be,” he said. (full story)

How to Make Sure Your Vote-by-Mail Ballot is Counted

KQED, Lisa Pickoff-White, August 21, 2014

Excerpt:

Almost 8 million Californians now cast their ballots by mail instead going to the polls. A new study of three California counties found that only 0.8 percent of mailed ballots, about 30,000, are not tallied. That might seem insignificant, unless it’s your ballot.

There are three main reasons vote-by-mail ballots go uncounted:

The California Voter Foundation studied the vote-by-mail process for one year in Santa Cruz, Sacramento and Orange counties. The foundation estimates that about 66,000 vote-by-mail ballots went uncounted statewide in 2012.

One major challenge is that voters who incorrectly mail their ballots are never notified.

“Voters could be making the same mistakes repeatedly and never know that they’re doing something wrong,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. “We want the state to change the law to require counties to tell voters when their ballots go uncounted and why.”

Currently, voters can call their county’s election office, or go online, to see if their ballot was counted. Alexander imagines a world where voting by mail could be as easy as sending in a Netflix DVD.

“In the middle of finishing this study I returned a DVD to Netflix, and in the course of 12 hours it went from my mailbox at home on my porch to a Netflix facility, and I received an email saying it had been received. And I just really envy that,” Alexander said. (full story)(Audio)

Insight interview: Mail-In Ballot Study

Capital Public Radio, August 20, 2014

Excerpt:

A new report issued today by the California Voter Foundation reveals the top three reasons why some ballots go uncounted in three counties. These reasons include coming in too late, they lack the voter's signature and the signature on the ballot envelope does not sufficiently compare to the one on file. (full story) (audio)

Late arrival, missing signatures voided many California mail ballots, study finds

Sacramento Bee, by Jim Miller, August 20, 2014

Excerpt:

Even as voting by mail becomes increasingly common in California elections, more mail ballots are not being counted, according to a study of mail voting in three counties, including Sacramento.

The report, released Tuesday by the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, found that 0.8 percent of the mail ballots cast in four elections in Orange, Santa Cruz and Sacramento counties were never counted. Sixty-one percent of them arrived after Election Day. Twenty percent of the ballots had not been signed, and in 18 percent of the cases, election officials concluded that the signature on the ballot did not match the voter’s signature the office had on file.

Kim Alexander, the voter foundation’s president and the main author of the report, said she she is confident that its findings also apply to the state’s 55 other counties. Government, she said, has encouraged people to vote by mail, yet its laws and procedures have not kept pace to prevent what she called “a hidden problem.”

Insight: Mail-In Ballot Study “I’ve seen these trays of election ballots stacked up, uncounted. It’s the saddest sight. A lot of work goes into casting those ballots,” Alexander said. “We’ve been building our vote-by-mail process on a piecemeal basis.”

The foundation’s report comes as the Legislature considers a measure that would allow mail ballots to be counted if they are postmarked on Election Day and received within three days afterward. The bill, Senate Bill 29, cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week and is pending in the full Assembly. According to a committee analysis of the measure, 26,000 ballots arrived too late to be counted in the November 2010 election.

Besides supporting a change to the rules on late-arriving ballots, Tuesday’s report recommends that counties should notify voters when their ballots go uncounted. In addition, the state should require counties and the secretary of state’s office to report the number of uncounted ballots and why they were not counted. The state also should pay counties what they are owed to fund vote-by-mail programs.

Alice Jarboe, Sacramento County’s assistant registrar of voters, said the office worked closely with Alexander’s group and is always trying to improve communication with voters on how to cast mail ballots. (full story)

Recount in the controller's race: A fine mess

San Jose Mercury News, by Scott Herhold, July 10, 2014

Excerpt:

In the sixth grade, I ran for president of our class of 29 kids against a girl named Rosemary. On gender politics alone, I should have won.

We had 15 boys and 14 girls. Out of misplaced chivalry, I thought it wrong to vote for myself. I voted for Rosemary, thinking she'd vote for me.

Rosemary suffered from no such compunctions. She voted for herself, and won, 15-14. I can still hear her laughing.

Though it would have changed nothing, I've often thought I should have demanded a recount. The imbroglio at my school has helped me fathom the current fight in the California controller's race.

I know: People's eyes glaze over at the word "controller." So know this: The controller has big influence over the state's finances. Among other duties, the controller sits on the board of Calpers, the public pension fund.

More critically, the job has been a stepping stone to higher office. Gray Davis was controller before he became governor. Steve Westly was controller when he ran for governor.

RACE FOR SECOND

You may know the current story: Out of 4 million votes cast, Democrat John Perez finished 481 votes behind fellow Democrat Betty Yee for second place in the controller's race.

The winner will have the right to run in November against Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican. Because California is heavily Democratic, either Perez or Yee has a good chance of winning the office.

Here is where it gets strange. California's election laws do not demand an automatic statewide recount when the tally is this close.

Instead, a candidate willing to foot the bill can choose the counties in which the recount takes place. Perez, no surprise, has selected counties with heavier Hispanic voting, beginning with Kern and Imperial.

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I tried to figure out the origins of this system -- and while much of it is lost in the mists of election law, this much is clear: It has to do with money.

"We have county-administered elections," says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "By convention, the state doesn't pay any of the direct costs to conduct elections.''

Some people have suggested that there should be an automatic statewide recount when the vote is as close as it was in this case. Even though it would cost $3 million, it's preferable to the arms race.

But in a state as large and diverse as California, there will probably never be an exact vote count. Just comparing signatures on mail-in ballots is a subjective exercise.

That speaks strongly to Perez accepting the results, maybe after a preliminary review. I can tell you from my sixth-grade experience that life goes on ever after the closest and most galling defeat. (full story)

California Election-Law Flaws Revealed In First Modern Recount For Statewide Office

CBS13-TV, July 14, 2014

Excerpt:

In the disputed race for state controller, all sides can agree on one thing: A vote recount starting Friday is unprecedented in its scope, leaving California officials in uncharted territory.

The process also has illuminated serious shortcomings in California’s election law, which has no provision for an automatic recount, even when the final margin is tight.

Former Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, requested the recount after finishing third in the June 3 primary, just 481 votes behind Democratic Board of Equalization member Betty Yee out of 4.46 million cast in the controller’s race.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, easily came in first, but only the top two vote-getters advance to November’s general election.

It is the first recount in a statewide candidate election in modern California history.

The narrow margin in the controller’s race- less than 0.1 percent – prompted Perez’s campaign to request a targeted recount in 15 counties, beginning Friday in Kern and Imperial. Under California law, a candidate or any registered California voter can request a recount in any precinct in any county, but they must pay for it.

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Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have provisions for an automatic recount when the vote threshold is extremely close. California’s controller race would be within the margin for an automatic recount in all of them, although the state is one of only a few that has a mandatory 1 percent manual tally of precincts for all counties, an attempt to expose any problems.

California’s recount system invites criticism that it is unfair to candidates who do not have large campaign accounts to challenge contested outcomes, even when they believe there has been a mistake.

It’s unclear how much money each candidate has remaining because they have not yet filed spending reports from the primary. Perez had $1.8 million in mid-May while Yee had just $116,000.

If Perez’s selective recount places him ahead at some point, Yee might not be able to pay for a challenge unless an independent donor stepped forward to request it.

“I think what’s unfair is that the candidate has to put up the money in the first place,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

If there is a concern with the outcome of an election, she said, “it’s the government’s obligation to get the vote count right.”

The state Legislature has balked at the idea of instituting a mandatory, state-funded recount. In 2012, Secretary of State Debra Bowen proposed a cheaper alternative, a “risk-limiting audit” that would allow candidates to request a less intensive statistical audit of votes, but the idea went nowhere.

Bowen’s office said it was aware of only two previous recounts in statewide contests, both in 2012 involving ballot measures on tobacco taxes and genetically modified foods. Proponents sought very limited recounts in both, but neither altered the outcome of the race.

In the controller’s race, county election workers are racing against time, with the clock already having started on the Nov. 4 general election cycle. (full story)

Recount in Controller's Race Takes State Into Uncharted Territory

The California Report, by Scott Shafer, July 11, 2014

Excerpt:

Summer is usually a quiet time for local election officials. But not so this year — at least not in a few California counties where votes will soon be recounted in the super-close statewide controller's race. The top finisher is clear: Fresno's Republican mayor, Ashley Swearingen.

But out of 4 million ballots cast, just 481 votes separate No. 2 finisher Betty Yee, of San Francisco, from fellow Democrat and L.A. Assemblyman John Pérez, who came in third. He is now demanding a recount in 15 counties.

San Mateo County’s elections chief, Mark Church, found out last weekend that he wasn't quite done with the June election. “I thought, gee, I guess we're one of the lucky ones,” Church joked.

Church is busy looking for two dozen city employees who might be able to do the recount — a manual assessment of paper ballots that were read by a scanning machine on Election Day.

“All the vote-by-mail ballots, the Election Day electronic ballots, and the Election Day paper ballots. All the ballots in those categories will be counted,” Church said.

Then there's another category — ballots that were not counted because they were damaged or there were questions about the voter's signature or something else. “It's determining what the intent of the voter is by examining how the voter checked the ballot. And in some cases that's not always clear,” Church explained.

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One other thing: Pérez can call off the recount if it doesn't look like he's picking up ground. And Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, can ask to recount different counties if she's worried about falling behind.

But Kim Alexander, of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, says time is a wasting. The secretary of state starts putting together the voter information guide this month.

“I would hate to see a situation where, you know, there's a last-minute change to the ballot that the counties aren't able to handle, and the secretary of state's not able to get that out to the voters,” Alexander said. “I don't know what would happen in that situation.”

And that's exactly what worries Mark Church in San Mateo.

“This whole process here could end up with another Bush/Gore scenario where we don't know who's going to be on the ballot,” Church said. (full story)

Controller recount highlights concern about California election law

Los Angeles Times, by Chris Megerian, July 10, 2014

Excerpt:

In much the way surgeons need skilled hands and fighter pilots must have great eyesight, there is at least one key requirement for election workers handling the recount in California's controller race: long attention spans.

Starting Friday, they will gather in government offices and sit four to a table, where ballots will be lined up for their review. One worker will read a voter's decision, another will watch and two more will keep count.

They will do this thousands and thousands of times.

"It has to be people who can stay focused, because you can understand how boring it can get," said Debra Porter, Imperial County registrar. And if the workers lose count, they'll have to backtrack to make sure they get it right

This tedious process is at the heart of what could become the largest recount in California history. It will also showcase a rarely discussed area of state law that observers and participants say fails to provide an equitable safeguard in close elections.

Assemblyman John A. Pérez called for the review after finishing 481 votes behind Betty Yee, a Board of Equalization member, in the June 3 primary. The two Democrats are battling for the chance to face off with Ashley Swearengin, the Republican mayor of Fresno, in the November general election.

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The recount will move sequentially through a list of 15 counties chosen by Pérez, starting in Kern and Imperial. All of them are places where he performed better than Yee in the primary, and he's faced criticism for "cherry-picking" counties.

"What is the goal of a recount?" Yee said in an interview. "If the goal is to ensure every vote that was cast legally is counted correctly, it should be a much broader look."

Pérez said he simply couldn't afford a review in all 58 counties.

"If I could do the entire state and afford it, I would do it in a minute," he said in an interview.

He said elected leaders should consider changes to California recounts so that ballot inspections would be automatically triggered in close races and candidates wouldn't have to pay for them. (A statewide recount is estimated to cost $3 million, a tiny fraction of the state's $108-billion general fund budget but a huge expense for a campaign.)

For now, Pérez said, he'll "have to make the best of the situation that exists."

If Pérez prevails in the recount, he will get his money back. However, he still needs to pay county officials up front for every day he wants the counting to continue.

"Like a lot of things in California elections, it comes down to who has more money," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "When it comes to getting election results right, money shouldn't matter."

Pérez can stop the recount if he's not making progress and decides it's not worth the money, or if the new tally turns the tide in his favor.

But even then, the uncertainty may not end. Yee would still have the opportunity to launch a competing recount in different counties, continuing the battle.

"It's a messy process," said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, a nonpartisan firm that tracks voting patterns. "And I don't think it inspires confidence from voters." (full story)

Sacramento County inches toward campaign finance disclosure

Sacramento Bee, by the Editorial Board, July 7, 2014

Excerpt:

The issue, Hudson has said, is one of cost. Certainly, the county has not been flush with funds. But an informative site can bring sunshine and help promote democracy, not an insignificant service.

The ideal page would include graphics that voters would find useful and informative. For that, the county might take a cue from San Francisco, which has a particularly user-friendly page.

Los Angeles County has one without many bells or whistles. Placer County, which has an innovative elections office, has had a no-frills site for a decade. Voters can call up campaign finance reports on their computers and leaf through them, without having to visit the elections office.

Sacramento ought to do better, as should Yolo County and any others that have yet to enter the world of computers.

California’s website, Cal-Access, gets points for making it easy for the public to search for contributors and download donations into spreadsheets, which makes it easier to spot trends. That function should be a feature of any elections website.

Washington state’s site remains the gold standard. The nonprofit California Voter Foundation has studied sites in all 50 states. Its reports offer suggestions and pointers.

Hudson’s effort is welcome, though a long time coming. Sacramento County should build a site that will have been worth the wait. (full story)

573 Santa Cruz County ballots too late to count

KSBW.com, June 16, 2014

Excerpt:

Thousands of mail-in ballots are being invalidated in California elections because they arrive too late to be counted, government officials and political experts said Monday.

In the state's June 3 primary, Los Angeles County received about 2,400 mail-in ballots after the Election Day deadline making them ineligible to be tallied. The number of latecomers invalidated in Santa Cruz County was nearly 600, all postmarked on or before the election.

The postmark isn't the deciding factor - the cutoff is the close of polls, when election officials must have the ballots in-hand.

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In a state with nearly 18 million registered voters, the figures for late-arriving ballots are relatively tiny, but even small numbers can make a difference in tight races.

Votes are still being counted in the too-close-to-call state controller's contest. Former Assembly Speaker John Perez is leading by a few hundred votes over Board of Equalization member Betty Yee in their battle for a second runoff spot to challenge Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, according to unofficial returns.

"The only thing worse than not voting is people trying to vote and having their ballots go uncounted," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, which has been researching the unwelcome trend.

Californians have been choosing to vote by mail in larger numbers for years, and it's not uncommon to have half the vote come in through the mail.

Political Data Inc., a research firm that sells voter information to campaigns, has estimated that more than 30,000 mail-in ballots were invalidated in 2012 because they were received too late, nearly half of them from voters under 30 years old. That estimate was extrapolated from a review of data from 18 counties.

The analysis did not distinguish between ballots postmarked on or before the election but were delivered too late to be counted, and those that were postmarked after the election and would be clearly ineligible.

Part of the problem stems from some voters being too lazy to get their ballots in the mail at an earlier date, raising the possibility of missing the deadline. There are other quirks in delivery: A Los Angeles ballot mailed in neighboring Orange County will probably take two days to arrive at its destination, for example. (full story)

Sacramento voters send media a message

Sacramento News & Review, by Cosmo Garvin, June 12, 2014

Excerpt:

The day after the June 3 primary election, a Sacramento Bee editorial page writer took to Twitter to boast about the Bee’s influence on local races: “Looks like #Sacramento voters followed @SacBeeEditBoard City Council recommendations: Harris, Schenirer, Jennings.”

That’s nice, but the Bee really has nothing to brag about. Nobody in the media should be too smug when only 20 percent of registered voters in the city turn out to vote.

Turnout was low throughout California, not just Sacramento. There were no citizen initiatives on the ballot, a weak field of challengers to Gov. Jerry Brown, and people may have been confused about the top-two primary.

Then there is the media’s role in driving down voter participation. The front-page story in the Bee the day before the election was, “Primary fails to stir any passion.” The San Francisco Chronicle had headlines predicting “embarrassingly low” turnout. Lots of papers ran stories like that.

“Elections are confidence games,” says Kim Alexander, executive director of the California Voter Foundation. And when news media repeatedly tells voters, “no one is voting,” it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Alexander adds that primaries are a holdover from a time when more people identified with political parties, so that’s partly to blame for the decline. And candidate campaigns, for all their sophistication, really only target the handful of people with a record of voting in every election. Otherwise, “the candidates aren’t asking for your vote,” Alexander says.

She says that those campaigns are also the main source of information that voters get about elections. That can’t possibly be a good thing, judging by the stack of election mailers Bites received, which varied from uninformative to deceitful.

A baseline level of knowledge about election issues takes some work. And most voters don’t have time to do it. We in the media can help, by offering context, showing readers the real connection between their vote and their daily lives, by covering local elections and local government in a way that is engaging, and gives people the good information they need to make decisions.

Mostly, we don’t do that. Our friends at the Bee, for example, are great at a lot of things. They can investigate the hell out of a bridge, if that’s what you need. But coverage of local government? (full story)

Viewpoints: Voters had reasons to skip California primary

Sacramento Bee op-ed, By Kim Alexander, June 7, 2014

Excerpt:

There has been a lot of talk about the low voter turnout in California’s Tuesday primary. Before the election, officials and pundits speculated we might see a record low turnout. After the election, lots of people are shaking their heads and bemoaning voter apathy in our state.

What are the reasons? Many have noted the fact that this is not a presidential election year, and that there was a lack of competition in the race for governor and no citizen initiatives on the ballot to spark the public’s interest.

There are other factors to consider as well. First, let’s look at history. Californians have never shown much interest in participating in primaries. Only once in the last 100 years (1938) have more than half of eligible Californians participated in a primary election.

Turnout among registered voters has also dropped dramatically, peaking in 1976 at 73 percent and sliding down ever since. There have been a few high points since then, when we moved our presidential primary to an earlier date to give Californians more say. In March 2000, 54 percent of registered voters participated, and in February 2008, 58 percent participated. But overall, primary turnout, especially in nonpresidential elections, has hovered around 30 or 40 percent.

One explanation is the steep decline in party affiliation and dramatic rise in the number of independent voters. In 1990, 89 percent of the state’s registered voters were affiliated with either the Democratic or the Republican parties while 9 percent were registered as independents and 2 percent with minor parties.

Today, 72 percent of California’s voters affiliate with the two major parties, while 21 percent are independents and 7 percent are with minor parties. While under the top-two primary election system, independents now have a say in whittling down the choices for November, it doesn’t change the fact that until very recently, primaries were intended for parties to select their nominees for the general election. With a growing percentage of California voters choosing to affiliate with neither of the major parties, it should come as no surprise that participation in primaries is dropping.

Another reason why many people are sitting out elections is that no one is asking for their vote. Political campaigns are extremely sophisticated in micro-targeting their communications only to those voters most likely to vote, and ignoring everyone else.

California’s decline in homeownership rates and relatively low rates of homeownership compared to other states may also be a factor. Homeowners vote in higher rates than renters for several reasons. First, as property-tax payers, they have a greater stake in government decisions. Second, they are likely to be wealthier than the general public and feel a greater need to protect their interests. And, unlike renters, they stay put, and so are more likely to become familiar with their political districts and elected officials.

According to the U.S. census, California’s homeownership rate dropped from 60 percent in 2005 to 56 percent in 2010, which is nearly the same percentage of eligible Californians who voted in the 2012 general election. Other states’ turnout rates similarly match up. Minnesota’s 76 percent turnout rate in 2012 was the highest in the nation, and that state has a 73 percent homeownership rate. New York’s turnout was 54 percent, with homeownership at 55 percent.

Another contributing factor is a lack of funding. Since 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have withheld money owed to counties to pay for election programs mandated by the state, such as vote by mail. As a result, counties are forced to do more with less, even as the number of eligible and registered voters in California constantly expands. A reduction in state funding can result in reduced election services, such as early voting and voter outreach programs.

And lastly, we have the media’s constant dwelling on the likely low turnout rate leading up to election day. This narrative may well have helped suppress turnout. Occasional voters are highly influenced to vote depending on what others around them are doing, particularly their friends and family. Repeated messages about low voter turnout do little to encourage participation and may in fact contribute to the problem.

Kim Alexander is president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to improve the voting process. (full story)

California primary election turnout headed for record low

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, June 6, 2014

Excerpt:

Turnout in Tuesday’s primary election is expected to approach just a quarter of registered voters, comfortably eclipsing a 6-year-old record for voter apathy in California.

Election officials are still processing mail-in ballots, but preliminary counts show fewer than 4.5 million voters participated – 25 percent of the 17.7 million who are registered and just 18.5 percent of the 24.1 million who are eligible.

Experts principally blamed the lack of participation on the dearth of citizen ballot initiatives and what most consider a humdrum challenge to incumbent Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

“There is, quite frankly, very little sizzle,” said David McCuan, a professor of political science at Sonoma State University. “There is nothing really that surprising about the June primary, and the dismal numbers are just further evidence of the erosion of people away from politics.”

Still, McCuan believes the state’s turnout may have hit bottom.

The emergence of the top-two primary system, which provides no guarantee either major party has a representative on the fall ballot, and a new era of leaders expected to compete for key statewide races in four years will compel politicians of all stripes to make a concerted effort to boost turnout, McCuan said.

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Some believe the state’s increasingly nonpartisan nature – 21 percent of voters no longer align with a party – is a factor in decreasing involvement in primaries.

Nearly 72 percent of voters are affiliated with the Democratic or Republican parties, down from 89 percent in 1990, said Kim Alexander, founder and president of the California Voter Foundation in Sacramento.

“Even though we now have an open primary where independents and minor-party voters can vote for major-party candidates, it doesn’t change the fact that historically primaries have been about allowing parties to select their nominees for the general (election),” she said.

She said analysts may be overlooking another factor in the downward shift: the decline of homeownership. People who own houses often have a greater incentive to vote given their interest in taxes, schools and other public services. They also are far less likely to uproot and thus have a better chance of becoming familiar with their political districts and getting to know representatives in local, state and federal offices, Alexander said.

“Part of what we are seeing here is a change in the public as a whole, where fewer and fewer people have access to the California Dream,” she said.

Also a factor is the precision with which candidates can microtarget likely voters and ignore everybody else. Alexander said she alone received 46 glossy mailers while her neighbors without voting records in the area may have received none. Even though the state has experienced chronically low participation rates over the years, the broader trend is that the most likely voters are not demographically representative of its residents.

Alexander said that worries her most.

“Elections are meant to be a tool through which people are able to govern themselves,” she said. “And if you have giant swaths of society opting out of voting and seeing it as something that has nothing to do with them, then they may find other non-civil avenues to create change for themselves. It’s really in everyone’s interest to expand participation and make sure that everybody feels invited and engaged.” (full story)

1,000+ Sacramento vote-by-mail ballots arrive too late

KCRA-TV, By David Bienick, June 2, 2014

Excerpt:

About 1,200 Sacramento County vote-by-mail ballots arrived too late to be counted in this week's primary election, according to elections officials.

Jill LaVine, the county's registrar of voters, shook her head as she leafed through five trays of pink envelopes and examined the postmarks.

"Once again, I see June 3 on these, so they were postmarked June 3," said LaVine.

Even though many of the ballots were mailed before the polls closed Tuesday, they were not received at the registrar's office until afterwards.

Under California law, that means the ballots will never be opened, counted and included in the official results.

"So much work went into this and we can't count them. So it's sad. It's really sad," said LaVine.

According to analysis prepared for the Legislature, about 20,000 ballots arrived too late to be counted in the last statewide election.

"The only thing worse than people not voting is people who try to vote and then aren't able to," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation.

Alexander said California should do as 11 other states and the District of Columbia have done, which is count ballots postmarked by election day, even if they are received a few days late.

"That would literally increase voter turn-out in California significantly," Alexander said. (full story)

Picking and Choosing in Tomorrow's Statewide Election

KCRW, June 2, 2014

Excerpt:

Primary Eve: Who's Voting, and Are the Polling Booths Ready?
Tomorrow's election day in California with the Governor, the Attorney General and major local offices on the ballot. There's a wide-open race to be Sheriff of Los Angeles County. The winner will run one of the nation's biggest law enforcement agencies, including a massive jail system. We hear about the candidates later. There are also two open seats on the five-member Board of Supervisors. They run a government larger than all but a few states. Dean Logan is the LA County Registrar-Recorder, who administers the election process. Kim Alexander is President of the non-partisan California Voter Foundation. She's worked with five California Secretaries of State, the office that administers elections statewide. (full story) (Audio)

Primary turnout could be record low

KCRA-TV, by Mike Luery, June 2, 2014

Excerpt:

California could be on track to set an embarrassingly low record for voter turnout in Tuesday’s primary election.

Political experts had predicted that, but only now is it becoming clear how low the numbers could be.

In Sacramento County this week, the rate at which mail-in ballots are being returned suggests a voter turnout rate 14 percentage points lower than the county’s record of 34.6 percent for a gubernatorial primary, which was in June 2006. Voters came close to that in June 2010 with 35 percen

Experts say the ballot holds little excitement for voters, many of whom believe the biggest race in the election – for governor – is all but decided.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said Monday there’s another reason most voters aren’t taking part.

Campaigns are calling and sending mailers only to the most likely voters, leaving everyone else out, she said.

And, Alexander added, news stories announcing low voter participation don’t help.

"When they hear these news stories about how we're having this low voter turnout predicted, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy," Alexander said. "People may hear that on the news and say, 'Oh, I guess nobody else is voting, so I'm not going to bother.'" (full story)

Low Turnout Expected in Today's Primary Election

KQED's "The California Report", by Scott Detrow, June 3, 2014

Excerpt:

Today's election is historic. It's the first statewide roll-out of California's top-two primary system. There are a handful of hotly contested races, too -- but that may not be enough to ensure a healthy turnout - (Audio)

Vote-By-Mail Voters Face 8pm Deadline

KFBK, by Mike Simpson, June 3, 2014

Excerpt:

Are you a vote by mail voter who's yet to vote by mail? If you want your ballot counted you'll have to physically drop it off Tuesday, since anything that arrives at an election's office past 8PM may not be counted.

"Ballots arriving too late to get counted is one of the major reasons some of the vote-by-mail ballots don't get counted, so we really want voters to learn the rules, get it right...The other thing we want to make sure voters know, you have to sign the envelope you put your ballot in," siad Kim Alexander.

Alexander, with the California Voter Foundation, added that vote-by-mail voters can drop by their county elections office or to any polling place in the county in which they are registered. (full story)

Dominant political parties losing voters in California

KCRA-TV, by Mike Luery, May 30, 2014

Excerpt:

Both major political parties in California are investing heavily in Tuesday's primary election, at a time when their registration numbers are shrinking.

Republicans took the biggest hit, as their registration figures dropped down to 28 percent of all voters, according to figures released Friday by the California Secretary of State's Office.

The new figure is a loss of 2 percentage points in just four years.

Watch report here: Are GOP, Democratic parties losing voters?

Democrats increased their raw numbers, but their overall percentage of registered voters declined to 43 percent, a 1 percent drop from 2010.

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They don't like the constant barrage off attack ads on television and the radio, or the vicious mailers that come to their door. And there's no way to avoid them because the cost of winning those elections is getting more expensive than ever.

"When you see a lot of hit pieces, you have to see who's paying for this," Kim Alexander said.

Alexander has received dozens of mailers in recent days at her Sacramento home.

"This costs a lot of money," she told KCRA 3.

Alexander monitors campaign literature closely as the founder and president of the nonpartisan group, California Voter Foundation.

She's looking for ways to improve the voting process, but one of the biggest challenges is the high cost of campaigning, something the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled on.

"The law of the land is that money is free speech," Alexander said. "You cannot restrict any particular entity from giving money. You can't restrict unions from giving money. You can't restrict corporations from giving money."

The cost of capturing a seat in the California State Assembly is so expensive that average voters have little influence, according to Daniel Newman, president of MapLight in Berkeley, a nonpartisan group that serves as a money tracker.

"You have to raise a lot of money," Newman said. "It's about $700,000 to win the average Assembly election. That's raising about $1,000 a day. So that means every day, (including) Thanksgiving and weekends, you have to be out there raising money."

To win a state Senate seat is even more costly.

MapLight's research indicates the average Senate seat costs about $1 million for the winning candidate -- about $1,400 a day, every day.

And to win a congressional seat in Washington, D.C. requires deep pockets.

MapLight found the average cost is $1.7 million to win a seat to the U.S. House of Representatives, or roughly $2,300 a day.

"So you wonder why the country has so many problems?" Newman asked. "It's because our elected officials are spending their time raising money instead of solving the country's problems."

Equally frustrating for voters is the length of the ballot.

"I have 19 contests on my ballot," Alexander said. "There's eight statewide contests, including the Board of Equalization."

And with so many names and issues to process, voters can easily feel intimidated by just how much homework they have to do to make an informed choice.

And even if their candidate wins, voters may still feel squeezed out by the powerful special interests who contribute the big bucks.

"You have to keep your donors happy," Alexander said. "You have to make sure they're going to keep giving time and time again." (full story)

Secretary of State Race Draws Crowded Field

Capital Public Radio, by Katie Orr , May 19, 2014

Excerpt:

With one arrest the California Secretary of State race exploded onto the public stage. What had been a quiet, if crowded race, became front page news with the arrest of State Senator and Secretary of State Candidate Leland Yee on corruption and gun trafficking charges. There was wide speculation on how that would affect the election. But Claremont McKenna Political Science Professor Jack Pitney says all the attention likely didn’t result in better informed voters.

“Well, Leland Yee got people to pay attention to Leland Yee,” Pitney says. “It’s unlikely however that it got people to pay attention to the issues that the Secretary of State has to deal with.”

And there are a lot of issues. The state’s campaign finance disclosure website is notoriously out of date. The office’s technology is also becoming antiquated. Kim Alexander is with the non-partisan California Voter Foundation.

“So California is really at a disadvantage today, in some ways, because we were so advanced with our technological innovations early on, compared to other states,” Alexander says. “For example, we were one of the first states to create a voter registration database, which we did back in 1995. And today that database is in need of replacement.”

There are several men vying for the job. Republican Pete Peterson is leading in the polls with 30 percent, followed by Democratic State Senator Alex Padilla at 17 percent. Green Party Candidate David Curtis, Independent Dan Schnur and Democrat Derek Cressman round out the top five. Pitney says there’s a clear reason why the office is so coveted.

“This job is a stepping stone. Particularly with Alex Padilla,” Pitney says. “He’s a very young, ambitious person. And if he does a good job as Secretary of State, perhaps other things lie in the future. After all, our current governor is a former Secretary of State.”

Pitney points out the office is more administrative than ideological and says all of the candidates are qualified. At a recent debate Peterson, Padilla, Cressman and Schnur largely agreed on most topics. They believe counties should receive more money to run elections. They believe the state should offer both mail ballots and in person voting. However, they take different positions on campaign finance reform. (full story)

Candidates agree online donor reporting should be L.A. County mandate

Los Angeles Times, by Catherine Saillan & Abby Sewell, May 11, 2014

Excerpt:

More than six weeks after Los Angeles County supervisorial candidate Bobby Shriver reported raising $848,000 and took the lead among seven candidates seeking to replace Zev Yaroslavsky, the public still was unable to go on the county's website and see who was giving to the former Santa Monica council member.

Shriver, anticipating the delay, posted his 413-page campaign finance report on his own website, saying he wanted to ensure the list of contributors was "publicly available to the voters and media immediately.''

He's not the only candidate disappointed that the nation's largest local government doesn't require electronic disclosure — or timely posting — of detailed contribution information. A chorus of Shriver's rivals and candidates for sheriff and other open county offices on the June 3 ballot agree on at least one thing: The bureaucratic bottlenecks and lax rules of the county's campaign reporting system need a major overhaul.

Modernizing procedures would be easy and cost effective, public officials and experts say. "What's the whole point of having sunshine laws on campaign [donors], if you can't see them?" said West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, who also is seeking Yaroslavsky's west county seat.

Duran said he was told to "come down to Norwalk," where the registrar-recorder's office is located, when he asked to see a batch of recent contributions. "Who has time to do that?"

In Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, candidates are required to file contribution information electronically, revealing donors within hours, or at most a couple of days. The cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Monica have similar requirements.

A 2012 state law allows — but doesn't require — local governments to make electronic filing mandatory for candidates who raise more than a nominal amount, in which case paper filings are not required. That's created a patchwork of campaign reporting in California resulting in widely varying standards for disclosing names of those helping finance candidates, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which tracks filing requirements.

And county governments are a "forgotten second cousin'' of campaign funding transparency, she said. "A lot of people active in politics put their focus on what's happening at the federal level or at the state level, and don't pay attention to what's happening at the local level."

Changes to L.A. County's system has been a recurring theme on the campaign trail, but not a matter of discussion for the County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that's probably due to a dearth of competitive races for seats on the five-member board until now. He's the newest member, elected in 2008. The other supervisors all have been in office for more than a decade and are beginning to be pushed out by term limits. (full story)

Millions of Californians missing from the registration rolls

The Sacramento Bee, by Jim Miller, May 11, 2014

Excerpt:

Zyler Hartman of Sacramento was too young to participate, but he closely followed the campaigns of November 2012, especially the debate over Proposition 37, the ballot measure that would have imposed new labeling requirements on genetically engineered foods.

Hartman is 19 now and could vote in next month’s primary election. But taking the first step – registering to vote – “is just the furthest thing from my mind at the moment,” he said last week near Sacramento City College, where he is taking a full load of classes.

When polls close next month, voter turnout will be the main benchmark of Californians’ election engagement. But missing from the calculation will be millions of Californians who could have voted but did not register.

In a chronic phenomenon of under-enfranchisement in the Golden State, there are at least 6.4 million residents who are eligible to vote but were not on the registration rolls as of early April. California’s registration rate is close to last in the United States, and its legions of eligible but unregistered voters make up a disproportionate share of the nationwide total.

Experts say there are multiple reasons for the shortfall, such as residents here moving more often, bureaucratic hurdles and uncompetitive statewide contests that fail to capture the public’s attention. Whatever the causes, the result is the same: an electorate that is whiter, older and wealthier than the state as a whole and a large share of the population disengaged from the laws and representatives chosen in its name.

“It’s a particularly big problem – there’s a big difference between people who vote and the people who don’t vote in California,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Getting people to sign up to vote once relied on expensive registration drives and stacks of paper. Since September 2012, though, people can sign up online. And advocates point to other possible strategies to raise registration rates, such as allowing people to register on Election Day, allowing high school students under age 18 to pre-register, and joining a growing multistate network that quickly re-registers people who move. None of those exist in California.

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Experts also point a finger at political campaigns, which tend to focus attention and money on voters most likely to show up. Fewer resources go into mobilizing voters without a track record. That creates a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation.

“People highly engaged get lots of material, phone calls and people knocking on their doors. People who are not registered or (have) not voted lately, no one’s knocking on their door,” she said.

There are exceptions. In November 2012, after a major push by President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, students and other pro-Obama young people turned out in large numbers and made up the same share of the national vote as in 2008. Young voters played a major role in the victory of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-increase measure.

The Sacramento region includes pockets of lower-than-average registration rates, according to census and registration data. Those include census tracts in and around south Sacramento’s Lemon Hill area and Del Paso neighborhoods, and tracts near Sacramento State and UC Davis. Data shows that the areas are heavily nonwhite and younger, with at least a third of residents living in poverty, according to the state’s Healthcare Atlas.

At Sacramento City College last week, several students said they were not registered to vote and saw no pressing reason to do so.

“Right now, I’m cooped up in my own studies. I know what’s going on affects me, though,” said Simon Nguyen, 19, of Sacramento, who is studying biology.

Valecia Dana, 26, who also is unregistered, said she is more cynical about the democratic process. “I didn’t believe my vote counted. There are a lot of votes that don’t even make it,” said Dana. More recently, Dana said, her main reason for not voting is membership in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which she said discourages voting.

Fellow students who are registered to vote said they sense that many of their classmates have been turned off by politics.

“It’s a general malaise,” said Loreen Willenberg, 60, of Sacramento, who is studying bioethics. “I think people are disillusioned by the political process.”

There also is confusion. A recent poll by Pew Charitable Trusts found that a third of people think the government automatically updates their registration when they move. And a 2004 survey by the California Voter Foundation found that a quarter of nonvoters agreed with the statement that registering to vote would expose them to jury duty. California is among the states that use voter records as one source of would-be jurors, according to a foundation survey.

In Sacramento County, the registrar’s office sends outreach crews to cultural fairs, high school mock elections and other events. Alice Jarboe, the county’s assistant registrar of voters, said she regularly hears people dismiss the value of voting. “People move, they forget about it,” she said. “They don’t worry about updating their registration.”

In Los Angeles County, an estimated 1.2 million residents are eligible to vote but unregistered. Registrar Dean Logan said the county has put registration kiosks in government offices. “What we should be working on as election administrators is to take the administrative barriers off the table,” he said.

Logan is among the election officials who think California should join the Pew-organized Electronic Registration Information Center. Known as ERIC, it is a partnership of nine states that share registration data to flag residents who move.

Bowen has turned down invitations for California to join. At a Senate committee hearing in March, she said the effort lacked sufficient security protections, a criticism rejected by the effort’s supporters.

“Not having California being part of a really important data exchange ... hurts the other states, and I think it hurts California, too,” Judd Choate, Colorado’s director of elections and ERIC’s chairman, said in March. (full story)

Candidates say they would represent a break from Bowen

The Sacramento Bee, by Jim Miller, April 23, 2014

Excerpt:

Would-be successors to Secretary of State Debra Bowen promised Wednesday to inject new life into an office they said has become technologically inept and disengaged.

“A lot of people either see this job as a stepping stone or a couch. And I think what we’ve been living through for the last eight years has been an administration that has seen this as a couch,” Republican Pete Peterson said of Bowen, who took office in 2006, at Wednesday’s debate hosted by the Sacramento Press Club.

State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, credited Bowen, who cannot seek another term because of term limits, with preventing major ballot snafus akin to the Florida debacle during the 2000 election. “But can we, and should we, do much better? Absolutely,” Padilla said after the panel. “You have to have the vision.”

Peterson and Padilla were among four of the eight candidates for the top elections job at Wednesday’s forum, which also included Democrat Derek Cressman, a former official with California Common Cause, and independent Dan Schnur, an educator and former Republican strategist.

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Claiming he would be the best successor to Bowen, Padilla said he would work with the Legislature to get more money for the office as well as improve relations with county election officials. Cressman countered that Bowen’s tenure shows that former lawmakers are ill-suited for the job.

Schnur, who wants to make the office nonpartisan, said he would be a “reformer in chief” in the post. And Peterson, calling the position a dream job, said he would modernize the office as the state’s “chief engagement officer.”

Bowen’s office brushed off the criticism. “We understand that it’s part of politics to run against the incumbent even though there is no incumbent in the race,” spokeswoman Shannan Velayas said in an email.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said Bowen’s tenure has been marked by “extreme budget difficulties in California.

“That has led her to be extremely cautious about new programs,” she said, adding, “The next secretary of state is going to face the same challenges.”

With Peterson and Padilla topping a recent Field Poll, there were signs of likely points of attack in the fall. Padilla challenged Peterson to disavow Republican measures in other states that critics contend are meant to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters.

Peterson said he disagreed with his party on those issues. “We don’t have a problem with people voting illegally. We have a problem of not enough people voting legally,” he said.

Peterson, meanwhile, questioned Padilla for not embracing ERIC, an inter-state consortium designed to quickly re-register voters who move. (full story)

Want to register as an independent? Don't get confused by the AIP

Los Angeles Times, by Patt Morrison, April 3, 2014

Excerpt:

The press release arrived on April Fool’s Day, and it turns out it was legit, but as we say in this business, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

It was from AIPrl_Fooled, a self-identified “grass-roots campaign to bring awareness to the fact that hundreds of thousands of Californians are accidentally registered as members of the American Independent Party.”

Maybe even you.

While this is not breaking news, it’s worth repeating, especially with the May 19 deadline to register to vote in the June primary:

The American Independent Party, or AIP, is California’s fastest-growing political party, with about 2.6% of all registered voters — a lot of them, in all likelihood, because of a mistake: the word “independent.”

There’s no other logical explanation for why the third-largest party in one of the nation’s most liberal states is the party whose presidential nominees have included segregationists George Wallace and Lester Maddox. According to its platform, the AIP is God-inspired, anti-gay marriage, antiabortion and dedicated to “freedom from liberalism.”

California voters are sick to the teeth of partisan wrangling between Democrats and Republicans. They want to vote, but not to reward the major parties’ bad behavior by belonging to either one.

So they see American Independent Party on the voter registration form. Alphabetically, it’s the first choice listed, and, as California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander told me, it’s the only place the word “independent” appears on the form.

So voters may think, “Yeah, independent, that’s me,” and check the AIP box.

More than one public figure has done it. In 2008, when L.A. City Council member Bernard C. Parks, the African American former police chief, ran for county supervisor, his opponent, Mark Ridley-Thomas, pointed out that Parks had once belonged to the AIP. Parks said he had just been trying to register as an independent. (full story)

Sacramento County's SACVOTE Mobile Application

April 1, 2014

Results from independent redistricting are mixed

The Associated Press, by Juliet Williams, March 31, 2014

Excerpt:

A few states have turned to independent or arms-length commissions to limit political influences when redrawing congressional and legislative districts.

The results have varied, but supporters point to more competitive contests and new faces replacing incumbents as evidence of reduced gerrymandering, the delicate drawing of often misshapen districts to benefit one party or the other - or officeholders of either party seeking re-election.

In California, a 14-member citizen panel of Republicans, Democrats and people who are not affiliated with either party redrew the state's 53 congressional and 120 legislative maps in 2012. The realignment of political boundaries produced some of the most competitive congressional races in decades. Fourteen House incumbents either lost their seats or opted not to run under the new lines.

Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey and Washington also have set up commissions to redraw district boundaries after the new census every 10 years. A handful of others have formed panels to redraw only state legislature seats.

States set up their panels with different outcomes in mind, said Justin Levitt, an associate professor of law at Loyola University in Los Angeles, the creator of a website that tracks state redistricting efforts, http://redistricting.lls.edu/index.php .

Some states wanted to speed up an inherently political process often delayed for years in court; others sought to form districts that preserve like-minded voting blocs.

"There is no one perfect type of body," Levitt said. "I don't think that one state's model should just be dropped into another state. Every state is a little bit different, and so it makes sense to think of institutions that really fit into the nature of those states."

Washington state's redistricting process is "probably one of the most clean in the country. It has a track record of producing competitive state legislative districts and competitive congressional districts," said Todd Donovan, a Western Washington University political scientist. Races in two of the state's 10 U.S. House districts are expected to be competitive this year. The two leading political parties select four members and a nonvoting chair of the redistricting group.

Idaho also uses an "arms-length" political appointment process to select its bipartisan commission. Its two congressional districts were redrawn in 2011 on what has been a steadily westward-moving axis to accommodate growing Boise. The shift has had little impact in the heavily Republican state.

In California, the citizen panel held months of public hearings on how to draw the boundaries. Its members - five Republicans, five Democrats and four members with no political affiliation - are drawn from a pool that cannot include lobbyists, recent state officeholders or their staff.

"Having the lines drawn by citizens who had their eye on what was in the best interest of voters rather than politicians resulted in more choices for voters and more competition in our election process," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation... (full story)

California unique with independent citizens panel

San Jose Mecury News, by Juliet William, March 30, 2014

Excerpt:

In the decade before the 2012 midterm congressional elections, only one of California's 53 congressional seats changed party hands, despite elections every other year in a state with rapidly shifting demographics.
This year, at least five congressional districts are in play, and both Democrats and Republicans are throwing money at the races.

Credit for the shake-up goes to the state's unique independent redistricting commission, a voter-created, 14-member panel of average Californians who redrew the district lines for congressional and legislative seats in 2012. Democratic leaders and some Republicans opposed creating the nonpartisan panel, which has since succeeded in shaking up the electoral status quo and establishing what could be a benchmark for other reform-minded states.

"This is a reform that voters deserve. It's such a blatant matter of self-interest for politicians to have the power to draw their own district lines," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation...

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Alexander noted that in 2012, the first year the new district lines were in place, 14 House incumbents were swept from office or opted against running. The change, coupled with California's adoption of a top-two primary system that allows members of the same party to advance to a general election, means California politicians no longer have the ironclad assurance of a safe seat, she said.

"It's created an environment where our elected representatives do need to keep looking over their shoulder to make sure that they're following the will of the voters," Alexander said.

California's independent panel makes it an anomaly. Other states have established non-legislative commissions, but California's is widely seen as one of the most independent and effective.

Gerrymandered districts nationwide helped Republicans hold on to a 33-seat majority in the House in 2012. Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives received 1.4 million more votes nationwide than their GOP opponents, yet Democrats are still in the minority.

Because it is the nation's largest congressional delegation, California's changes play a role in the makeup of Congress. Democrats picked up five additional seats here in 2012, bringing the state's delegation to 38 Democrats and 15 Republicans. (full story)

Pavley Bill to List Ballot Measure Donors Advances

SCVNews.com, March 18, 2014

Excerpt:

The Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) that would arm voters with lists of the largest contributors for and against California ballot propositions.

Senate Bill 844 would increase transparency by creating official online lists of the top 10 contributors for or against each proposition on every California ballot.

“This is a simple approach that can be implemented to fulfill the public’s right to know who is funding or opposing each ballot measure,” Senator Pavley said.

California began posting online financial information for propositions campaigns in 2000, a major step toward greater transparency. However, finding out the top contributors for or against a proposition requires gathering and re-formatting the data from multiple reports from each of the various committees connected to a proposition. This difficult and time-consuming endeavor makes the information inaccessible to many voters.

For example, compiling a complete list of contributions for and against Proposition 30 – the 2012 initiative to fund schools and close the state deficit – requires 460 mouse clicks, according to an analysis by the nonprofit research organization, MapLight. Third parties such as MapLight have created more user-friendly lists on their own websites, but these websites do not bear an official government seal.

SB 844 instructs the California Secretary of State to convert existing data into lists of top donors that can be easily accessed by all voters. The bill was developed in collaboration with the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving the election process.

“Providing voters with convenient and timely access to top donor lists will give voters exactly the kind of straightforward information they need and, according to repeated public opinion polls, very much want,” said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. (full story)

Same-Day Voter Registration Law Delayed Until 2016

PUBLICCEO.com, by John Hrabe, Februay 6, 2014

Excerpt:

Californians can expect to wait at least two more years for the state’s same-day voter registration law to take effect. Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the state’s chief elections officer, says that the state won’t meet the legal requirements to implement the law until 2016 or later.

It’s been frequently ignored, but a late amendment to Assembly Bill 1436 required officials to conduct a statewide voter review before California’s same-day voter registration law can be implemented. According to the Legislative Counsel’s digest for the bill, it becomes operative “on January 1 of the year following the year in which the Secretary of State certifies that the state has a statewide voter registration database that complies with the requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.”

The law was expected to take effect in 2014. However, to be operative for the 2014 general election, the Secretary of State needed to complete its HAVA compliance by December 31, 2013. Last month, Bowen took to Twitter to explain why the state won’t be adopting California’s landmark same-day voter registration law anytime soon.

“That law (CA Elections Code section 2170) will likely take effect in 2016 or later,”

VoteCal: Voter registration database debacle

The state’s HAVA compliance has been illusory, and the statewide voter registration database project nothing short of a debacle. VoteCal, the project for a new statewide voter registration database, began in 2006 as a replacement for the system built in 1995.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, has been critical of the project and worries the technology will be out-dated by the time it’s completed.

“VoteCal has been in development since 2006 and already failed once,” Alexander wrote in a November 2013 blog post comparing the project to the federal government’s troubled Obamacare website, HealthCare.gov. “It is not scheduled to be in operation until 2017. It’s hard to imagine the technology they are planning for today will still be state-of-the-art by 2017 and that assumes the project is not further delayed.” (full story)

In The Mailbox, An Uncanny Postscript from Pete Seeger

NPR, All Things Considered, by Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish, January 31, 2014

Excerpt:

Months ago, Kim Alexander sent a letter to folk musician and activist Pete Seeger, professing her gratitude for his music and asking his advice. One day after Seeger's death, Alexander found his response waiting in her mailbox.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Kim Alexander got a message in the mail this week from Pete Seeger, the day after he died.

KIM ALEXANDER: I screamed. It was really a magical moment, but in some ways it was not entirely surprising because of the kind of person that Pete Seeger was and what he meant to all of us.

SIEGEL: The letter she received had been posted just a few days before the folk singer and activist died on Monday at the age of 94. Alexander runs a nonprofit in Sacramento, California, and in her spare time she coordinates a weekly music jam there, and she'd written Seeger in August.

ALEXANDER: I wrote to him because I wanted to tell him while he was still with us what an impact he'd had on me and how I had used that inspiration to impact others.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Kim Alexander, a self-described jamvangelist, also shared with Seeger an article about how to get people to relax and join in with these kinds of public music jams.

ALEXANDER: And so he wrote back a note to me, in the margins as he was known to do in his letter-writing, and he wrote: Dear Kim, I've read this article several times. I think your article on jamming is wonderful and should be printed not just in Sing Out but in other magazines, as well, and issued as a lovely pamphlet on good paper with good drawings on the cover.

But I'm now 94, and I can't help much. My health is not good. You stay well. Keep on, 94-year-old Pete. With a little drawing of a banjo, and then it says January 2014.

SIEGEL: Kim Alexander, reading a note she received from Pete Seeger. It arrived in her mailbox Tuesday of this week, the day after Seeger died.

PETE SEEGER: (Singing) So long, it's been good to know 'ya. So long, it's been good to know 'ya. So long, been good to know 'ya, this dusty old dust is getting my home. And I got to be drifting along now it's so long, been good to know 'ya, so long, it's been good to know 'ya, so long, been good to know 'ya, the dusty old dust is getting my home. And I got to be drifting along.

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. (full story)

 

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