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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.

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

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


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 News & Advance, by Juliet Williams, March 31, 2014


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, .

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


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, March 18, 2014


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, by John Hrabe, Februay 6, 2014


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, “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


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.


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.


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)

California health exchange slow to offer voter registration

The Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, December 26, 2013


Supporters of the new national health care law portray California’s exchange as among the most successful at signing up residents for medical coverage.

But advocates of expanded access to the ballot box believe Covered California is failing miserably at carrying out another responsibility: Helping people register to vote.

The National Voter Registration Act requires public assistance agencies and designated departments to offer voter registration services, and federal and state officials have determined health insurance exchanges fit the criteria. Known as “motor voter” because of its required presence at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the 20-year-old law compels agencies to distribute voter registration cards to applicants, assist them in filing out the documents, and send completed cards to election officials.

“They haven’t done any of that,” said Lori Shellenberger, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of California Voting Rights Project. “Quite honestly, it’s baffling to me.”

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California’s voter registration rate hovers near the bottom among the 50 states. According to U.S. census figures from late 2012, 54.2 percent of Californians of voting age were registered to vote. Only Hawaii ranked lower – barely – with 54.1 percent. California’s meager showing is due in part to delays in modernizing its voter registration database and poor implementation of the motor voter law, as confirmed in state audits, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. When Bowen made her declaration, California was viewed as a key place where in one swoop, a large number of residents could join the electorate.

At more than 5 million, the number of eligible unregistered voters is roughly equal to the amount of people without health insurance. They tend to be younger, poorer, less educated and more ethnically diverse than their voting, insured counterparts, Alexander said.

As the exchange works to bolster outreach, she said it wasn’t enough for officials to simply link to the voter registration form.

“They need to provide the offer of assistance and then provide it,” she said, adding the advocates remain in talks with the exchange.

“I am glad that the lines of communication are open and that they are talking with us,” Alexander said. “What they have done so far tends to be the steps that are easier to do and don’t get them closer to complying with (the law).”

To address the lost opportunity, some have suggested mailing out registration cards. Yet they acknowledge the “cold” mailings would not have the same impact.

At a recent meeting of the exchange, Dr. Robert K. Ross, a board member, said with all of the agency’s focus on enrollment, voter registration could sometimes feel like an afterthought. Ross, president and chief executive for the California Endowment, a private foundation that works to expand access to health care in underserved communities, sought to assure advocates that fulfilling its obligation to boost voter outreach was a top priority for the exchange.

“It continues to be a very critical part of what we are doing,” he said.

Even as the exchange works to come into compliance, some elected officials say they don’t see it as the state’s job to get involved. Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, questioned what health insurance policies have to do with residents registering to vote.

“Are they going to threaten to cut off their health care if they don’t register to vote?,” asked Logue, vice chair of the Assembly Health Committee and a member of the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting. “Is that the next step by an overreaching government that thinks they should tell us how to blow our nose and when we should do it?”

Logue, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. John Garamendi next year, said public confidence in the law and the exchanges was eroding.

“Nobody trusts what the big government says. Nobody believes them anymore,” he said. “There’s always an agenda that goes beyond health care. The real fear is: What is that agenda?”

Daniel Zingale, a senior vice president at the California Endowment leading its Healthy California team, said that given the controversy swirling around the health care law, it’s only right that the people most affected should be given a say in its future.

“We have confidence that the more people experiencing Obamacare and voting, the better the future is for the law,” he said. (full story)

Oregon selling voter information to parties

The Herald, December 22, 2013


The Oregon secretary of state's office has made nearly $90,000 in fees over the past five years by selling voter information to political parties and private companies.

The state charges $500 for the voter registration database, the Statesman Journal reported Sunday. That's far higher than the $7 charged in Washington state or the $30 charged in California. The cost makes the records difficult for the public to access, but for-profit companies have made the purchase, records show.

The voter registration database includes information such as each voter's name, address, date of birth and voter history. It doesn't show how anyone voted.

Organizations that buy the database are not supposed to use it for "commercial purposes." But some of the purchasing companies are data vendors who sell information to banks, corporations and private investigators, the newspaper reported.

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Some states sell their voter information for even more than Oregon -- Montana, for example, charges $1,000. But it's free in Nevada and Wyoming.

Voter records have historically been available to the public to help ensure integrity of the electoral system. But Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, said political marketing companies use the data, along with other information to create elaborate profiles of voters.

"Everyone in the political world knows this data is available, yet it's the best kept secret from voters you can imagine," Alexander said. She said the idea that personal information is being used to create voter profiles makes many voters uncomfortable. (full story)

Steinberg wants legislative openings filled by appointment

San Francisco Chronicle, By Melody Gutierrez, December 19, 2013


Following a year of legislative musical chairs, state Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to reduce the financial burden on taxpayers when lawmakers leave office before their term expires.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is proposing to give the governor the authority to fill vacant seats in the Legislature through an appointment process, which he acknowledges could be a difficult sell.

"I don't know how this will go over," Steinberg said Thursday. "I just am frustrated with the amount of money spent on special elections and the fact that we have these gaping vacancies for a long period of time."

This year alone, nine lawmakers resigned their positions, each requiring a special election at an average cost of $1 million.

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But even with those caveats, the plan is likely to see opposition.

"As soon as we get a Republican governor, we will get behind it," said Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville (Yolo County). "This is nothing more than political pandering at its worst. The public will see through it."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said she agrees that there needs to be reform in the special election process but that Steinberg's proposal addresses only part of the problem.

"Filling the vacancy with a gubernatorial appointment is treating the symptom, but not the core problem, which is that lawmakers aren't keeping their sworn oath to represent constituents."

Alexander said she supports prohibiting legislators from raising funds for another office while currently holding office or banning fundraising in nonelection years.

"Most people who run for office have to quit their jobs or go part time to be a viable candidate," Alexander said. "If you are a sitting legislator, you just stop showing up for work and your colleagues tolerate it. It's an uneven playing field." (full story)

New team seeks to take online voting from fantasy to reality

California Forward, By Matthew Grant Anson, December 19, 2013


You can do almost anything online; your banking, shop on Amazon, pay your bills. And yet one thing that forever evaded Californians is the opportunity to vote online, due to the myriad of security and privacy issues. But a new project from the Overseas Vote Foundation is putting a team together that could be the catalyst toward bringing democracy to your DSL connection.

The project is called End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting: Specification and Feasibility Assessment Study, aka E2E VIV Project. It brings together experts in computer science, usability, and auditing and adds in the expertise of local election officials from counties throughout the U.S. to examine potential solutions to the current roadblocks toward online voting. The main challenge? How to maintain the anonymity of your vote while making sure it’s secure and stays the same from sender to recipient.

The safeguards that come with a regular ballot that prevent fraud and making multiple votes aren’t in the online world, where “your online ballot is subject to interference in transit,” said California Voter Foundation’s president Kim Alexander. “Once it arrives, you have to create a system where the person receiving it can verify that you are who you say you are, you only voted once, all confirming that without seeing your ballot.”

Those that wonder why you can bank and shop securely yet not vote are comparing apples to oranges, says Alexander. “To spell it out, when you bank online or shop online, the content of your transaction is not secret from the person you’re making it with,” she said. “With the ballot, it’s a secret ballot. Most people who have looked at this question have come to the conclusion that the Internet is not a safe place to transact ballots.”

Alexander would know. She served on the 1999 California Internet Voting Taskforce, and in the wake of so many high-profile break downs in security leading to identify theft, the optimism of what was possible online in the 90s is long gone. “Back in ’99 people were very pie in the sky with what we could do with the Internet,” she said. “What I learned serving on the taskforce is that voting is unlike any other transaction we make in society and that hasn’t changed.” (full story)

Covered California must boost voter registration efforts, say critics

The News10, by John Myers, December 3, 2013


California may be leading the nation in health insurance enrollment, but critics say it's lagging in complying with a federal law that encourages voter registration -- a problem that could lead to a lawsuit before the end of December.

"It's an embarrassment, frankly," says Lori Schellenberger, director of the California Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

At issue is whether Covered California, the state agency created to implement the Affordable Care Act, must do more to help register voters under existing law. The ACLU and other organizations believe the agency isn't doing enough, and have threatened possible legal action to force action.

"They are required by state and federal law to allow every single applicant the right to register to vote," says Schellenberger.

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That, say some, is a huge missed opportunity.

"You look at the demographics of who's not registered to vote, and you look at the demographics of who is not currently covered in health insurance, and there's a lot of cross-over," says Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

Voting rights advocates say all but two other state-run health exchanges in the United States are offering more comprehensive voter registration services than California.

"We are going to improve upon that in the next few months," says Covered California's Dana Howard.

State agencies in California have not done much tracking in years past of how much assistance they are providing under the 'Motor Voter' law. A new law requires more reporting of those efforts to be in place by July 1, 2014.

In the meantime, advocates wish more could be done to engage with Californians joining the ranks of the insured.

"Hundreds of thousands of people have already come through Covered California's doors," says the California Voter Foundation's Kim Alexander. "None of those people have been provided with the opportunity to register to vote in the way that's required by the federal law." (full story)

Obamacare news: ‘Motor voter’ law may require registrants to select health insurance

The MEDCity News, by Anna Gorman, November 20, 2013


Twenty years ago, Congress passed a controversial law requiring states to allow people to register to vote when they applied for driver’s licenses or social services.

Now, that same law is bringing voter registration to the health insurance marketplaces, and again, it is expected to result in legal fights. It also could lead to more partisan debate over the Affordable Care Act as Republicans raise concerns about whether the voter registration effort will produce Democratic voters.

According to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, motor vehicle departments and places that provide public assistance, like food stamps or Medicaid, or services for people with disabilities, must also offer voter registration. But states are divided over whether the law applies to the insurance marketplaces. Hawaii concluded that its exchange was not responsible for registering new voters, while several others, including Connecticut, Vermont and California, have designated theirs as mandated voter registration agencies. Colorado determined that the exchange is not a state agency but decided to put a voter registration link on its website anyway.

Even the states that have said they will offer registration vary widely on how -- whether simply to put a link on the website, include a form in the paper application, send forms to consumers who request them or offer a registration form to download and mail.

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California was the first to say it would give insurance customers the opportunity to register. Secretary of State Debra Bowen said in a letter that voter registration will help consumers “exercise the most fundamental right of citizenship.”

“It was a no-brainer,” said Nicole Winger, spokeswoman for Bowen. “There should be nothing political about encouraging people to participate in elections. Period.”

California, however, doesn’t have a strong track record with compliance with the National Voter Registration Act. Voter registration at public assistance agencies dropped significantly since the law was enacted, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

The state’s registration rate is 45th in the nation and there are still nearly 5.8 million Californians who are not registered, according to Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

Alexander and other advocates said despite its early promises, the state’s marketplace is not doing enough to fulfill its obligations under the federal voter law and a related state law passed last year to expand access to voter registration. The ACLU of California recently sent a letter to Covered California, saying the exchange must designate a coordinator, include a voter registration card in the paper applications and ensure that enrollment counselors receive special training.

Alexander said California and other states have a “window of opportunity” to reach millions of people who are signing up for health coverage.

“We recognize that this is not their No. 1 priority, but we also don’t want it to fall to the back burner,” she said. “They made a few gestures but they are very far from being in compliance.”

Covered California officials said they put a link on the website and information on the paper application but are working with the Secretary of State’s office as they continue to build up the site. But spokesman James Scullary said Covered California has to focus more energy on getting people insured. “What we have in place is not by any means the end game,” he said.

Advocates also hope that voter registration will take place on the ground at places like hospitals, nonprofit organizations and community clinics, where people are signing up for health insurance with the help of enrollment counselors.

Health clinics have long helped to register voters and will continue to do so under the Affordable Care Act, said Louise McCarthy, head of the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County. “It is absolutely core to the mission to empower communities,” she said. (full story)

California health care site falling short on registering Latinos, others to vote, say advocates

NBCLatino, by Adriana Maestas, November 18, 2013


California’s healthcare exchange has been leading the country in enrollments, but is falling short of its legal requirement to also give applicants a chance to register to vote.

While the federal site has been burdened with problems, California’s healthcare exchange, Covered California, has enrolled more people than the federal site has, with fewer reported problems.

The state’s enrollment of more than 35,000 was twice that of any other state for October.

But Covered California is not living up to legal requirements to ask all those applying for health insurance whether they want to register to vote as well, according to voter advocates.

“They do have a button where people can sign up to vote, but just having a link isn’t enough,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

“They need to build it into training materials; the trainers need to know how to provide this assistance. You have to make sure that applicants for healthcare know that they aren’t required to register to vote. There’s an educational aspect to the training as well,” Alexander said.

By law, Covered California must ask every applicant whether he or she wants to register to vote, inform applicants that registering to vote is not a condition of receiving health insurance coverage, direct enrollees who want to register to a link to online voter registration or a paper registration card and provide assistance with voter registration, if needed.

On Nov. 14, the ACLU, along with its voting rights partners, sent a letter to Peter Lee, the Executive Director of Covered California, informing the exchange that it may take legal action if it fails to comply with the failure to comply with the National Voter Registration Act by Dec. 16.

California recently ranked 45th in voter registrations, according to the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley, Calif.-based racial and economic justice organization.

Latinos, who make up 33 percent of the state’s adult population, are only 17 percent of the state’s voters, according to Public Policy Institute of California, based in San Francisco. Meanwhile, 61 percent of Latinos in California are uninsured, according to various groups.

Combining voter registration and the health care insurance enrollment experience on the state’s exchange, “will improve not just the health of the Latino community, but we will offer some their first opportunity … to participate in our democracy,” Lori Shellenberger, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of California Voting Rights Project, told NBC Latino. (full story)

Calderon Case Exposes Campaign Finance Loopholes

The California Report, November 8, 2013


Political aftershocks are still being felt in California, more than a week after Al Jazeera America revealed stunning details about an FBI sting operation at the State Capitol.

According to an FBI affidavit obtained by the network, a federal agent posed as a movie producer and funneled tens of thousands of dollars in alleged bribes to State Senator Ron Calderon. It’s hard, of course, to top the undercover agent pretending to be a producer, but if you keep reading past those unbelievable details, the document Al Jazeera published shows how easy it is to steer around California’s tough campaign finance laws.

Here’s just one example: Calderon allegedly brags to the FBI agent about how the Latino Caucus transferred $25,000 to a nonprofit he and his brother control. The money was allegedly the payoff Calderon received for not challenging Senator Ricardo Lara for caucus chair. At least that’s what the affidavit claims. (Calderon denies the allegations; Lara’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)

According to the nonprofit’s tax filings, Californians For Diversity’s vague goal is to “Educate, inform, support and focus the California voters on the ‘bread and butter’ issues of California.” Ron Calderon told the undercover agent something different. He said the nonprofit was set up so he and his brother, a former legislator, could “pay ourselves” and “make…part of (a) living.”

Kim Alexander, the president of the California Voter Foundation, says the fact Calderon was allegedly steering money to his own supposedly charitable organization illustrates how lawmakers can find their way around disclosure laws and contribution limits. “Money in politics is something like an air bubble underneath a carpet. And if you step on it one place it just pops up somewhere else,” she said.

“Politicians are very good at coming up with creative ways to find avenues for those who want to influence them, to be able to do so.”

The $25,000 transfer illustrates how easy it is to skirt reporting requirements. The money came from a registered Political Action Committee called “Yes We Can.” California rules require the PAC to report every dollar coming in and going out.

But nonprofits have different rules. All we know about Calderon’s group is what it files in its annual IRS report, called a 990. There’s no information about where its money came from. So if a politician is wrongly setting up a nonprofit to serve as a political arm or a slush fund, it’s pretty hard for regulators to find out.

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Kim Alexander floats one possible solution to prevent legislators from building up war chests in nonprofits: limit how much any donor can give to one politician, no matter what fund that money goes into. “So you can ask someone for that money from your campaign committee, or your initiative committee, or your nonprofit, or your inaugural committee,” she said. “But it’s in the asking where you get to the corruption. And so you want to make sure there’s a limit on how much a politician can ask for from one particular source.”

Reforms do tend to pass after scandals happen. But even if there’s a window for reform in the wake of the Calderon scandal, it’s hard to imagine lawmakers approving such tight restrictions. (Full Story)

Voter Turnout

Capitol Public Radio, with Beth Ruyak, November 6, 2013


Lower Voter Turnout: Tuesday’s elections in Stockton, Modesto and Vallejo were very poorly attended. Stockton was estimating turnout to be less than 30 percent going into election day. But does low voter turnout change election results? Does it matter if the election is a primary, special election, presidential election or vote on a tax measure? Who are these die-hard voters, and who are their fair-weather counterparts? Joining us for a conversation on the effects of low voter turnout is president of the non-profit California Voter Foundation Kim Alexander.

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Does it matter if the election is a primary, special election, presidential election or vote on a tax measure? Who are these die-hard voters, and who are their fair-weather counterparts? We had a conversation on the effects of low voter turnout with president of the non-profit California Voter Foundation, Kim Alexander.
Alexander cited the registration process, a complex representation structures, and a lack of media coverage and general information regarding smaller elections all as reasons for low-voter turnout.

"I think it's hard for California voters, there's this element of voter fatigue,” Alexander said. “There were 29 counties in California, of the 48, that were having elections - it's difficult for voters to find information."

She recommended voters visit to educate themselves on the local issues, but she still wants to see more media coverage surrounding these local elections.

“When you have these local elections and they're isolated community by community, you end up having a handful of people intensely knowledgeable about the measure and a lot of people just confused," Alexander said.

Communities will often have-off year elections, sometimes even in a different month, which often results in a low turnout. Alexander explained her home town of Culver City has local elections in April. Her father who was on the city council bluntly explained to her the reason is they don't want everyone voting in city elections, they “only people who really care about Culver City to vote in Culver City elections."

"You have this tension between people who are running these communities who want people to be engaged and to make informed choices and they know that when those local contests are consolidated with state and federal contests it makes for very long ballots and it contributes to voter fatigue,” Alexander said. “Casual voters may not put as much thought into those decisions as those who come out for just that one contest."

The United States is embarrassingly low in terms of voter turnout compared to other industrial nations. Alexander said one of the factors is the registration process. Because Californians have to reregister to vote every time they move and people are very mobile in this state. Alexander said all too often people don’t reregister in time to vote. Her hope is to tie voter registration with Covered California’s healthcare exchange program.

Additionally, election processes varies from state to state and California's process is very different from other states.

"I hear from a lot of people moving from other states that they're really bewildered by the voting process here," Alexander said.

Alexander also placed blame on the media for reporting on the low voter turn-out early in the day and potentially discouraging people from heading to the polls. Although she admitted the same could be said for reporting high voter turn-out. Her recommendation is to not talk about turn-out during an election, but instead build excitement and inform the public on the issues.

(Full Story)

Voter Registration Advantage for Democrats Because of Obamacare? Could Be…

The California Report, November 1, 2013


The floundering roll out of the federal government’s health care exchange has given Republicans plenty of reasons to criticize the Affordable Care Act. But setting aside the online train wreck of and the cost of expanding health care to millions of Americans, there may also be political reasons the GOP hates Obamacare: Voter registration.

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Republicans in Congress have been railing against this, although the issue has taken a back seat to other concerns, notably the technological shortcomings of But to quote conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, Obamacare is really “about building a permanent, undefeatable, always-funded Democrat majority.”

Surprisingly, California has never fully implemented Motor Voter. Pete Wilson was governor when the law was enacted and he objected to it being an “unfunded federal mandate.” A lot has changed since then. For starters, Californians can register to vote at the DMV as well as online, and last year State Senator Alex Padilla authored SB 35, which required that all state agencies designate a Motor Voter coordinator.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, notes that Secretary of State Debra Bowen recently declared that Covered California is covered by the Motor Voter act, although the California Health Benefit Exchange Board is apparently taking a “phased in” approach to voter registration, presumably making sure the health insurance part is working well first.

Alexander sees tremendous potential to expand voter registration in the state via

“There are 5.8 million Californians who are eligible to vote but are not registered,” says Alexander, “and there are 5.3 million who are uninsured. We expect many are one in the same.”

Alexander notes that health advocates see a direct correlation between health status and voting.

“They know that promoting health involves promoting civic engagement,” says Alexander, adding “when people feel they have a say in their lives through voting and civic participation, it has a positive effect on their physical and mental health.”

Nearly 60 percent of the 5.5 million uninsured California officials hope will get insurance through the new health care marketplace are Latino. Overwhelmingly, they tend to register and vote Democratic.

So, at least in California, maybe Rush Limbaugh has a point. (full story)

California's Top Political Watchdog Leaves With a Bang

KQED, by Scott Shafer, October 25, 2013


As California’s top political watchdog, Ann Ravel has racked up several impressive victories. And as Ravel steps down this week as chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, she's going out with a bang. In the past few weeks Ravel has:

Spearheaded formation of the SUN Center, a national online clearinghouse for campaign-finance disclosure forms, campaign investigations and more.
Celebrated Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature on two pieces of FPPC-sponsored legislation: one establishing the first-ever statewide electronic disclosure system for state, local and federal elected officials, the other expanding the agency’s authority to provide conflict-of-interest advice and enforcement.
Leveled a $40,500 fine against three well-known Sacramento political operatives for failing to register as lobbyists.
The final feather in Ravel’s cap came Thursday, when the FPPC announced a record $1 million fine against two out-of-state nonprofit organizations that funneled $15 million into California just before the 2012 election.

Ravel’s reaction to that last-minute contribution defined her tenure at the FPPC. When a shadowy Arizona group made that $11 million political contribution to defeat Gov. Brown’s tax-hike ballot measure Prop. 30 and to help defeat the anti-labor Prop. 32, Ravel threw the FPPC’s investigative powers into overdrive.

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“I’m sorry she’s leaving,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. “What she’s created shows real initiative.” Alexander called the nationwide SUN Center “fantastic and innovative,” adding, “I don’t know of any state or local disclosure agency executive who’s done anything like that before. I’m hoping she’ll be able to continue being involved in this at the FEC.”

Compared to California, where the Fair Political Practices Commission is dominated by Democratic appointees (not to mention Democratic dominance of the Legislature and every statewide office including governor), Ravel might not need her running shoes. In fact, critics say the FEC has been standing in place for years, pretty much gridlocked by design, with three Democrats, three Republicans and four votes needed for any FEC action.

Ravel says she hopes that her confirmation, along with a new Republican nominee, by the unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate signals a new era of cooperation at the FEC. Others are less sanguine about that. But Ravel will need that kind of optimism to avoid getting ground down by the partisan mill of D.C. politics. (full story)

Initiative Reform

Capitol Public Radio, with Beth Ruyak, October 9, 2013


Initiative Reform: It’s been ten years this week since the recall that took California Governor Gray Davis out of office and put Arnold Schwarzenegger in. In that time, the Public Policy Institute of California says there have been 100 ballot propositions, 68 of which were generated by citizens and many were aimed at reform. Now, the PPIC has released three recommendations to reform the initiative process itself and we’re going to look at each of the three idea with Kim Alexander, President and Founder of the non-profit group, California Voter Foundation. (audio)

Lucky Voter #38: LA Co. special elections suffer from high cost and low turnout

California Forward, By Alexandra Bjerg, September 18, 2013


Is it possible to have too much democracy? If it is, it’s happening right here in the Golden State. There, I said it. Too much of what we as a state and country consistenly pride ourselves in. Now let me tell you why.

The fact is that California has too many elections and not enough active voters. Not only is this costly, but special election results are almost always unrepresentative of the electorate.

Maybe it’s the electoral hangover talking, but California’s constant election cycle is exhausting! Just yesterday, I cast my third ballot in nine months and must head to the polls one more time before the year is through. Voting in two, three, even four elections in one year is becoming an increasingly common occurrence thanks to the never-ending game of political musical chairs.

The resulting rise in legislative vacancies has triggered a surge in special elections. In fact, yesterday’s special election to fill vacancies in AD 45 and SD 26 was the 11th unscheduled election in Los Angeles County in this year alone, said Dean Logan Los Angeles County Registrar. With three more on the way, the total will hit 14 by year’s end.

"We have a joke around the office,” said Logan. “There are so many elections it seems like there is one every Tuesday. It's like putting your trash cans out. If it's Tuesday, there must be a special election somewhere."

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“If we had a ‘resign-to-run’ law in California, it would cut down significantly on special elections,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. Requiring sitting elected officials to resign in order to run for a different seat, as five other states already do, would reduce the shuffling of seats that send the political dominoes tumbling triggering the wave of special elections in the first place.

If California had such a law on the books, there would have been no need for yesterday’s special election to fill empty seats in AD 45 and SD 26, saving Los Angeles County voters and elections administrators time, energy, and money. Both vacancies were created when state lawmakers Bob Blumenfield and Curren Price were elected to the Los Angeles City Council.

“In what other profession but politics would co-workers tolerate fellow co-workers spending time ‘on the job’ seeking out another job and slacking off on their duties,” asked Alexander.

“Certainly the constituents who elect a lawmaker to an office are getting less service from a representative who is suddenly coveting a different office with different constituents and different public policy issues,” she said.

While there is no overwhelming agreement on the solution, all agree that the way California fills legislative vacancies isn't working. Counties are spending millions of dollars they don’t have, voters aren’t participating, and elections are being decided by a small unrepresentative share of the electorate. If a higher frequency of elections depresses turnout, it's possible that fewer elections might improve turnout in addition to saving taxpayer dollars.

Too much of a good thing can be bad, even when it comes to elections. Let’s make special elections special again. (full story)


Is your absentee ballot being counted?
Californians have new ways to find out

California Forward, By Alexandra Bjerg, September 11, 2013


If you voted by mail in last year’s presidential election (and the majority of Californians did), do you know if your ballot was actually counted? It’s a trick question, actually, because nobody knows for sure. To wit, 68,000, or one percent of all ballots cast by mail in California went uncounted in 2012.

This may change soon as Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills this week aimed at reducing the number of disqualified vote-by-mail ballots.

“The only thing worse than people not voting is people who think they voted and it turns out that they didn’t,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

“And I think we’re seeing too much of that in California.”

Even if your vote by mail ballot is, as the absentee voter anthem says, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” it might not get counted. Not only are vote-by-mail ballots twice as likely to go uncounted than those cast in person, the rejection rate for absentee ballots in California is among the highest in the country.

In some cases, the tens of thousands of Californians whose vote-by-mail ballots were rejected were not only unnecessarily disenfranchised by problems within the vote-by-mail system, they were unaware that their votes weren’t being counted at all. One bill signed on Monday changes that, giving voters the legal right to know.

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“Assemblymember Mullin showed great leadership on AB 1135. The enactment of this legislation will help to build more confidence in the electoral process and hopefully lead to greater engagement in the political process by Californians," Connelly said.

Although these improvement to the vote-by-mail system are a step in the right direction, “we still have a long ways to go as far as vote by mail balloting problems,” Alexander said.

Voting by mail affords of-age citizens the luxury and convenience of voting in their pajamas, but last minute voters beware as the system relies on the Post Office. And there’s a reason they call it snail mail: it’s slow and getting slower. Post office closures have delayed the processing and delivery of absentee ballots in many counties. As a result, even ballots mailed days ahead of the deadline are arriving too late to be counted.

Currently, vote-by-mail ballots must be received by 8:00 pm on Election Day to be counted. Under a bill authored by Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and also endorsed by the CFAF, ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within three days after the polls close would be counted. Unfortunately, SB 29 has been kicked to the next legislative session which Alexander says is “very disappointing.”

“The bill would do more to get more vote-by-mail ballots counted than either of these two bills combined,” Alexander said. Late arrival is the number one reason for ballot rejections. Reducing the vote-by-mail error rate by ensuring more ballots are counted will increase turnout, added Alexander. That’s good news for California, which ranks among the bottom states in voter participation.

Now that a majority of Californians are voting-by-mail, addressing the state’s troubling vote-by-mail error rate is more important than ever. Ensuring all ballots cast are counted is vital to the health and legitimacy of California’s vibrant democracy. As a member of the Future of California Elections coalition, California Forward will continue to support reforms aimed at removing barriers to the ballot box while safeguarding the integrity of our electoral system. (full story)


Some say scrap costly, low turnout special elections

KXTV News 10, By John Myers, July 26, 2013


Special elections in California have become not-so-special. Which is precisely the problem.

As such, an effort is now underway to scrap unscheduled elections for the growing number of midterm vacancies in the Legislature and California's congressional delegation.

2013 has so far been the most prolific year of extraordinary elections in the state in two decades: eight special elections for the Legislature so far, with one more (and likely even more) on the way by year's end.

"For every special election, we go through the full song and dance," says Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "Every polling place is open. Ballots are produced. Vote by mail ballots get sent out. Registrars have to go through the entire process."

All of that is an unbudgeted expense for county governments. Los Angeles County registrar-recorder Dean Logan says since 2008, special elections have -- alone -- cost the county more than $14.7 million.

And the real kicker: voters don't show up.

Unofficial numbers in this week's two legislative special elections tell the tale. In California's 16th Senate district, which spans a southern swath of the San Joaquin Valley, slightly less than 16 percent of registered voters cast a ballot Tuesday in the election sending Republican Andy Vidak to Sacramento to complete the remainder of his predecessor's term.

Slightly higher (less than percentage point) turnout was recorded in unofficial numbers for a special election in California's 52nd Assembly district, where no candidate received a majority. A runoff special election will now be held on Sept. 24.

Electoral data since 1989, compiled by Secretary of State Debra Bowen's staff (PDF), shows the two lowest turnouts in more than two decades involved replacing a Los Angeles state senator who had left for local office... and whose replacement, at the time a sitting assemblymember, then triggered a special election for his Assembly seat.

Both of those elections barely registered with voters: less than eight percent of the two districts' registered voters showed up.

(An interesting aside: the assemblymember-turned-senator in that instance, Curren Price, just resigned his Senate seat for the Los Angeles city council, thus triggering one -- or more -- special elections to replace him.)

There are any number of reasons for all of these special elections. 2011's remapping of California's political districts resulted in open seats that many lured a number of sitting politicians into an electoral upgrade. Others are a result of California's former term limits law for legislators, that made extra years in Sacramento a tempting prize.

And still others leave their elected offices early and trigger special elections for a very basic reason: local offices, city councils and county supervisorial jobs, often come with a larger salary than the Legislature. Los Angeles city councilmembers are paid almost double the salary of a sitting legislator.

Whatever the reason, it's created what observers say is special election madness.

"I think it's a system that's really out of control," says Gary Hart, who served 20 years in the Legislature and was education secretary for Gov. Gray Davis.

Hart's idea, first floated in an April newspaper op-ed and now one he's pitching to legislators: allow the governor to fill empty legislative and U.S. House of Representative seats by appointment, a power already used by the governor for vacancies in the U.S. Senate and county boards of supervisors.

"Many other states do this by appointment rather than by election," says Hart. "It saves taxpayer's money, and it gets us to focus on governing, rather than sort of playing political games 12 months out of the year."

The change, an amendment to the state constitution, would have to be approved by voters.

Hart says the appointment system would also have two other big selling points. First, it would keep voters from losing a voice in elected office for what often stretches out to months -- think 'taxation without representation,' says the ex-lawmaker.

Second, expanding the governor's power to make temporary appointments might -- depending on the governor -- inject some less than usual suspects into powerful roles in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

Students? Independents? Blue collar workers? Perhaps, says Hart.

"With a gubernatorial appointment," he says, "you might have a little more diversity."

Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, says that special elections would also be cut dramatically if sitting lawmakers would be forced to resign their current positions before angling for a new one. Five states have a 'resign to run' mandate, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But the bottom line, say these observers, is that the current system is simply broken -- for elections officials and voters alike.

"It's kind of a no-brainer," says Alexander. "Everybody looks at the situation and sees the voters aren't participating, the counties are paying all this extra money, we're not getting the representation that we need," she says.

"We need to do something about it." (full story)

Is your absentee ballot being counted in California?

California Forward, By Alexandra Bjerg, June 24, 2013


One person, one vote; that’s the fundamental principle of our democracy. Every vote counts. That is, unless you vote-by-mail. New research shows that absentee ballots cast by mail are twice as likely to go uncounted than those cast in person. More absentee ballots went uncounted in California than any other state in the last mid-term election.

In the years since the hanging chad-plagued 2000 presidental election, California has spent millions to replace outdated voting equipment with more secure and reliable machines in an attempt to minimize lost votes. During this same period, vote-by-mail balloting in California has surged. In fact, 51 percent of all ballots cast in last November’s election were absentee.

Tens of thousands of Californians are being disenfranchised by the vote-by-mail sytem. “In the last election, one percent of vote-by-mail ballots weren’t counted – that’s 68,000,” said California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander. “I went into my county elections office two days after the election and asked to see the vote-by-mail ballots that weren’t being counted.” There were more than 3,000 rejected vote-by-mail ballots in Sacramento County alone, an error rate of 1 percent. "It’s just astonishing," said Alexander. "There were post office trays and trays of them.”

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Legislation drafted by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D- South San Francisco) would help registrars capture more signature matches and ensure voters aren’t disenfranchised for poor penmanship. “In an effort to give voters the best chance possible of having their ballots counted,” explained Mullin, “AB 1135 would expand the number of allowable documents from a voter’s registration record for signature comparison.”

As the popularity of mail-in balloting soars, it’s vital that we improve the vote-by-mail process to stop the tens of thousands of California voters from being unnecessarily disenfranchised. Widespread voting equipment modernization was fueled by concern over the percentage of rejected ballots in the 2000 election. And while the error rate for absentee ballots is similar, calls for improvements have been muted.

Ensuring every ballot cast is counted is vital to the legitimacy and health of our vibrant democracy. That’s why the California Forward Action Fund, the 501(c)(4) sister organization of California Forward, enthusiastically supports SB 29 and AB 1135 and the continuing reform efforts to restore trust in California elections. By significantly reducing the number of rejected ballots, both bills would help ensure all Californians make their voice heard through the ballot box. (full story)

Who should pay for California’s elections?

California Forward, By Matthew Grant Anson, June 21, 2013


The state budget has drawn controversy over the last week, but one topic that has been swept under the rug – again – is the growing cost counties have for carrying out the changes the state makes to voting laws. Most importantly, the state isn’t funding the extra work and extra money required like it is supposed to, and no change is made to this in the new budget, nor is any of the money owed to counties accounted for within the budget.

However, one group – the California Voter Foundation – is refusing to allow the topic to go unexplored. In a op-ed for the Sacramento Bee, president and founder Kim Alexander stressed the negative impact on elections we could see if the state continues to refuse to fund the mandates it imposes on counties.

“If [Sacramento] County has to cut its budget further due to a lack of state mandate funding, voters could see a reduction in popular services such as vote-by-mail ballot drop-off sites and Saturday voting before election days,” Alexander wrote. “Losing these services will likely slow down counting if more vote-by-mail ballots flood into polling places on election days, as they require extra time to process.”

The money that counties are missing out on is far from chump change. The state hasn’t allocated funds to counties to keep up with their mandates since 2009, when they paid $30 million total to 58 counties. Considering it’s been four years and multiple elections later, counties throughout California are owed millions. Los Angeles County alone is owed $20 million. San Diego County is owed $9 million, and both Orange County and Sacramento County are owed $4 million.

Considering the money at stake, why are so few people talking about election funding? “It’s been described to me as a blip on the radar,” Alexander said. “We only come around to it once every two years. That’s a real challenge, whereas something like education and dental care, those are issues year round. It’s not a juice issue: there’s no vested, well heeled, well financed interest group that has a stake in election policy.”

These interest groups are the ones that often keep issues in the public and legislative eye. “I recognize that special interests that have a lot of money and pass around a lot of campaign contributions tend to get a lot of airtime in Sacramento,” Alexander said. “Maybe I’m a little cynical about it because of watching House of Cards from Netflix, but that is how politics works.” (full story)

Lawmakers stick locals with costs of voting

Op-ed by Kim Alexander, The Sacramento Bee, June 20, 2013


The new state budget is here, and once again it leaves the state's election system holding an increasingly empty bag.

For years counties have relied on the state to help fund state laws that change the voting process and in turn, make extra work and cost extra money for counties.

The last time election mandates were funded was 2009, when they accounted for about $30 million paid to all 58 counties. The largest in terms of dollars and impact is the permanent absentee voter program, which allows Californians to sign up to vote by mail in every election rather than reapplying each time.

Since then, the money has been withheld by the state and counties have had to make do with less. At the same time, counties no longer get reimbursed for the cost of special legislative elections, despite their growing frequency. (Continued...)

California's health exchange to serve as voter registration hub

The Sacramento Bee, May 16, 2013


Millions of Californians who contact the state's new health exchange to buy insurance will be given the opportunity to register to vote, too, a move that some Republicans fear could benefit Democrats.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen made California the first state to designate its health exchange as a voter registration agency Wednesday but others are expected to follow suit, said Shannan Velayas, Bowen's spokeswoman.

"This is about making sure that all eligible Californians are offered the chance to register to vote," Velayas said Thursday.

A 1993 federal law requires states to designate their agencies and offices that provide public assistance or disability services as voter registration agencies, Velayas said.

The federal law commonly is known as "motor voter" because it ensured that applicants for drivers' licenses nationwide would be asked if they wanted to register to vote.

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When the state launched an online system of voter registration two months before last year's November election, the new voters who signed up were more Democratic than the voting population as a whole, according to an analysis by the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis.

Democratic Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana, chairman of the Senate elections committee, said he was not aware of Bowen's designation of Covered California this week but that he supports the concept.

"I believe the foundation of democracy is voters," he said. "More voter participation means greater democracy in our country."

Lori Shellenberger, director of the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of California, characterized Bowen's designation as "one of the most significant voter registration policy decisions in the state's history."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit group promoting voter participation, said that it's natural for political parties to look at potential for partisan impact -- but she sees the stakes differently.

Nearly 6 million Californians, nearly one of every four eligible adults, are not currently registered to vote, state records show.

"I strongly believe that helping the people who are most underrepresented become active voters and part of the process is in everybody's interest," Alexander said. "You don't want huge swaths of our population alienated from society." (full story)

Alabama campaign finance reports soon to go online

The Anniston Star, By Tim Lockette, May 4, 2013


Following the money in Alabama politics might soon get a whole lot easier.

Officials of the Alabama Secretary of State's office say they'll launch a searchable online database of campaign donations by the end of May — replacing the office's old system of paper filings and scanned-in documents.

State officials say the changes should make it easier for average voters to figure out who’s accepting money from whom.

“If you know Joe Schmoe in your local area, and you know Joe Schmoe Construction Company gives political donations, you can look it up,” said Julie Sinclair, elections attorney for the Secretary of State's office.

State law demands that political candidates and political action committees report their donations and spending online, beginning June 1. That law was one of several campaign finance reform bills passed by the Republican legislative supermajority in 2011, the GOP's first year controlling the House and Senate.

Under the current system, candidates file paper forms, which are then scanned in and posted online at The result was often exasperating even for experienced researchers. Candidates filed weekly, daily and monthly reports in which some donations seemed to be duplicated. Candidates who made errors had to correct them by filing additional forms. Documents sometimes didn’t get scanned in.

Perhaps most significantly, there was no way to search by donor. Donations by individuals or corporations showed up in candidates' reports, but it was nearly impossible to tell how much those individuals gave overall.

"Electronic filing helps everybody," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a group that has studied campaign finance reporting in all 50 states. "It helps voters, it helps candidates, it helps election officials. The only reason elected officials don't find it desirable is because a confusing system keeps you from finding out who’s funding them."

From 2002 to 2008, Alexander's group teamed up with the University of California Los Angeles and the Pew Research Center to grade all the states on accessibility to campaign finance records. Alabama got an F every time, Alexander says.

In 2008, the state was one of only eight without an electronic filing system. Alexander said many of those states were already working on an electronic filing system at the time.

She said highly involved, active voters would see the most benefit from the change.

"Disclosure helps voters anticipate what they're going to get," she said. "A lot of voters view voting as a hiring process. They want to know who your 'references' are." (full story)

California Democrats push voting laws that could broaden their reach

Sacramento Bee, By Torey Van Oot, April 15, 2013


Fresh off their 2012 wins at the polls, California Democrats are looking to broaden their reach by advancing a new batch of bills aimed at expanding voter access and increasing turnout.

Achieving that result would likely benefit Democrats, who historically fare worse in the lower-turnout nonpresidential elections, as they defend supermajorities in the state Legislature and competitive congressional seats won last year in the 2014 election.

"We have work to do," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told delegates at the state party's convention over the weekend in Sacramento. "We just got started."

Some of the efforts are meant to build on the success Democrats had with using the state's new online registration system, which launched about two months ahead of the November election.

The new voters who signed up online were more Democratic and turned out at higher levels than the voting population as a whole, according to an analysis by the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis.

Democrats highlighted those numbers at their weekend convention, making the system the subject of workshops, general session speeches and at least one party.

"When we passed online voter registration, the Republicans start running and we start grabbing online registrations and that's how we won," Democratic state Sen. and secretary of state hopeful Leland Yee, who wrote the bill to speed up implementation of online voter registration, told a cheering crowd at a "Pro-Tech the Vote" reception Friday.

During a Sunday address, Secretary of State Debra Bowen touted California's work to register more voters as a way to "show the rest of the country how to run a true democracy."

She also stressed the policy implications of increasing voter numbers, saying higher turnout will "eliminate questions about health care and education."

"If we got everyone eligible, and eligible and voting, those policies would be law in California," Bowen said. "So let's go for it."

Many of the more than two-dozen voter access and turnout-related bills introduced by Democrats in the current session appeal to key voting blocs, including young voters.

Approaches include encouraging county election officials to put polling places on college campuses and allowing Californians to pre-register to vote at age 15. One proposed constitutional amendment would let 17-year-olds vote in the primary, providing that they will turn 18 by the time the general election is held.

Another bill would allow officials to count absentee ballots as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, as opposed to the current rule requiring the ballots to arrive by that time. Other bills call for efforts to educate inmates on their post-jail voting rights and to speed up implementation of same-day registration in the state.

"As the Democratic Party, we obviously want more people voting, so the more avenues they have to get engaged, the better," said R.J. Victoria, a 34-year-old delegate from Irvine. "It's about inclusiveness."

Some observers see opportunities for both sides with the changes. Mindy Romero, director of the UC Davis project, said it's too early to tell whether the online registration system will end up benefiting Democrats in the long term. She noted that about 1 million Californians used the system last year but online registrants still make up just 4 percent of the current electorate.

"I'm not sure how much we can read into one election cycle where the stars were in perfect alignment for the Democrats," she said.

California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander sees online registration as a "really mixed bag" for party politics on both sides, because it makes it easier for Californians, especially younger, tech-savvy voters who move frequently, to update and possibly change their registration status. She said she's glad to see the Legislature act in ways that could expand and encourage voting access for all.

"I do think that (online voter registration) is an excellent avenue for California to tap into the millions of people who are unregistered to vote and eligible," she said.

Still, the efforts have been met with resistance from Republicans, who say Democrats are playing politics with election rules. (full story)

Compton’s trashed absentee ballots call attention to voting policy

California Forward, By Cheryl Getuiza, March 29, 2013


“There are state statutes of what the vote by mail procedures are but they don’t describe every single detail, so a lot of the details are left to the counties or cities. There is no standardization in their practices,” said Alexander.

“Some might have a standing agreement with the post office that they’ll cover postage if inadequate postage is provided, some might set up drop sites where people can drop off ballots or open up their elections offices on weekends to receive ballots and let people drop off ballots there. When you get to the city level, things are even more different because whatever procedures the county has in place, the city doesn’t necessarily have to follow, for their election,” said Alexander. (full story)

California Nonpartisan Districting Ousts Life Incumbents

BusinessWeek, By Michael B. Marois, March 19, 2013


In the 1980s, a joke that ran through California political circles was that more turnover occurred in the Soviet Union’s Politburo than in the state’s U.S. House delegation.

The laugh-line still worked well after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. From 2002 to 2010, the partisan re-election rate for California House seats was 99.6 percent. Only once in 265 House races in general elections during those years did a district’s representation flip parties, going from Republican to Democratic.

That stability ended last year after California (STOCA1) voters in 2010 gave a citizen’s panel the power to redraw the House districts. The impact, combined with a new primary system, was immediate. One out of four of the state’s 53 congressional incumbents departed through retirements or defeats in the 2012 primaries and elections.

“You’ve had voters shoehorned into districts for the sake of maintaining incumbency and we aren’t doing that in California anymore,” said Kim Alexander, founder and president of California Voter Foundation. “It was a big shakeout. That’s probably what would happen everywhere if you had fair redistricting.”

California, Arizona, Idaho, and Washington state have all given the authority to draw congressional boundaries to independent commissions, a model that good-government advocates say can blunt incumbent lawmakers from choosing which voters they represent.

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The California experimentation is significant because a change in the map-makers could lead to more competitive congressional districts, which in turn may produce a less polarized U.S. House. Representatives whose electorates are disproportionately Republican or Democratic are under less pressure to find middle ground on legislation or reach out to voters who are registered with the other party.

The change California made “should have the effect both on the left and the right of moderating elements of the delegation, whereas in the past they were all in safe seats, so Republicans were free to be pretty conservative and Democrats were free to be pretty liberal and there was never any consequences of that,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant who served as deputy communications director for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Real Solution’

Jocelyn Benson, interim dean of the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit and a Democratic voting rights advocate, agreed. “The only real solution” to decreasing congressional polarization is for states to create “an independent redistricting commission that has the power to not only draw the map but enact it as well,” Benson said.

Still, the challenges for advocates of revising the redistricting process are formidable because partisan state legislators are loath to surrender the power. In California, voters passed on six opportunities to approve an initiative to change the process before, on the seventh try, it was approved.

“It’s a hard sell. It’s one of those arcane issues,” said Alexander. “It’s one of those issues that only comes around once every 10 years and people can get very worked up about when it’s happening and then it’s easy to forget about it once it’s all over.” (full story)

Cyberattack on Florida election is first known case in US, experts say

NBC News, By Gil Aegerter, March 18, 2013


An attempt to illegally obtain absentee ballots in Florida last year is the first known case in the U.S. of a cyberattack against an online election system, according to computer scientists and lawyers working to safeguard voting security.

The case involved more than 2,500 “phantom requests” for absentee ballots, apparently sent to the Miami-Dade County elections website using a computer program, according to a grand jury report on problems in the Aug. 14 primary election. It is not clear whether the bogus requests were an attempt to influence a specific race, test the system or simply interfere with the voting. Because of the enormous number of requests – and the fact that most were sent from a small number of computer IP addresses in Ireland, England, India and other overseas locations – software used by the county flagged them and elections workers rejected them.

Computer experts say the case exposes the danger of putting states’ voting systems online – whether that’s allowing voters to register or actually vote.

“It’s the first documented attack I know of on an online U.S. election-related system that’s not (involving) a mock election,” said David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who is on the board of directors of the Verified Voting Foundation and the California Voter Foundation.

Other experts contacted by NBC News agreed that the attempt to obtain the ballots is the first known case of a cyberattack on voting, though they noted that there are so many local elections systems in use that it's possible that a similar attempt has gone unnoticed.

There have been allegations of election system hacking before in the U.S., but investigations of irregularities have found only software glitches, voting machine failures, voter error or inconclusive evidence. Where there has been evidence of a computer security breach -- such as a 2006 incident in Sarasota, Fla., in which a computer worm that had been around for years raised havoc with the county elections voter database -- it was unclear whether the worm's appearance was timed to interfere with the election/ (full story)

California polling places: Coming to a campus near you?

Election Online, By M. Mindy Moretti, March 7, 2013


Conflicts between colleges and the towns where they are located — referred to as town and gown conflicts — have existed for as long as there have been institutions of higher learning.

Often those conflicts center around the usual annoyances of day-to-day life like parking and traffic and noise and drinking. But one of the more volatile town and gown arguments is college student participation in elections.

While some localities fight against college student participation in local elections or putting polling places on college campuses, most state-run institutions of higher education in California already host polling places and two pieces of legislation currently pending in the General Assembly would mandate that.

“We face a huge challenge in California when it comes to college students and voting,” said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. “Many students are confused about voting-by-mail and, if they are living on campus are unsure of whether to register at their campus address or request a vote-by-mail ballot for their home address. We need to do a better job of educating students about vote-by-mail procedures.”

Sen. Leland Yee (D-8th District) introduced Senate Bill 240. Yee, who has introduced several pieces of election administration legislation through the years announced earlier that he is running for secretary of state in the 2014 race. A piece of legislation similar to SB240 is Senate Bill 267, which was introduced by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-27th District).

Currently the law leaves the location of polling sites — whether on college campuses or not — to the discretion of local elections officials. But under Yee and Pavley’s bills, local elections officials would be required to locate a polling site on the campuses of every California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) campus. Pavley’s bill would also require community colleges to serve as polling places where Yee’s would not. (full story)

U.S. Election Assistance Commission and NIST trumpet innovation in voting technology

California Forward, By Doug Chapin, March 5, 2013


Last week, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission hosted a Future of Voting Systems Symposium. The three-day meeting outside of Washington, DC was designed to look at the latest developments in the field of voting technology and assess how such developments mesh with the current federal structure for testing and certification.

The takeaway from the meeting was sobering and exciting; while it is increasingly clear that existing testing and certification requirements aren’t working, there is a burst of creativity underway by election officials, technologists and other stakeholders in the effort to design a different and better approach.

As usual, California was front and center on both fronts. Los Angeles County’s Dean Logan was featured on Day One of the conference, discussing the County’s Voting System Assessment Project, which aims to help the county design and deploy a new voting system that meets voters’ needs while still satisfying legal and technical requirements. Logan noted that the Legislature is considering legislation (SB360) to permit the development of such public voting technology and expressed optimism about using the process to jump-start voting technology past the current model of privately-owned, federally certified systems. That conversation was aided by a policy brief on the history of voting technology in California drafted by the California Voter Foundation’s Kim Alexander, which highlighted the challenges facing the state as it seeks to develop, test – and most importantly, pay for – a new generation of voting machines. (full story)

Saturday without mail may affect votes

San Francisco Chronicle, By Wyatt Buchanan, March 2, 2013


The recent decision by the U.S. Postal Service to end Saturday deliveries was met with shrugs by some people, but elections officials say they are alarmed that it could result in fewer votes being counted.

That's because increasingly across the country - especially in California - people are choosing to vote by mail. In last fall's election, 6.7 million people cast mail ballots, more than half of those who participated, according to the secretary of state.

Elimination of Saturday mail deliveries - which postal officials said also includes eliminating pickups from mailboxes - could cause some ballots to miss the Tuesday election deadline to be valid because most voters wait until the last several days to send them, elections officials said.

"We mail out a tremendous amount of our vote-by-mail ballots for weeks before, but the ballots come back really the last nine days, and they're really loaded to the last few days," said Steve Weir, Contra Costa County clerk and former president of the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials.

He said the most critical day is four days before an election, because that's about the average amount of time it takes for ballots to arrive by election day. More than a quarter of all ballots counted by his office arrived in the mail on that final day, though some people also dropped them off at polling places and the county office, Weir said.

With elections held on Tuesdays, four days out just happens to be Saturday.

USPS not concerned

But Postal Service officials said it's not a concern.

"You can't really say that (dropping Saturday delivery) is going to affect any of that at all," said Gus Ruiz, a spokesman for the Postal Service in the Bay Area, Sacramento and Fresno. However, he said if there is a problem, "It's something we can work through."

States differ nationwide on deadlines for receiving ballots through the mail. Most of the 32 that have such a system are similar to California, and require that ballots be received by the time the polls close. But given the change with mail delivery, there may be political support for extending that, at least in the Golden State.

State Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, has introduced a bill, SB29, to allow the ballots to be counted up to three days after the election if they are postmarked by election day. A similar bill he introduced last year failed to win approval.

In some states, though, lawmakers have introduced bills to shorten the time ballots can be accepted. There is such a proposal in the Legislature in Washington state, where all elections are conducted via the mail.

Weir and others said they had opposed previous attempts to extend the time frame in California because of the potential for manipulating an election, but said they have changed their minds.

Too late to count

Weir said he's seen too many ballots that were postmarked plenty of days ahead of an election, but still arrived too late to be counted.

"So what's changed my mind about this? Looking at those ballots," he said.

Elections officials said they have long dealt with logistical problems in conducting elections at least partly through the mail, like slow or misdelivery of ballots, though they said they had good relationships with postal officials and work together to try to solve issues.

Planned closures of mail processing centers by the Postal Service would also create delays, elections officials said.

Cathy Darling Allen, county clerk in Shasta County and current president of the election officials organization, said the planned closure of the center in Redding would mean the mail there would be trucked 160 miles south to Sacramento where it would be sorted and then brought back for delivery.

"Frankly, we already advise folks not to mail their ballot (after) the Thursday before the election," she said.

The extra time from such closures that happened in 2011 meant as many as seven days from the time county officials mailed ballots to when they were delivered, including in Monterey County, which has mail now sorted in Santa Clara County, according to Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

'Gross exaggerations'

Bowen wrote to the postmaster general last year, asking him to delay any more such closures until after the fall election.

"This is not simply a California issue, though the USPS closure plans would disproportionately affect voters here and in other western states," she wrote.

Ruiz of the Postal Service said officials looked into Bowen's assertions and said they were "gross exaggerations."

"We found little or no evidence of anything taking seven days," he said.

Problems are well-known

But people who follow vote-by-mail issues said that problems with Postal Service delivery are well-known.

Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, said stopping Saturday delivery and pickup is a "huge concern" for coming elections.

She said her group recommends sending in ballots at least a week prior to an election, but added that it doesn't guarantee the ballot will be counted.

"The only thing worse than people not voting is people trying to vote and not being able to," Alexander said. "It's become serious." (full story)

State political watchdog agency seeks to expand searchable online conflict of interest database

San Jose Mecury News, By Tracy Seipel, February 27, 2013


Seeking to improve transparency and revolutionize the way residents interact with their government, the state's political watchdog agency on Thursday will discuss a new application software that it says can help the public better gauge where potential conflicts of interest may exist with their elected officials.

At its monthly board meeting in Sacramento, officials at the Fair Political Practices Commission will propose expanding a pilot program it introduced on its website last fall that allows voters to more easily search statements of economic interest filed by state judges to include similar statements filed by all California public officials.

"One of my biggest projects is to try to bring the FPPC into the 21st century with our website by providing as much information as possible to the public in an easily accessible way," said FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel, a former Santa Clara County counsel. "It all ties in with my emphasis on disclosure."

A Statement of Economic Interest, or Form 700, must be filed annually by elected state officers, state legislators, judges and court commissioners, among others, by March 1, while city and county officials and certain government employees must file with their local agencies by April 1. All of the statements are ultimately sent to the FPPC.

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While the paper Form 700s are maintained at city and county clerks' offices and with the FPPC, Ravel has worked to ensure they're available online. Now, she's trying to make the data easier for the public to search for pertinent information.

"If you wanted to see if a particular developer gave gifts to elected officials all over the state, it's very difficult to pull that information up now," said Ravel. "That's the kind of thing we want to be able to provide."

Last year, the FPPC leveraged a unique public-private partnership with the nonprofit Code for America, and Captricity, a Berkeley-based firm that extracts data from paper documents and transcribes it into digital spreadsheets. The collaboration led to an app that allows the Form 700 information to be searchable, and the pilot project linked to the Form 700s of state judges.

"It's one-stop shopping for all this information on our website," said Gary Winuk, chief of the FPPC's enforcement division. "The idea is to hold people accountable."

Kim Alexander, founder and president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, which seeks to improve the voting process to better serve the state's voters, called the FPPC's latest effort "phenomenal."

"Unfortunately, lawmakers are not chomping at the bit to make it easier for the public to view their personal finances," said Alexander. "This gives the public a chance to research and review interesting patterns they would not otherwise find." (full story)

Internet voting, the third-rail of elections, By M. Mindy Moretti, February 21, 2013


There are no two words that get elections officials, scholars, vendors and geeks more riled up than Internet voting.

The emotions on both sides often run so high that at times it can seem almost impossible to even have a conversation about the concept of casting a ballot online.

But with concerns about long lines on Election Day, with the U.S. Postal Service cutting services, and elections officials concerned about getting ballots to voters overseas or in times of emergency, is it possible to discuss the possibilities?

“Is there anything not controversial related to voting? If voting machines had to go through acceptance that Internet voting is facing, they wouldn’t have been rolled out,” said Brian Newby, Johnson County, Kan. election commissioner. “The movement has pretty successfully been slowed by emotion and in particular, emotion masquerading as fact.”

According to Newby, beyond the technological issues, there are some who are very impassioned because it takes away the spirit of community that comes with voting.

“I respect that opposition because at least they are saying they don’t like Internet voting because of the way they feel. That’s an emotional argument that’s fair because it’s called out from the beginning as being emotional.

Newby acknowledged that it is a difficult conversation, in part, because the country is no closer to Internet voting in the United States, really, than it was five or 10 years ago.

“Discussion has been successfully stonewalled, so why fight with success?” Newby said. ”The best argument that could be made would be that there is a growing use of Internet voting options for military and overseas voters, but even those options have been much more evolutionary than revolutionary.”

Those who have expressed concerns about the idea of Internet voting say that until the system is changed, conversations are always going to be difficult. For many of them, the conversation right now is putting the cart before the horse.

“We need a different Internet for Internet voting to be a reality. We would also likely need to give up the secret ballot,” said Kim Alexander president of the California Voter Foundation. “And we'd probably need some kind of biometric identifier to make an Internet system work securely. I don't feel these are appealing or likely options, so it seems a waste of time to focus on Internet voting, but I know people will continue to do so.”

Pam Smith, with Verified Voting said that the security issues surrounding Internet voting are a larger problem than those surrounding DREs, but that it’s hard for people to grasp because we spend so much of our daily lives online.

Smith said she’s not sure the conversation has to be as difficult and emotional as it has been for some factions.

“There can be ­— and is — some very rational discussion about the nature of the issues to be solved. If there is tension, it is between two perspectives, I think -- the desire that it be viable for use already, today, vs. certain unsolved problems have to be addressed before it actually is viable,” Smith said. “I think we all agree that Internet voting if it could be made secure would be desirable; unfortunately the technology just doesn't exist to satisfy this desire at this time. “

Smith added that the good news is there is a preponderance of evidence --and agreement-- that more research is needed. (full story)

Internet Voting: Not Ready for Prime Time?

The Canvass, February 2013


Worth Noting

Hundreds Of Uncounted Vote-By-Mail Ballots Discovered Months After November Election

CBS13, February 14, 2013


Hundreds of uncounted ballots were discovered from November’s election last week.

CBS13 learned that more than 400 vote-by-mail ballots were found three months after the election because they were misplaced and forgotten until last week.

“Some of the ballots from one of the precincts came back in a supply bag,” said Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill Lavine.

Uncounted votes are supposed to be in a pink carrier; however, the 407 ballots wound up in a red supply bag which was tossed onto a storage rack.

“As we were going through and cleaning up from the election, we found this bag full of ballots,” said LaVine.

The vote-by-mail ballots dropped off in Natomas came from 92 precincts. With two tight city council races, along with the Dan Lungren-Ami Berra contest too close to call for weeks, an election nightmare nearly came true.

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“It’s really disappointing and I’m sure if those voters found out their ballots weren’t counted, they’d be very upset,” said Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation.

Voter advocate Alexander says the options to mail your ballot or drop it off increases the chances to make mistakes.

“We give voters these conveniences, but with those conveniences come more risks and more problems,” said Alexander.

It’s a big mistake that silenced the voices of more than 400 voters who have no idea their votes were never counted. (full story)

State needs election disaster plan, says legislator

News10, By John Myers, February 11, 2013


In a state like California, where earthquakes, fires, and floods are a familiar danger, what happens if natural disaster strikes just as voters are headed to the polls?

That's what one legislator wants election officials to start thinking about with a new bill inspired by what happened last fall on the East Coast after Hurricane Sandy.

"Many people were displaced," says Asm. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. "And if they'd been in California, which is of course earthquake country, it's not clear that they'd have been able to vote."

Skinner's AB 214 asks California's secretary of state to establish rules and procedures for how an election would be conducted in the wake of a natural disaster. The bill, introduced on January 31, would give Secretary of State Debra Bowen until the end of 2014 to do so.

"We want to make sure," says Skinner, "that nobody's disenfranchised" in the wake of a calamity.

Although elections are held every two years across California, there is no such thing as a statewide election. State laws provide a general framework, but the vast majority of elections decisions -- polling places and pollworker training, ballot design, and more -- are made by elections officials in each of California's 58 counties.

Some of the counties already have some crisis plans in place, though this would be a much broader plan of attack.

Elections watchers say planning is a good thing. But the bill includes one provision getting some extra attention -- and concern.

Skinner's bill says that the statewide plan should include some usage of voting via the Internet.

"There's no clear path to achieving secure online voting," says Kim Alexander of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation.

Alexander says while online voting is a popular topic, there's no way to come up with a workable system in the short time frame given in the new state legislation. And she says some elections officials tried to use an online ballot system during the Sandy storm crisis back east -- not successfully.

"It was a big failure," says Alexander.

AB 214 has yet to be assigned its first committee hearing, which won't likely come until the spring. (full story)

I. In Focus This Week

electionlineweekly, By M. Mindy Moretti, December 6, 2012


On Election Day, at one precinct in Washington, D.C. the line to check-in snaked around the block in the early morning chill. Once voters made it inside to the check-in table, poll workers struggled through the paper poll books to find names.

After voters checked in, those wishing to use the one DRE machine queued up in another line that circled around itself while those wishing to cast paper ballots were only held up when the poll worker overseeing the optical scan machine was called away to help a voter using the DRE.

The average wait time for those trying to cast a ballot before lunchtime was about two hours.

While two hours pales in comparison to what some voters faced on Election Day, as many experts agree, it’s still too long for a voter to wait to cast their ballot.

What role technology — or lack thereof — played in slowing things down on Election Day remains up for review and debate, but experts agree that technology has a huge role to play in fixing what went wrong.

“For the voter, too much depends on the luck of the draw,” said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting. “In a jurisdiction with good contingency plans and good training, or where you didn't have to rely on a machine interface for marking your ballot, you were generally in pretty good shape. But yes, there were locations where equipment problems resulted in long lines.”

Following the election, on behalf of 29 experts in the field of technology and voting, the California Voter Foundation sent President Barack Obama a letter asking him to follow up on his promise to “do something about that” and to pay special attention to the technology aspects of elections.

“I hope our letter is read by the president and helps him develop a thoughtful and well-informed position about election reform,” Alexander said. “I hope it motivates him to invest his resources and attention into this issue area, which is so neglected and underfunded at all levels of government.”

Alexander hopes the president appoints a panel to explore the problems witnessed on Election Day and then recommend changes that would minimize the problems in the future. (full story)

County moves toward more ‘low-tech' voting methods

Tahoe Daily Tribune, By Axie Navas, November 23, 2012


If you voted earlier this month, you may have noticed a lack of scanners to tally your ballot at the polling place.

That's because El Dorado County shifted away from the precinct-count voting system to a central-count voting system in January 2011. Transporting the scanners, which read marked paper ballots and tallied the results, to each polling place was difficult and expensive, County Registrar of Voters Bill Schultz said.

The scanners memory card tabulated the ballots, which would be secured with an electronic seal that couldn't be broken until the ballots arrived at the county office. There the cards from each of the precincts would be updated electronically to a computer. Election officials then switched the software that counted paper mail-in ballots with the program needed for the cards. The whole process was inefficient and time-consuming, Schultz said.

And though he thinks the technology will one day catch up to voting needs, the machines in the county aren't at that level yet.

“Everyone seems to like paper and to trust it. My personal view is that somebody is going to come up with a different method, and I think that it will be electronic,” he said.

Instead of tabulating votes at each precinct, the ballots arrive in Placerville, ready to be counted. The only potential drawback to the system that California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander foresees is the potential for voter error to go unnoticed until it's too late. When votes are scanned in the precinct, a red flag will goes up immediately if the voter makes a mistake. That error can then be corrected at the polling place.

According to the California Voter Foundation's website — a nonprofit to advance the responsible use of technology in the voting process — many of the smaller counties have implemented a centralized counting system in the past few years. For El Dorado County, where voters cast about 87,000 cards for the Nov. 6 election, transporting the ballots to a central location makes sense. (full story)

California's uncounted mail-in ballots reach thousands

KABC-TV, By Nannette Mirande, November 13, 2012


There are plenty of vote-by-mail ballots in California that won't count in the final November tally, largely because of postmarks and signatures. There's a group out to change some of those ballot rules, hoping to boost voter turnout.

Thousands of vote-by-mail ballots throughout California are sitting in county registrar offices right now and will never be counted.

Some signatures on ballot envelopes don't match the one on the voter registration card. Other ballots are from previous elections. But the most common reason a ballot doesn't get counted: it is not in the county's hands by 8 p.m. on Election Night. An Election Day postmark is not good enough.

Many counties don't notify voters their ballots won't be counted.

"I think it's a dirty little secret that we're keeping from voters, quite frankly, this vote-by-mail ballots that are too late to get counted," said Kim Alexander, founder and president, California Voter Foundation.

In 2008, nearly half a million ballots were not counted in the three statewide elections that year.

Los Angeles County currently has more than 6,000 late ballots, while Santa Clara County has nearly 2,000. Sacramento County's count is approaching 1,500. (full story)

Why aren’t you voting today?

Which Way, LA, November 6, 2012


The number of registered voters in California is at a record high. Even among those who are registered, many choose not to vote. KCRW asked why:

For Paul Corning, a 27-year-old actor who moved from L.A. to New York a couple years ago, today is just another day. Well, he’s starting a new job, and he’ll be preparing a monologue for an audition on Thursday. But none of those involve voting.

He’s voted before, but he says this time around, it doesn’t feel right. He feels like he’s relatively well-informed, but he just doesn’t care which party wins. “It’s been like a sport for me that I didn’t want to participate in rooting for a team in,” Corning said.

That burst of civic pride a lot of us feel when we hand in our ballots – an estimated 46 percent of eligible voters, nearly 90 million Americans, won’t have that experience.

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Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation says she hears that disaffection fairly often, especially from young people and minorities – groups that vote less than the population as a whole. She tells them that voting matters because it helps make politicians accountable to those like you. “And so that’s why homeowners and senior citizens and folks who live in wealthier, more affluent communities may get better representation,” Alexander says, “because they pose an electoral threat to their politicians.”

While there are those who say they won’t vote, there are those who’d like to vote, but can’t. Because they’re incarcerated on felony charges, or on parole. Here’s one, who only identified herself to us as Precious. “If you have a chance to vote but, like someone like me, who don’t have a chance to vote but you do have a chance to vote, and you know somewhere in there it’s gonna count, why not? Why not take the option to do it? Why?”

Advocates for voting have heard every argument against voting. I don’t have time. It’s really inconvenient. I don’t like the choices. My vote won’t count. They say online registration and mail-in ballots help those first two problems. The others can’t be solved on Election Day. (full story)

Can Deep Pockets Sway California Voters?

Bloomberg TV, November 5, 2012


California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander talks about California's ballot initiatives. She speaks on Bloomberg Television's "Market Makers." (Video)

Crunch Time: Getting informed before casting your California ballot

Southern California Public Radio, November 5, 2012


If you haven't figured out how you're going to vote yet, don't panic. You are definitely not alone.

Here to give us some tips on how to get informed quickly is Kim Alexander, director of the California Voter Foundation. (full audio)

Insight: Election Polling / Proposition Song / Measure M / KZAP on KDVS / "For Colored Girls"

Capitol Public Radio, November 5, 2012


We check in with The Field Polls Mark DiCamillo and hear The Proposition Song from the California Voter Foundation. Charter Commission measure on Sac City ballot. Former DJs reminisce about legendary local station. Sac State presents iconic poem. (Full audio)

Your Voting Questions and Update on Mystery AZ Donation

KQED, November 5, 2012


As voters head to the polls, we check in with Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation about online registration, the increased popularity of mail-in ballots, voting technology and last-minute online resources. (full audio)

Dan Morain: Dark money comes out of shadows, a little bit

Sacramento Bee By Dan Morain, November 6, 2012


A California Common Cause leader convened a press conference and demanded answers: "Why are they trying to hide where their money comes from?"

The good government advocate went on to accuse Kansas oil billionaires Charles and David Koch of being the source of secretive donations in a highly charged California initiative.

If all this sounds familiar, it is. What's happening now happened in 1992, only this time, the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the attorney general are doing something about it, with help from a unanimous California Supreme Court.

Acting on a suit by FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel and Attorney General Kamala Harris, the court directed that Americans for Responsible Leadership, a Phoenix corporation, disclose details about an $11 million donation to a California committee set up to defeat Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 and pass Proposition 32, which would cripple unions' ability to raise campaign money.
Rather than submit to a full FPPC audit, the corporation's lawyers on Monday gave a partial answer. Americans for Responsible Leadership got the $11 million from another corporation, Americans for Job Security, based in Virginia. But first, Americans for Job Security gave the $11 million to a third corporation, Center to Protect Patient Rights, based in Phoenix, which then flipped the money to Americans for Responsible Leadership.

To sum up: A shell within a shell within a shell, crouching in a hall of mirrors. Money laundering isn't too strong a term. Welcome to the world of Citizens United, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that emboldened the richest Americans to spend unprecedented sums to influence elections.

Exactly how the corporations got the $11 million is not altogether clear. These corporations don't make anything, other than mischief. These so-called social welfare groups are established to play politics, without following normal disclosure rules.

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In 1992, their allies pushed a new California ballot measure, one to limit congressional terms. A Koch spokesman denied at the time that they were involved. But the group that promoted the 1992 initiative received a mailing list of potential donors from Citizens for Congressional Reform. And the initiative's official proponent managed a libertarian bookstore in San Francisco owned by a nonprofit corporation that received money from yet another nonprofit that received Koch money.

Kim Alexander was the Common Cause leader who wagged her finger at the Kochs 20 years ago. She has moved on, though she still tries to make democracy more transparent through her California Voter Foundation.

"What the Kochs figured out is that you can get a lot of public policy changes at the state level without people noticing that there is a pattern," Alexander said.

Spending $11 million to pass Proposition 32 is a great way to influence policy. Fearing Proposition 32 would eviscerate their ability to raise money for politics, unions have spent more than $60 million to defeat it, money that didn't go to help Obama and other Democrats.

Americans for Responsible Leadership has branched out beyond Proposition 32, spending $2.4 million to defeat Obama. Americans for Job Security has kicked in another $15.2 million to defeat Obama. Where they got their money, and what they're trying to hide isn't known, not exactly. (full story)

Surge in mail-in ballots could delay election results

KGO-TV, By Nannette Miranda, November 1, 2012


Election Day is almost here. And although millions of Californians have already voted by mail, a record number of mail-in ballots is expected. But that creates a challenge for the vote-counters. Elections officials are expecting as many as half of all Californians will be voting by mail this election, setting up what could be some drama.

A surge of mail-in ballots has arrived at county election offices all over California. The number of California voters casting a vote-by-mail ballot this year is expected to surpass the last Presidential election in 2008 when about 42 percent, or 13.7 million ballots, were sent in.

While that sounds great with more people participating because of the ease of mail-in ballots, the downside is it could take longer to count. So for close races we might not know the results for days, maybe even weeks, "What's in the best interest for all Californians is for us to get the results right, not fast, but right," said Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation

About nine million mail-in ballots have been sent out statewide, roughly 20% more than 2008. Counties take time to interpret voter intent, like a bubble not filled in correctly, or choices crossed out. But one of the most time consuming activities is verifying that the signature on the envelope matches the signature on the voter registration card. Then there are those who drop off their mail-in ballot to the polling place within a couple of days of Election Day, which further delays the tally.

"Those ballots don't even get to the county registrar's office until after the polls close," said California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. "So they don't get processed until that night or perhaps the following day or even the day after."

So in those tight races, like for Proposition 30, Governor Jerry Brown's tax measure to boost funding to public education, this election can be a nail-biter.

"Nervous, anxious whether it's going to pass or not, if we're going to get funding for schools," high school student Diana Larius said.

High school student Jose Arias from Aptos added, "It's really important for us high schoolers, students, and anyone in in the state of California because it depends on our future."

In June we did not know the results of the cigarette tax for two weeks. It eventually lost by less than one percentage point. (full story)

Surge in mail-in voting could delay California results

San Jose Mercury News, By Hannah Dreier, November 1, 2012


With as many as half of California voters expected to cast their ballots by mail and several statewide contests narrowing to dead heats, Election Day has the potential to morph into election week.

The number of California voters casting mail-in ballots this year is expected to surpass 2008, when about 42 percent of the 13.7 million ballots cast in the presidential election were sent by mail. By comparison, 25 percent voted by mail in 2000.

The state distributed 8.9 million mail-in ballots this election cycle, about 20 percent more than were requested in 2008.

The rise in mail-in voting means that some of the highest-profile contests, from a statewide tax initiative to nationally watched congressional races, might not be decided by the time voters go to bed on Election Day if enough of those voters wait until the last minute to turn in their ballots.

"We've given people more avenues to vote, but to ensure there's no fraud and error, we have to take more time to verify the ballots," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "We've traded speed for convenience."

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In the Central Valley, incumbent Democrat Rep. Jerry McNerney and Republican challenger Ricky Gill are prepared to wait days to know their fates. The redrawn 9th Congressional District is among the most competitive in the state.

"We're prepared for any contingency here, and that certainly could be one of them," said Gill.

Lauren Smith, spokeswoman for the McNerney campaign, said a prolonged wait would disappoint supporters.

"It's an energy and excitement thing," she said. "It's a like Christmas Eve, and all of a sudden you're told Christmas is two days later."

The rise of mail-in voting likely contributed to the wait earlier this year for a verdict on Proposition 29, which would have raised the state's tobacco tax for the first time since 1998.

The initiative on the June primary ballot lost by less than 1 percentage point during an election in which 65 percent of voters cast mail-in ballots.

County election officials are approving overtime and hiring extra workers to process the hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots already starting to flood their offices.

Contra Costa County Registrar of Voters Steve Weir said he plans to triple his staff in the coming days.

"We'll have 80, 90 people working in every cranny of our warehouse," he said. (full story)

Surge in mail-in voting could delay Calif. results

KCRA, November 1, 2012


With as many as half of California voters expected to cast their ballots by mail and several statewide contests narrowing to dead heats, Election Day has the potential to morph into election week.

The number of California voters casting mail-in ballots this year is expected to surpass 2008, when about 42 percent of the 13.7 million ballots cast in the presidential election were sent by mail. By comparison, 25 percent voted by mail in 2000.

The state distributed 8.9 million mail-in ballots this election cycle, about 20 percent more than were requested in 2008.

"I can really sit down, think about what I want to do, mark my ballot," said Geraldine Nicholson, as she dropped off her completed ballot at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office.

The rise in mail-in voting means that some of the highest-profile contests, from a statewide tax initiative to nationally watched congressional races, might not be decided by the time voters go to bed on Election Day if enough of those voters wait until the last minute to turn in their ballots.

"They want to make sure. They wait until the last minute in case something changes (in the political races)," Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine told KCRA 3.

LaVine estimated that about one-fifth of vote-by-mail ballots were left at polling places during the November 2008 general election and predicted that number would go higher during next Tuesday's election.

"We've given people more avenues to vote, but to ensure there's no fraud and error, we have to take more time to verify the ballots," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "We've traded speed for convenience."

Absentee ballots take longer to count because elections workers must compare the signature on the mailed envelope with the one on that voter's registration card. (full story)

Number of California voters reaches record levels

Los Angeles Times, By Patrick McGreevy and Evan Halper, October 31, 2012


The number of Californians who can now vote has surged to record levels — passing 18 million for the first time — a leap that could affect the outcome of contests across the ballot next week.

More than 1.4 million new voters have signed up, nearly 50% of them online under a new law that kicked in six weeks ago allowing electronic registration. They tend to be younger and more left-leaning than the state's general voting population, according to Political Data Inc., a bipartisan firm that analyzed county reports.

That gives Democrats, who already dominate state politics, a big boost; they outnumber Republicans among the new voters by more than 2 to 1. The highest number of registered voters until now was 17.3 million, in February 2009.

The newly enfranchised could loom large in Gov. Jerry Brown's push for tax increases, which is teetering in the polls. Brown has been pitching Proposition 30 to college students lately in a blitz of campaign appearances and social media outreach efforts expected to last until election day.

Independent voters, whose numbers also have risen, are considered key to Brown's effort. A third of those who recently registered did so without a party preference or with a minor party.

The fresh registrants also could tip the balance in congressional races where Democrats hope to make gains in their uphill battle to retake control of the House; in more than a dozen House districts, Democratic registration rose slightly. And the new voters could help Democrats seeking to secure the state Senate and Assembly supermajorities required to raise taxes.

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Other factors, such as a growing pool of voting-age Californians and the registration increase that typically accompanies a presidential election, were also at work, said Kim Alexander, who heads the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. Her group promoted the new law.

She said the online effort brought in "typically underrepresented" young residents.

In some areas, registration increased by as much as 10%. That shifts the dynamic in at least two state legislative races.

In the 40th Assembly District in San Bernardino County, Democrats have reversed a GOP registration edge. Republican incumbent Mike Morrell of Rancho Cucamonga is fighting Democrat Russ Warner, also of Rancho Cucamonga, for the newly drawn seat.

And Democrats regained an advantage they had previously lost in a hotly contested race for the 31st state Senate District, in Riverside County. Republican Assemblyman Jeff Miller of Corona is running there against Democrat Richard Roth of Riverside.

Meanwhile, GOP officials had anticipated the Democratic uptick and were working to blunt its effect by scrambling to register more Republicans. They say some new GOP voters are not reflected in the Political Data report.

"We will figure out whether it makes a material difference on election day," said Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), minority leader in the state Senate.

Republicans expressed doubt that the online system had effectively rooted out people not eligible to vote.

"There are not enough safeguards to prove that someone's online identity matches their true identity," said Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare.

Where Republicans see safeguards, Democrats see barriers. Brown this year signed a law, also over GOP opposition, that a few years from now will allow Californians to register to vote on election day. (full story)

Spending for California's initiatives reaches $350 million

San Jose Mercury News, By Juliet Williams and Judy Lin, October 31, 2012


The campaigns for and against the 11 initiatives on California's November ballot have raised an astonishing $350 million on causes ranging from Gov. Jerry Brown's tax increase to a labeling requirement for genetically modified food.

Californians can thank a handful of billionaires and millionaires for jamming the airwaves and mailboxes with a barrage of advertising, as individuals are the biggest mega-donors this campaign season. In many cases, the opposition campaigns are spending even more than supporters as they seek to kill initiatives that threaten their political power.

The initiative attracting many of the biggest donations is one targeting the political power of unions. Proposition 32 likely will end up with more than $120 million in spending for and against it.

Supporters are likely to spend more than $50 million backing the attempt to undercut the political clout of unions by prohibiting them from raising money from dues deducted from paychecks. Unions and other Democratic supporters opposing it have given more than $60 million so far to fight the initiative.

The rich and powerful pouring money into campaigns this year include a brother and sister with divergent political views who are approaching a combined $100 million in spending, a former hedge fund investor pushing a tax increase targeting out-of-state corporations and an insurance tycoon who is asking Californians to give insurance companies more leeway to set rates.

But unlimited spending does not assure victory, at least when it comes to initiatives, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to improve the election process. California voters defeat initiatives more often than they approve them.

"It's very hard to pass an initiative, but it's not that hard to defeat an initiative if you have money on your side," Alexander said. "I do credit California voters with doing the hard work to make informed choices. When people are in doubt, they often vote no or they skip propositions."

She and others said it is too soon to know whether the 2012 spending will break California campaign records.

The $350 million figure was compiled by MapLight, a nonpartisan group that seeks greater transparency in campaign spending, based on reports filed with the California secretary of state's office through Oct. 25. (full story)

Insurance billionaire defends initiative spending

San Jose Mercury News, By Hannah Dreier, October 27, 2012


George Joseph, the up-by-the-bootstraps billionaire funding Proposition 33 on the November ballot, says he tried to find a way to change state insurance law without spending $32 million, but ran out of options.

After failing to win permission from the courts and the Legislature to charge drivers based on their history of coverage, the nonagenarian founder of Mercury General Corp. spent $15.8 million of company money on a 2010 ballot measure that would have accomplished the same thing. That measure lost, with 48 percent of voters supporting it, but the narrowness of the defeat convinced him to come back this year. He has spent $16 million of his own money to bankroll a nearly identical initiative on the November ballot.

"I tried to do it cheaper; I tried to do it through the Legislature," Joseph said of his latest effort to roll back a provision of California's landmark consumer protection law. "The last time we did this, we barely lost the election."

The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, founded by the author the 1988 initiative regulating insurance rates, has fought Joseph at every turn and portrayed him alternately as an obsessive Captain Ahab and a greedy Mr. Grinch.

But Joseph, who is ranked by Forbes magazine as the 392nd-richest American, said he is not in need of vacation homes or yachts: What he wants is a way for his company steal customers from the competition.

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Joseph said he is bankrolling this year's initiative himself because rank-and-file Mercury employees grumbled about the millions the Los Angeles-based company spent on the 2010 measure.

"A lot of our people didn't get very much of a bonus that year," Joseph said. "There was a lot of criticism that we spent this money and it didn't really help the employees any."

The former World War II bomber navigator spent 50 years turning Mercury into California's fourth largest auto insurance company, pioneering the art of risk assessment and becoming one of the state's wealthiest residents.

The campaign in support of Proposition 33 has attempted to paint him as an eccentric workaholic with a strong belief in the value of competition. But critics say voters are unlikely to separate Joseph from the special interest he represents.

"When you get to billionaire status, I think you're pretty much indistinguishable from your company," said Consumer Watchdog founder Harvey Rosenfield, who has been sparring with Joseph since the 1980s.

Joseph stepped down as Mercury's chief executive officer in 2006, pledging to spend more time lobbying for insurance industry interests. Even so, he comes to work each day in his 2007 BMW 7 Series. In addition to his direct campaign spending, he has given $2 million to the California Republican Party over the last two years.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said she could not recall a time when voters have approved an initiative funded exclusively by a single rich individual. But she is not surprised that California's most affluent keep trying.

"It's a gambit," she said. "People who make it in business take risks, and nothing could be riskier than the California initiative process." (full story)

Big spenders bankroll California propositions, but money doesn't guarantee passage

KABC-TV, October 26, 2012


The numbers show some very wealthy people are spending a record amount of money on campaigns to either pass or defeat key state propositions on the November ballot. There's nothing critics can do to stop the spending. But big spending doesn't always pay off at the polls.

Six of the 11 statewide ballot measures Californians will be deciding next month have very wealthy people bankrolling one side.

New campaign finance reports compiled by identified some of the biggest donors

Molly Munger has contributed $44 million to her own Proposition 38 campaign to fund public schools through an income-tax increase.

Her brother, Charles Munger, has given $36 million to defeat his sister's rival, Governor Jerry Brown's tax measure Proposition 30. Charles also hopes the money helps win approval for Prop. 32, which curtails labor unions' influence in politics.

Venture capitalist Tom Steyer has spent $29 million of his own money for green energy projects spelled out in his Proposition 39.

And Mercury Insurance founder George Joseph has pumped $16 million into Prop. 33, which changes how car insurance rates are calculated.

The U.S. Supreme Court says it's OK to give unlimited amounts of money to ballot measures.

"I think it's telling voters that the initiative process isn't for everyone," said Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation. "When you see this many wealthy people crowded all on one ballot together, putting in these giant sums of money, it's really unprecedented." (fully story, video)

Busting Through Ballot Confusion in California

New American Media, October 24, 2012


Marielos Moreno is worried because she doesn’t understand any of the propositions that will be on the ballot in November.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to need help. I don’t know anything about politics,” said Moreno, a Salvadoran immigrant who works as a nanny in Vacaville, Calif., and will vote for the first time in the Nov. 6 presidential election.

Marielos isn’t alone. The average California voter doesn’t understand the ballot initiatives, especially the ones having to do with higher taxes and government reform.

PROPOSITION 30 Vs. 38: This year it’s even more complicated because there are competing initiatives. For example, Prop 30, proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would result in a quarter-cent increase in the state sales tax for four years. And it would raise income taxes for seven years for those making over $250,000 annually.

If voters pass Prop 30, the state would receive $6 billion to fund K-12 education, community colleges and universities. That would also free up state funds for other needs. If the measure doesn’t pass, it would trigger automatic cuts to education.

Proposition 38 seeks to increase virtually all state taxes for 12 years, from a 0.4 percent increase for low-wage earners to a 2.2 percent increase for those with a salary of more than $2.5 million. The proceeds would go for schools, to pay down the state deficit and, to a lesser extent, to fund early childhood programs. This initiative would not direct any funding to higher education.

If voters approve both Props 30 and 38, the one with more votes will go into effect where the two conflict, according to California law. For instance, if Prop 38 gets more votes, and Prop 30 also passes, the state would enact Prop 30’s section continuing state funds for public safety services transferred to local governments. That’s not included in Prop 38.

If there’s anyone who sees the difficulty for average voters in comprehending ballot propositions it’s Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at California State University, Los Angeles, and former director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs.

“They’re very confusing and difficult since they are written by lawyers, and they have technical language with titles that often have little to do with what the proposition seeks to achieve,” he explained.

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"THE PROPOSITION SONG": Realizing how difficult it is for voters to understand the initiatives, the nonpartisan, nonprofit California Voter Foundation decided to make a song about it – “The Proposition Song.” The catchy tune explains each of the propositions on the ballot in one line in a simple, upbeat way.

"We hope our new proposition song gives voters an entertaining and informative alternative to the negative campaign ads that inundate our airwaves," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, in a statement.

Here is the link to the proposition song.

The only drawback is that the proposition song is only in English. (full story)

California Voter Registration Likely to Hit Record High

KPBS, By Amy Quinton, October 23, 2012


California’s Secretary of State said voter registration for the November election could reach a record high.

In the final 45 days leading up to this week’s deadline, more than 679,000 Californians were added to the state’s voter rolls. And county elections offices are continuing to verify thousands of additional applications.

Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation said of the 679,000 registrants, 381,000 registered online.

“Slightly more than half of them came into the system through the online registration system, while the other half used paper," explained Alexander. "That tells us two things, it tells us that the online system is incredibly popular and it also tells us we need to keep the paper system around because a lot of people are using that too." (full story)

California Voter Registration Likely to Hit Record High

KXJZ, By Amy Quinton, October 23, 2012


While it's not official yet, California is on target to have more registered voters than its record high set back in February of 2009.

More than 679,000 people registered to vote in the final 45 days leading up to this week's registration deadline.

The Secretary of State's Office says those numbers will go up as county elections officials continue to verify applications.

Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation called online registration a success since more than half of the 679,000 people registered online.

ALEXANDER: "You have to re-register to vote every time you move and that particularly effects young people who are the ones who are most likely mobile, so have an online option to not only register online but to update their registration is going to enable a lot more people to participate."

The Secretary of State says final voter registration numbers will be available on November 2nd. (full story)

State measure spending among highest yet

San Francisco Chronicle, By Wyatt Buchanan, October 19, 2012


Supporters and opponents of the 11 propositions on the November ballot already have contributed nearly $300 million toward passing and defeating those measures, with more than two weeks still to go until election day, according to a new analysis of campaign funding.

Groups that monitor money in politics said the funding is among the highest ever in California.

The analysis was conducted for The Chronicle by MapLight, the nonpartisan Berkeley organization that tracks money in politics. It found that as of this week, $292 million had been collected by dozens of committees advocating support or opposition to the propositions.

That total undoubtedly will climb as election day approaches.

Kim Alexander, the president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, said, "I think it's safe to say it's going to be up there amongst the most expensive ballots ever seen in California. I'm not sure it's going to break the record, but it's certainly up there in the stratosphere."

The foundation last tallied total contributions to ballot measures in the 2004 general election and concluded that a new record was set with just under $200 million. But the 2006 election also had a series of well-financed propositions that together may account for higher spending than this year's propositions, Alexander said.

Money contributed for ballot propositions does not almost continually break records, as is seen in candidate races like the contest for president. The biggest factors are the number of measures on the ballot and the size of the pockets of the interests supporting or opposing the measures.

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Alexander of the California Voter Foundation said she would like to see changes to California's storied direct democracy system to give those who aren't wealthy more of an opportunity to participate. One of those would be to lengthen the amount of time proponents have to collect signatures to put something on the ballot, which is currently 150 days and hasn't been increased since the inception of the initiative system 100 years ago.

She also said disclosure about who is funding a measure should be included in the voter guide.

Still, Californians are protective of the system, and a single monied interest has never outright bought an election, convincing voters to pass something that is not in their interest, she said.

"You can't win an initiative without money, but you can't win with only money," Alexander said. (fulll story)

California Ballot Initiatives, Born in Populism, Now Come From Billionaires

New York Times, By Norimitsu Onishi, October 18, 2012


Next month, California voters will be asked to consider 11 ballot propositions whose passage would carry the full force of law, an exercise in direct democracy that traces back to the Progressive Era of the early 20th century.

This time around, though, four of them are initiatives of single rich individuals, while others are being challenged by equally wealthy critics pouring in millions of dollars to defeat them — a sign, in this era of “super PACs” and Citizens United, of the increasingly sophisticated use of the populist tool by the wealthy to influence politics in the nation’s most populous state.

Tom Steyer, the founder of Farallon Capital Management, a hedge fund based here, has spent $22 million on Proposition 39 to rescind a three-year-old tax benefit given to out-of-state companies. In an interview, Mr. Steyer said he decided to finance the initiative after leaders in the Democratic-controlled Legislature failed to eliminate the break themselves.

“I’m someone who believes that actually the best thing we can have is a highly respected and competent Legislature,” Mr. Steyer said. “But it seemed as if there was a need for somebody to do something, and I have a bad enough temper that I figured I wasn’t going to wait any longer.”

Joining Mr. Steyer on their own deep-pocketed crusades are George Joseph, a billionaire insurance executive hoping to change the state’s auto insurance laws; Chris Kelly, a former Facebook executive who has spent $2.1 million on a proposal to crack down on human traffickers that critics say is intended to burnish his own future political prospects; and Molly Munger, the wealthy daughter of Warren E. Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway, who has mounted a tax initiative aimed at derailing Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative.

To be sure, rich individuals have sponsored ballot initiatives to advance pet projects in the past. But now they are doing so in greater numbers and using their resources to build coalitions with like-minded groups to increase the success rate of their initiatives and actually help set government policy, experts said.

“Their level of giving is something we haven’t seen before,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a private organization that has long tracked the money behind ballot initiatives. “We’ve seen companies giving that much, and unions and PACs that have a lot at stake giving $10, $20 million in an election, but you didn’t see that so much for individual donors. So that’s something that is bringing us to a new level this cycle.”

Supporters say the ballot initiatives will help break the partisan gridlock in Sacramento. Critics say that the increasing involvement of rich individuals perverts the original intent of the initiatives, established by reformers like California’s Gov. Hiram W. Johnson to empower the electorate and curtail the influence of the Gilded Age’s special interests.

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Others have questioned the motive behind the initiative, which experts say is the kind that could pass the Legislature.

“It could be something that makes Chris Kelly say: ‘Hey, I brought you this initiative. It was backed by 80 percent of the people, and this is going to help launch my career,’ ” Mr. Kousser said.

Even before Californians vote yes or no, the self-financed initiatives are having an outsize impact on government.

With more than three weeks left before Election Day, Ms. Munger, the daughter of Charles Munger and a civil rights lawyer, has already spent $31 million on her tax-raising initiative, Proposition 38, which could derail Governor Brown’s own tax-increase plan, Proposition 30. Her brother, Charles Jr., a physicist, has funneled $22 million into efforts against the governor’s measure and in support of yet another initiative to outlaw political donations by labor unions.

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Proposition 38, which would redirect the extra tax revenues toward education, waved away criticism that rich individuals like Ms. Munger have an undue influence through the ballot initiatives. He said that the political establishment behind the governor’s plan was also attacking Ms. Munger, whom a leader of the campaign against Proposition 38 compared to Marie Antoinette.

“This is a classic battle between an idealistic outsider and the Praetorian Guard of the status quo,” Mr. Ballard said. (full story)

VIDEO: Sing along to 'The Proposition Song' as you mark your California ballot

Represent!, October 18, 2012


It's that time of year again — when the folks at the California Voter Foundation puts out its latest version of "The Proposition Song." It's designed to help voters navigate the eleven ballot measures on the November ballot.

Trouble sorting through the ballot? Try new 'Proposition Song

Kim Alexander, founder of the non-partisan organization, calls it a "labor of love" with a "short shelf life." She wrote the lyrics, which are set to a traditional folk melody, and recruited five musician friends to perform the ditty. They've performed it at several Sacramento establishments. (full story)

Trouble sorting through the ballot? Try new 'Proposition Song'

Sacramento Bee, October 18, 2012


The nonpartisan California Voter Foundation has released "The Proposition Song" to introduce voters to the 11 ballot measures whose fate will be decided in the Nov. 6 election.

The nonprofit group, which tracks the state's election process, produced similar ditties for the 2000, 2006 and 2010 elections.

Foundation President Kim Alexander wrote the lyrics to this year's song, which features a traditional folk melody. She and five musician friends recorded it Oct. 3 at Capital Public Radio's downtown Sacramento studio.

"We hope our new 'Proposition Song' gives voters an entertaining and informative alternative to the negative campaign advertising filling our state's airwaves," Alexander said in a written statement. (full story)

State hotline gave wrong information on voter registration deadline

Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2012


Californians who want to cast ballots in next month's election can register to vote as late as Oct. 22, but that is not what many people heard Monday when they called a voter hotline operated by the California secretary of state's office.

Some callers to (800) 345-VOTE got a recorded message giving correct information, but others heard an inaccurate message saying, "Voter registration for the Nov. 6 election is now closed."

The incorrect message was removed from the hotline at 4:15 p.m. Monday, according to an email from Shannan Velayas, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

Velayas said the hotline can handle 24 calls at once before rolling over to a backup phone line. The incorrect message, which was supposed to begin running Oct. 23, was mistakenly included on the rollover line, she said, adding that a communications contractor is responsible for the error is and trying to find out what caused it.

Kim Alexander of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, which seeks to encourage people to participate in elections, said, "Registering and voting is confusing enough as it is. It's unfortunate the secretary of state's office is contributing to the confusion.''

This year, Californians can register to vote online by going to (full story)

Calif voting line gave wrong registration deadline

San Jose Mercury News, October 16, 2012


Already bombarded by conflicting campaign ads and ballot propositions, some Californians became even more confused when a message on the state's official voting hotline provided a wrong deadline for voter registration, an election official said Tuesday.

Some callers heard a message Monday saying, "Voter registration for the Nov. 6 election is now closed." In fact, voters have until Oct. 22 to register.

The problem was fixed by late Monday afternoon, Secretary of State spokeswoman Shannan Velayas said.

She said the system is getting 500 calls a day and rolls over to a backup line on the rare occasions when it hits capacity. The backup line was giving out the incorrect message, Velayas said.

The state's contractor, AT&T, said it gave incorrect instructions to the person administering the hotline.

"We helped get it corrected right away," AT&T spokesman John Britton said. "We're sorry for any inconvenience."

The mix-up may have discouraged some already overwhelmed voters, said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

"Elections are a very brief window of time when people pay attention to things like whether they're registered to vote," she said. "We have this fleeting opportunity to pull people into the process."

Californians can register to vote online for the first time this year. The new system attracted more than 400,000 users during its first three weeks. (full story)

California's online voter registration a hit

The Reporter , By Don Thompson, October 14, 2012


A new law allowing Californians to register to vote online appears to be having its intended effect, attracting more than 400,000 users in its first three weeks.

That may not be good news for Republicans. Nearly a third of online registrants were younger than 26 and were 2 1/2 times more likely to register as Democrats than Republicans, according to an early sampling of nearly 51,000 online registrations by Political Data Inc., a nonpartisan company that provides detailed voter information.

About one-third were not affiliated with either major party.

If the trend holds, it could further erode Republicans' share of the California electorate, which has dipped to 30 percent of registered voters.

Young voters made up 28 percent of those registering online in the early review done by Political Data. That was seven times as many as those over age 65.

The numbers make sense, said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. Online registration tends to attract younger, more mobile voters, she said, and they are more likely to register as Democrats or independents.

One of those is 22-year-old Amy Howard of San Francisco, a senior sociology major at the University of California, Davis who registered online as a Democrat this week.

"Online is just easier to do. It's just so accessible, I didn't have to go out of my way and spend time mailing it," she said. "It appeals to younger people because they've been around computers probably since they were born or were really young."

Jane Richardson, a 22-year-old senior design major at UC Davis, is a registered Democrat from Piedmont who changed her address online. (full story)

Young voters lead surge in online registration

Ventura County Star , By Timm Herdt, October 11, 2012


Californians by the tens of thousands are embracing the state's new online voter registration process, as the Secretary of State's Office reported this week that 380,000 people have used the system over its first three weeks of operation.

"It's astronomical. It's through the roof," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

Before the website went into operation Sept. 19, all voter registrations in the state had to be submitted on paper.

An analysis of data provided by selected counties, including Ventura, shows that the online system's greatest appeal appears to be with young voters.

Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc. reports that of about 51,000 online registration forms submitted in counties that are separately tracking them, 28 percent have come from voters under 26. Of the existing 17.4 million registered voters statewide, only 12 percent are under 26.

Conversely, only 4 percent of online forms have come from people over 65 — an age group that makes up 19 percent of existing voters.

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Elections officials note the receipt of 380,000 forms does not necessarily mean an increase of that amount in the voter rolls. Those forms must be verified by county elections officials before the registration is recorded, and many are likely not new registrations, but rather updated registrations submitted by voters who have moved since the last election.

Alexander said easy access to voter registration is especially important to young voters, who tend to move much more frequently than older adults.

"It's hard to get your hands on a paper registration form in this state," she said. "This makes voter registration and registration updates far more accessible."

The analysis of state online voter registrations also suggests a partisan tilt, as 49 percent of online registrants are Democrats, compared with 40 percent of existing voters. Only 19 percent of online registrants so far have been Republicans, compared with 34 percent of existing voters. Those with no party preference account for 31 percent of online registrations, and make up 26 percent of existing voters.

Alexander cautioned against reading too much into those initial figures because they represent a relatively small sample of the total and do not include reports from the state's two largest counties, Los Angeles and San Diego.

She noted, however, that the partisan breakdown likely reflects the high rate of use of the online system by younger voters. A report released by the Public Policy Institute of California this week shows existing voters under 34 are much more likely to be Democrats (45 percent) or independents (28 percent), than to be Republicans (22 percent).

Elections officials anticipate a surge in voter registration between now and the Oct. 22 deadline to register to participate in the Nov. 6 election. (full story)

California facilita registro para votantes

LA Opinion , By Pilar Marrero, October 10, 2012


Mientras en otros estados del país se aprueban leyes para dificultar el acceso al voto, en California se trabaja en todo lo contrario: tan sólo en las dos primeras semanas del nuevo sistema para registrarse en Internet, 220,000 personas utilizaron esa herramienta que tan sólo este y otros 11 estados ofrece a sus ciudadanos.

El programa comenzó el pasado 19 de septiembre y permite llenar un formulario en línea que luego es transmitido directamente a la Secretaría de Estado de California para su verificación. Antes se podía llenar el formulario de registro en línea pero había que imprimirlo y mandarlo por correo.

Shannan Velayas, portavoz de la Secretaría de Estado indicó que por el momento el programa de registro en línea ha sido un éxito, pero que la cantidad no significa que todos esos son nuevos votantes, toda cuenta que cada registro debe ser verificado primero por los funcionarios electorales y que parte de esa cantidad son "actualizaciones" de personas ya registradas anteriormente.

California tiene un sistema electoral relativamente más incluyente que otros estados, aunque dista mucho de ser perfecto, apunta Kim Alexander, directora de Cal Voter Foundation, una organización educativa no partidaria que impulsa mejoras al sistema electoral.

"En algunas cosas somos muy progresistas y en otras estamos atrasados respecto a otros estados", dijo Alexander. "Aquí, por ejemplo, damos más tiempo a la gente para que se registre y nuestros requisitos de voter I.D. no son tan escrictos. Uno puede votar por correo permanentemente y no necesita una razón válida para hacerlo como en otros estados".

En muchos estados del país ya se cumplió la fecha límite para registrarse. En California sin embargo, se puede hacer hasta el próximo 22 de octubre, dos semanas antes de la elección presidencial del 6 de Noviembre.

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En California, a diferencia de otros estados, no hay que justificar el voto por correo y uno puede inscribirse permanentemente para recibir la boleta y votar enviándola luego por la misma vía o llevándola el día de la elección a cualquier precinto del condado donde está registrado el votante.

La fecha límite para pedir una boleta para votar por correo es el 30 de octubre.

En California, a diferencia de lo que está ocurriendo en otros estados, no hay que llevar un tipo de identificación específica para votar o registrarse. Cuando uno se registra proporciona información básica de identidad, como un número de licencia de manejar, de tarjeta de i.d. o de seguro social. Ese número se verifica electrónicamente y se comprueba así que la persona es elegible para votar.

"Solamente si la personas se registró y no dio uno de esos números o referencias al registrarse puede ser que se le pida una forma de identificación", dijo Velayas.

California es más liberal que otros estados en el tipo de identificación que se puede usar para demostrar esa elegibilidad, señaló Alexander. Mientras otros estados piden una lista muy estricta de ID´s, dificultando que algunos votantes tengan ese documento disponible, en el caso de California ese documento puede ser una factura de la luz, pasaporte, carnet estudiantil con foto, etc.

No obstante Alexander apuntó que California podría mejorar aún más su sistema si se dedicara a implementar medidas que ya se han aprobado, como establecer la base de datos estatal que permita implementar el "registro de día electoral" que ya fue aprobado, y que permitirá registrarse hasta el mismo día de las elecciones. (full story)

Top donors go all in on state ballot measures

California Watch , By Will Evans, October 12, 2012


The top 10 donors to November's state ballot measures – a smattering of extremely wealthy people, powerful unions and large corporations – have dumped more than $150 million into the fight so far, according to campaign finance tracker

The mega-donors include politically opposed siblings, a 91-year-old car insurance magnate, a conservative group that keeps its donors secret and a teachers union that has outspent every other special interest in the last decade. tracks the top donors of each ballot initiative on its Voter's Edge website.

At the top of the list this year is civil rights attorney Molly Munger, who has given nearly $30 million of her own fortune to pass Proposition 38 [PDF], which would raise taxes to fund K-12 education. Her father is a billionaire business partner of Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway.

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Joseph has been fighting for the change for years. His company spent $15.8 million on a similar 2010 initiative, but it failed at the ballot box. Opponents have criticized Joseph for trying to benefit his own company.

"I really think he wants to leave this as his legacy," said Prop. 33 spokeswoman Rachel Hooper. "He really believes that the insurance industry can be more competitive and robust."

This year stands out for the number of mega-donors and the huge gush of funding, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

"The amount of money is at levels that I haven't seen among individual donors," she said.

Deep pockets are necessary to pay signature gatherers and qualify an initiative for the ballot, but money isn't everything, Alexander said.

"You can’t win an initiative campaign without money, but you can’t win with only money, either," she said. "I have yet to see anyone buy an initiative."

Most initiatives fail. And it's easier to kill an initiative with big money than to pass one, she said.

Alexander also points to a few measures that made it to the ballot with less money. Proposition 34 [PDF] would repeal the death penalty; Proposition 36 [PDF] would alter the state's three strikes law; and Proposition 37 [PDF] would require labeling of genetically engineered foods. All raised millions, but nowhere near the amounts that the tax measures have garnered.

"None of those have a ton of money, and none of those would go anywhere in the Legislature," Alexander said. "And that’s why you have the initiative process."

The food labeling measure does have deep-pocketed opponents. Monsanto and DuPont, companies that make genetically modified seeds, have spent $7 million and $5 million, respectively, to defeat Prop. 37. Both could be affected if food companies switch to non-genetically modified ingredients, as critics of the measure fear.

In a report [PDF] this week, the Public Policy Institute of California called for more transparency in the initiative process.

"Voters are often uncertain about the identity and motives of initiative proponents and opponents," it said.

Those interests should be disclosed on official voter pamphlets and actual ballots, the report recommended. Legislation that would have listed top donors on voter pamphlets was vetoed by Brown last year. (full story)

California makes it easier for residents to vote

Sacramento Bee, By Laurel Rosenhall, October 8, 2012


California is bucking a national trend this election season, making it easier for people to vote while many states are making it harder.

Those forms you may remember picking up from the library or post office are no longer necessary to register to vote. With a few mouse clicks, Californians can now register or update their registration.

Because of a law Gov. Jerry Brown signed last month, state residents also should be able to register to vote as late as Election Day by the next presidential election in 2016.

Over time, experts believe, the changes will add many new voters to the rolls – especially those who are young or non-white, groups less likely to register now.

Compare that with other parts of the country, where lawmakers are reducing registration opportunities or establishing new requirements that voters show photo identification at the polls.

The reason for the difference can be explained largely by politics.

States passing voter ID laws tend to be controlled by Republicans. They argue the need to thwart voter fraud, but also tend to benefit from a smaller, more conservative electorate.

Democrats, in charge in California, argue that the electoral process needs to be accessible to more people – a dynamic that helps their candidates' chances. Young people are driving California's population shift toward more diversity.

"If you bring in younger voters, you bring in ethnic voters, and they're more likely in California and probably in other states to vote for Democrats," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll that tracks voter demographics. "So expanding the voter rolls will help Obama and the Democrats."

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said the "political stars aligned" to expand voter access in California with the election of a Democratic governor in addition to the Democratic legislative majorities and secretary of state.

"That's not the case in many other states," she said.

In the last two years, the number of states requiring voters to show photo ID has grown from two to eight, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, though courts blocked the photo ID law in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, and are reviewing it in South Carolina.

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It was a successful bill last year that led to this year's creation of an online voter registration system. In the two weeks since it went live, 220,000 people have used it to register or update their registrations, according to the secretary of state's office.

"California has found a way to make it easier for people to register to vote without making it easier for people to commit fraud," Secretary of State Debra Bowen said.

She dismissed the argument that online registration would aid her Democratic Party, saying that many other states with online registration have Republican secretaries of state or Republican-dominated legislatures.

"So the argument that it is partisan and allows fraud is inaccurate," Bowen said. "I believe it will make our registration more accurate because we can tie a particular voter to their driver's license. … So it's easier to avoid duplicates that can happen when a voter moves from one county to another."

Nationwide, Republicans have led the charge in arguing that fraud at the polls is a problem that needs attention. In fact, several experts said, the most frequent kind of election fraud happens during registration. Most recently, Republicans have come under scrutiny in California, Florida, Nevada and Colorado for hiring people who allegedly fraudulently registered voters to their party.

All of it reflects a country grappling with a massive shift in the ways people vote, said Stephen Ansolabehere, a political science professor at Harvard.

"We've been moving rapidly toward expanding registration, trying to allow people to vote anywhere, and there's been this backlash – like how do we know the right people are voting?" he said.

Yet the belief that new voting laws will have a massive effect on political representation is overblown, Ansolabehere said. People who don't vote tend slightly to be lower-income and less-educated, he said, groups that frequently vote Democratic.

So expanding access for them would move the electorate "a little bit toward the Democrats," he said. "But not a lot." (full story)

Election Law and 'The Voting Wars'

KQED, By Michael Krasny, October 3, 2012


In the 12 years since armies of lawyers argued over hanging chads in Florida, election-related lawsuits have more than doubled. Law professor and election law expert Richard Hasen says we should expect even more bitter, partisan disputes over election law in coming years. We'll discuss voter ID laws, claims of voter fraud and voter suppression, plus Hasen's new book, "The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown."

Host: Michael Krasny

Richard Hasen, chancellor's professor of law and political science at the U.C. Irvine School of Law, and author of "The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown"
Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a non-partisan nonprofit working to improve the voting process to better serve voters (audio)

The Digital Vote: States and Nonprofits Push for Voter Registration Online

American Public Media, By David Brancaccio, September 24, 2012


Let's start with the anatomy of a troll: First you email. Then you follow up with a text. Then, if all else fails, you place a phone call. All of this to get your kid in college to register to vote. Technology to the rescue?

"The only thing you should be thinking about when you're voting is who you're going to vote for. We want to make it so that you don't have to worry about the what, where, what forms," says Seth Flaxman, co-founder and executive director of Turbovote, a start up based in New York. He is interested in removing what he sees as the "friction" in the process of registering.

Turbovote is of one of a host of websites that try to make sure you are on the voter rolls ahead of the election. Which is nice. But Turbovote's real strength is that it won't give up on you after this election day November 6.

"More importantly, we keep you registered and help you vote in all of your elections, local to presidential over the course of your lifetime no matter where you move," Flaxman says. He wants to make the registration process as easy as renting a DVD from Netflix.

Turbovote is a non-profit, but the company does not just give the service away. Flaxman is selling it to a dozen non-profits and about 50 colleges, full of all those early-adopter college students.

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Meanwhile just the other day, California inaugurated its own system for online voter registration. The software can verify signatures using those on file for driver licenses. It's the twelfth state to do this. Proponents are waiting to see what happens when the crunch time hits the system, when the deadline for registering in California looms on Oct 22.

"We saw a little bit of glitchiness on the first day when everyone was hitting it repeatedly, so there is ... concern about whether there's that capacity to handle what we expect to be a very heavy load," says Kim Alexander, president of the non-partisan California Voter Foundation, a non-profit which works to improve the voting system. "We have 6.9 million Californians who are eligible to vote and they have about a month to get registered if they want to vote in the Presidential election."

Computerizing registration also helps with the age-old problem of clerks having to decipher handwriting on forms filled out with pen and paper. Computerized registration is one thing. As for actual online voting? There have been pilot projects, but it will be a while before we can vote in our pajamas. Problem number one: hacking. (full story)

Calif. allows complete voter registration online

San Jose Mercury News, By Judy Lin, September 19, 2012


California elections officials hope to make signing up to vote easier than ever through an online registration system that launched Wednesday.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen called the new process "great news for democracy." She was joined by state lawmakers and voter advocates in Sacramento to announce the web feature, which is being made available for the first time ahead of the November election.

Supporters say it will help more than 6 million Californians who are qualified but have not registered. Republicans had opposed the bill that created complete online registration, saying the change could lead to voter fraud and additional costs.

Under the new law, applicants can fill out a traditional paper form or complete a form online through the secretary of state's website or at The application, which will include date of birth and the last four digits of the Social Security number, will be checked against their driver's license or the state identification card kept by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

If the information matches, an electronic image of the applicant's DMV signature will be added to the application at the end of the process.

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Californians have until Oct. 22 to register for the Nov. 6 general election, which features the presidential race and 11 statewide ballot initiatives.

The online application process is the result of legislation passed last year, SB397 by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. It comes ahead of a long-delayed statewide voter database to comply with federal requirements.
Yee said online voter registration will improve accuracy, reduce costs and allow more people to participate in elections.

"Other states in this country are looking at ways to suppress voter participation. We here in California are looking at ways of increasing that participation," he said Wednesday.

Yee was referring to several swing states including Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which are locked in politically charged legal battles over stricter voter ID laws.

California joins 11 other states that offer online registration, according to Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. They include Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

While improving efficiency, Alexander warned there are some risks in using an online system. She said three states experienced glitches that temporarily crashed online systems.
Bowen said her staff has tested the system to ensure it will be able to handle large volumes of applicants.

As of May, 17.1 million of California's 23.7 million eligible voters—or 72 percent—were registered to vote.

Shasta County Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen said she hopes online registration will entice younger voters—those between ages 18 and 27—to register because they tend to be more digitally connected.

"A year from now, we'll be able to look and see who used it more and who used it less," she said. (full story)

California begins online voter registration

Sacramento Bee, By Jim Sanders, September 19, 2012


Registering to vote will be as easy as pushing a button under a long-awaited online system to be launched today by Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

The unveiling comes at a crucial time, with balloting set Nov. 6 to decide the presidency, congressional races, legislative seats and ballot measures that include two multibillion-dollar tax hikes.

"This is great news for democracy," said Shannan Velayas, Bowen's spokeswoman. "Registering to vote will be easier than ever."

Californians will have more than a month to use the push-button registration system before the Oct. 22 deadline to qualify for casting ballots this year.

More than 6 million people have the right to register to vote, but have not yet done so, according to state records.

California's voter rolls totaled 17.1 million people – 72 percent of those eligible – shortly before the June primary election.

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Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said the new system will "create an enormously convenient opportunity for thousands and thousands of Californians."

"I think it's going to help everybody," she said when asked which party it benefits most.

Online registration is not without risks. Handling transactions electronically raises the possibility, however remote, of someone hacking into the system, Alexander said.

"You have to take extra measures to protect those systems, but I'm confident the secretary of state has given that a lot of thought," Alexander said.

Other states with online registration include Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, New York, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas and Louisiana, Alexander said.

Phillip Ung, spokesman for California Common Cause, applauded today's unveiling.

"This new system will not only save the state and counties millions of dollars, but voter information will be secure, data will be accurate, and voters will have ease of access to register to vote," he said.

Paper applications will still be available at county elections offices, DMV offices, and many post offices, libraries and government offices. (full story)

California launches online voter registration system

Los Angeles Times, By Patrick McGreevy, September 19, 2012


Californians can register to vote with the click of a mouse under a new online system launched Wednesday.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said she hopes making it easier to register to vote will mean more participation in the Nov. 6 presidential election by many of the the 6.5 million Californians who are eligible to vote but who have not yet registered.

"I think it’s going to be huge," Bowen said of the new system, noting that 3,000 people had used it to register in the first 12 hours.

Until now, Californians had to fill out an application, sign it in paper form and mail or deliver it to an official elections office before they could be put on the voter rolls, a process that could take weeks. The online system will search the Department of Motor Vehicles database for the applicant’s driver's license or identification card number, date of birth and last four digits of her Social Security number.

If the information matches what the voter provided on the registration form, the voter can authorize elections officials to use an electronic image of their DMV signature to complete the application. After that, the voter only needs to click a "submit’’ button. County elections officials would still need to verify the information.

"Today, the Internet replaces the mailbox for thousands of Californians wishing to register to vote,'' Bowen said. "Today we are taking the next step in the never-ending evolution of democracy and reaching every Californian.''

More than a quarter of the 23.7 million Californians who are eligible to vote are not registered, said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

"We have one of the lowest rates of registration in the country,’’ Alexander said. "We’re hoping that this new system will encourage more young people to get registered. This is going to make the process more accessible to more people.’’

Californians can register to vote up to 15 days before the election. For the Nov. 6 presidential election, the deadline for registering to vote is Oct. 22. The online voter registration system is reachable on the secretary of state's website here. (full story)

Online voter registration goes live in California

Ventura County Star, By Tim Herdt, September 19, 2012


California's new one-click online voter registration went live early Wednesday, but before Secretary of State Debra Bowen could officially make that announcement at an 11:30 a.m. news conference, 3,000 new voters had used the system to register.

That response was triggered only by "a few tweets" from some county elections officials who spread the news via Twitter earlier in the morning, Bowen said.

The sign-ups indicate the kind of response she anticipates from the state's first paperless voter registration process, she said. It involves going to, filling out the necessary information and clicking "send."

"This is great news for democracy," she said. "One of the main reasons people don't register to vote is because they are never asked to do so. Now, someone can ask them with an email that includes a link to online registration."

Until Wednesday, Californians could fill out a form online but had to print, sign and mail a paper document to complete the registration.

California becomes the 12th state to offer one-click online registration, a step that had been delayed until the development of an electronic system that links records from the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Secretary of State's Office with elections offices in each of the state's 58 counties.

Registrants must provide their driver's license numbers and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, which come from documents available only to U.S. citizens. Elections officials can verify the information with DMV records and also obtain a digitized signature from the DMV to use to verify voters' signatures on mail-in ballots or on sign-in rolls at voting precincts.

Bowen said submitting a registration form online is not "automatic" registration and that the forms will be subject to the same verification process used in the handling of paper registration forms.

Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, said there are an estimated 23.7 million eligible voters in the state and that 6.5 million are not registered.

Bowen said she expects the new system will quickly start making a dent in reducing that number.

"Now, nobody has an excuse not to register to vote," she said. "I expect we'll see a big surge immediately." (full story)

California launches online voter registration

Los Angeles Times, By Patrick McGreevy, September 20, 2012


Californians can register to vote with the click of a mouse in a new online system launched Wednesday.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said she hopes making the process easier will mean more participation in the Nov. 6 election. Some 6.5 million Californians who are eligible to vote are not registered, she said.

"Today, the Internet replaces the mailbox for thousands of Californians wishing to register to vote," Bowen said at a Sacramento news conference.

The new system could shave a week or more from the paper process, according to Dean Logan, the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder. Until now, every would-be voter had to fill out an application, sign it in paper form and mail or deliver it to elections officials before being added to the voter rolls.

The online system will search the Department of Motor Vehicles database for the applicant's driver's license and other identifying information and match it to the electronic form. The potential voters can authorize elections officials to use an electronic image of their DMV signature to complete the application.

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With more than a quarter of eligible Californians unregistered, "we have one of the lowest rates of registration in the country," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "We're hoping that this new system will encourage more young people to get registered. This is going to make the process more accessible to more people."

Logan said the system would be a "game changer" for the 3 million L.A. County residents who could vote if they registered.

But the new system is not without its risks, said Alexander, including the possibility — common to many computer systems — that someone might hack it.

Bowen said the new system relies on the same tough security measures already in place for those who register to vote on paper.

Of the 12 other states that have online registration, three have had systems crashes in the last year when a flood of people tried to use them just before the deadlines, Alexander said.

Bowen said she is confident California's system, which has been extensively tested, will handle the capacity. Other computer systems Bowen oversees have been plagued by crashes and other failures. (full story)

VOTER REGISTRATION: Online option now available

The Press-Enterprise, By the Editorial Board, September 19, 2012


The new online registration system launched Wednesday morning. By late afternoon, Riverside County had received the applications of 150 people who had signed up with a click of the button. About 9,600 people had applied statewide as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19.

“Though the majority of states cannot offer online voter registration, I’m here to say that the largest state in the nation is ready to roll. Now nobody has an excuse not to register to vote,” Secretary of State Debra Bowen said in Sacramento.
Riverside County and San Bernardino counties long have had among the lowest registration rates in the state. About 1 million people collectively in both counties are eligible to vote but are not registered.

Kari Verjil, the Riverside County registrar of voters, said she hopes people will take advantage of the online option.

“This is perfect timing for close of registration coming up on Oct. 22,” Verjil said. “Our commuters can do it from home.”

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“I think a lot of people will register this way and that means they won’t be filling out a form. When they're doing it themselves, then nobody has the ability to do something like change their party registration,” Bowen said.

Arizona, Washington and Kansas were the first states to offer online voter registration. Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland and New York are among the other states.

Voter advocates in California have long contended that online registration was overdue in the home of Silicon Valley.

Online voter registration, they said, would increase voter participation by making it much easier for new voters to sign up and voters of all ages to re-register after they move. Online registration also reduces the amount of paperwork and the need to enter the information into a database, preventing typos.

“We think that this change is going to make a huge difference in making it much easier and more convenient for those 6.5 million people to register to vote,” Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation said. (full story)

Editorial: Democracy run amok with too many districts

Sacramento Bee, By the Editorial Board, August 28, 2012


Fifty-six contests won't be on the ballot this year in Sacramento County, either because there are no opponents or no candidates at all. As The Bee's Loretta Kalb reported on Monday, in Placer County there are 62 such non-contested contests – again, because either no one filed to run or only one candidate did. In El Dorado County there are more than two dozen non-contested contests and in Yolo County, six.

Our region is not unusual. County registrars up and down California report a dearth of candidates particularly for obscure local boards and commissions. And they all say it is not a new phenomenon. Going back over several election cycles, the number of contests in which no one or only a single candidate, usually the incumbent, runs remains consistently high.

It is not necessarily a lack of civic engagement. Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, which seeks to improve the voting process, thinks that we have "too much democracy in California, too many elections and too many elected officials." She's right.

On Nov. 6, a typical California voter will be asked to vote for candidates vying for some two dozen elected offices, everything from president of the United States to fire district boards, from U.S. senator to local school boards. And if you're a voter in the city of Sacramento this November, you will be tasked with sifting through 54 candidates running for the city charter commission. That's too much to ask. Not even the most conscientious voter can begin to know all the issues facing every elected office on the ballot, much less be expected to vet all the candidates running.

California voters are loath to give up their right to vote for any office, but the lack of any real contests for so many local races shows the urgent need to trim back. (full story)

California Democrats push to allow Election Day postmark

Sacramento Bee, August 23, 2012


In a last-minute bill moving through the Legislature, Democratic lawmakers are seeking to expand the number of mail ballots counted in elections by extending the deadline for submitting them.

The bill would require counties to count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and arrive at registrars' offices no later than three days after the close of polls. Current law requires ballots to arrive no later than the poll closing on Election Day to be counted.

Rhys Williams, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said Assembly Bill 1466 is necessary because of recent United States Postal Service closures of distribution centers. He pointed to such shutdowns in Modesto, Pasadena and Burlingame.

Democrats have drafted the bill as budget trailer legislation, which allows it to take effect before November on a majority vote of the Legislature rather than the two-thirds supermajority normally required for urgency matters. Williams said AB 1466 is being cast as a budget proposal because it has additional costs for registrars and educating voters.

"The bill is to make sure that every Californian's vote gets counted and that people aren't disenfranchised because of federal closures to post office processing centers across the state," Williams said.

But critics of the Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30, are suspicious. Democrats already passed budget trailer legislation in June on a majority vote that helped Brown's measure leapfrog others to appear first on the November ballot. At the time, Democrats also gave good-government reasons, explaining that the change prioritized amendments to the state constitution over less permanent changes to statutes.

"Given what this Legislature has done manipulating the ballot process, I think any Eleventh Hour change in the manner in which the November election will be administered is immediately suspect," said Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, who opposes Proposition 30 and filed a lawsuit challenging the previous legislative use of majority-vote budget powers.

Republicans tend to vote by mail earlier, Democrats vote at the same rate throughout the submission period, while independents turn in ballots at a higher rate in the closing days, according to mail-ballot data provided by Paul Mitchell, vice president with Political Data Inc. The data also shows that young voters and Latinos submit ballots at higher rates in the final week.

Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation applauded the change, saying that each election leaves piles of ballots that go uncounted because they arrived too late.

"It's very heartbreaking," Alexander said. "These are people who had every intention of voting and think mistakenly it counts if postmarked by Election Day."

County election officials said they were concerned with how the law would describe a valid postmark. In some cases, USPS does not stamp a postmark or does so illegibly, said Deborah Seiler, registrar of voters in San Diego County. She said many last-minute mail voters now feel compelled to drop off ballots because there is no postmark law. (full story)

For first time, Californians will be able to register to vote online

Ventury County Star, Timm Herdt, August 23, 2012


Beginning next month, Californians for the first time will be able to use the Internet to register to vote, giving them about six weeks of online access to register in time to participate in the Nov. 6 presidential election.

In an advisory sent late Wednesday, the office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen informed the state's 58 county elections officers that the California Online Voter Registration System is in its final stages of testing and will become operational in early September. Software upgrades are scheduled to be electronically transmitted to the counties Friday, with online training for local officials to be conducted next week.

"It's really huge," said Secretary of State Debra Bowen. "I think it will be extremely popular and am very hopeful it will increase voter registration."

For about the last year, the state has offered a web-based registration process — but the last step is cumbersome. The voter must print, sign and mail the registration form that he or she filled out.

The new system will be what Bowen called "a one-click process."

"That's fantastic news for Californians," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "I think this will be very popular among eligible voters. I think it will facilitate potentially hundreds of thousands of users."

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A number of other states already allow for online registration, said Alexander, of the California Voter Foundation. She noted there have been no reports of problems — other than demand being so high at the close of the registration period that systems have crashed from overuse.

The names of those who register online will be immediately added to the voter roll, which will reduce the need for provisional ballots on Election Day when a newly registered voter's name has not yet been added to the list provided to poll workers, Alexander said.

Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was the author of the bill authorizing the system that Brown signed last year. On Thursday, he said he is pleased that Bowen will be able to put it place in time for this year's election.

"If we have the opportunity to use technology to register to vote, that's something we ought to do," he said. "We want to find every which way to make it easier for people to participate and vote."

Bowen said her office will undertake an extensive public awareness campaign once the system becomes operational, but believes that candidates, campaigns and the public at large will be eager to spread the word.

"We hope the news will go viral," she said. "I think an awareness campaign will take care of itself." (full story)

Voter List Maintenance: Why, How and When

National Conference of State Legislatures, July/August, 2012


The Issues and Publications webpage for the California Voter Foundation, which is useful to more than Californians. CVF has done many state-by-state studies on voter engagement, voting technology, voter privacy and campaign disclosure. Expect to find facts, rankings and best practices, especially in regard to internet access to information. CVF founder and president Kim Alexander says that by creating these reports and rankings, “states that are doing well get kudos, and the other states can see where they need to catch up.” (full story)

California still waiting on statewide voter database

Who Can Vote, Annelise Russell, July 26, 2012


As the national debate over voter ID approaches fisticuffs, the state of California continues to shy away from the fight, focusing on a more pressing, local problem — the lack of a statewide voter registration database.

The state has a “cobbled county-by-county system” that makes it difficult to maintain accurate roles with such a young, mobile population, said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the non-profit California Voter Foundation.

The online database, VoteCal, has been in the works since 2006, Alexander said, and would collect voter registration into one system. The database is a requirement of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, with which California still does not comply, Alexander said.

California is one of 20 states with a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, but Alexander said you wouldn’t know it based upon the database’s slow progress. Democrats have been “lazy and complacent,” and have squandered this opportunity, Alexander said.

A 2010 report by the Secretary of State projects the database will not be completed until 2015. (full story)

Same-day voter registration bill moves forward in Legislature

San Jose Mercury News, June 20, 2012


Election seasons come and go, and with them public attention to the political process waxes and wanes.

"The really heartbreaking fact of the matter is that a lot of the excitement kicks in about two weeks before Election Day. But by then it's too late, and a lot of people are left sitting on the sidelines," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "If we can engage people when they're excited, we have an opportunity to create a lifelong voter."

The Legislature on Tuesday moved closer toward embracing one way to help Californians seize that moment by allowing voter registration to take place through Election Day -- an approach that has sparked sharp partisan divisions in the past.

The measure -- AB 1436, by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles -- has been approved by the Assembly and next heads to the Senate Public Safety Committee, which must consider the bill because it would increase the maximum penalty for voter fraud.

Feuer said the key difference from previous attempts is the timing. His bill would not take effect until Jan. 1 of the year after a database called Vote-Cal, now being developed, becomes operational. Such a database, required by the federal government of every state, would incorporate the voter rolls of all 58 counties in the state and be linked with data from other government agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and Social Security Administration.

By using the database, he said, elections officials would be able to "determine instantaneously if a voter is registered elsewhere" and whether a voter has cast a ballot in another county. (full story)

Votes still uncounted, Prop 29 losing by razor-thin margin

News 10, John Myers, June 18, 2012


It's the election that just won't end, at least not anytime soon.

Elections officials across California continue to tally the votes cast on June 5 -- a process now entering its third week and a possible sign of the times as more voters now cast ballots away from the polling place.

On the contest everyone's watching, it's a very tight count; the proposed $1 per pack tobacco tax, Proposition 29, is now losing by slightly more than 17,000 votes out of almost 5 million counted statewide.

"For this election, we're seeing a huge amount of people who voted by mail," says Sacramento County elections official Brad Buyse. "More so than went to the polls."

Buyse and others say many of those ballots didn't arrive by mail, but rather to polling places on Election Day. As a result, almost 249,000 ballots statewide are still waiting to be tallied. The other largest group of uncounted votes are provisional ballots, those that could not be accurately placed by polling place or by voter name on June 5.

The popularity of vote-by-mail (VBM) in California has only risen every election since the state relaxed the rules, now allowing permanent VBM status for any reason.

"We've given voters more convenience, but it's reduced the security in our voting system," says Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "So to make up for that, elections officials have to do double duty, to make sure nobody's voting twice." (full story)


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