Since 1994, the California Voter Foundation has worked at the intersection where democracy and technology intersect, undertaking programs to ensure that the changes technology brings are beneficial rather than harmful to voters. Below is a list of the program goals CVF pursued from 1994-2020.
2018 - 2021
I. Promote and support Californians’ right to equal treatment and opportunities to participate in the voting process.
CVF is committed to ensuring that California voters, regardless of the county in which they live, enjoy the same access and opportunities to participate in the voting process. Increasingly, California voters’ constitutional right to equal treatment and protection is being eroded through the enactment of state laws that permit but do not require counties to provide voters with services and conveniences, particularly in the vote-by-mail balloting process.
CVF and others have documented, for example, how counties process mail ballots under varying standards and procedures, resulting in some voters being subjected to a greater chance of having their ballots rejected and being disenfranchised. Additional examples of inequality in voter treatment include: whether voters can vote in person the weekend before Election Day; whether voters can request a vote-by-mail ballot by phone or online; whether voters have access to timely online lookup tools that allow them to verify that their vote-by-mail ballots were received and counted; and whether voters are provided postage-paid vote-by-mail ballot return envelopes.
One way to ensure all Californians have an equal opportunity to participate in voting is by ensuring they can access and use timely, accurate, and reliable election information online. Since its founding, CVF has championed online election information and tools that enable voters to look up and verify their registration and ballot status. In light of the disinformation campaign waged by our nation’s adversaries in past elections, it is more important than ever that voters can locate and access reliable, nonpartisan election information.
Examples of programs CVF is pursuing to advance this goal include:
- Promoting changes in California lawmaking and budgeting that moves away from adopting optional laws and toward requiring that counties give all voters access to the same voting opportunities and conveniences and then provide the state funding that is needed to support the implementation of such laws.
- Working to reduce the number of rejected vote-by-mail ballots through legislation and by supporting litigation that challenges current California law allowing counties to reject voters’ vote-by-mail ballots for non-matching envelope signatures without first notifying voters and giving them an opportunity to submit a valid signature and have their ballots counted.
- Researching the scope of unequal treatment of voters across California counties in order to identify issues that impact voting rights and voter participation.
- Monitoring the implementation and assessing the impact of the Voters Choice Act (2016) a law that permits but does not require counties to adopt a voting process with expanded voting by mail and the replacement of neighborhood polling places with county-wide vote centers open over multiple days, the net result being significantly different experiences for voters in participating and non-participating counties.
- Producing nonpartisan, reliable voter resources such as the “California Online Voter Guide” and “Proposition Song” to empower Californians to make informed, confident voting decisions.
2. Promote and support robust federal, state and local funding for election administration.
CVF is committed to ensuring that election officials at all levels of government have the resources needed to administer secure elections in which voters have confidence in the reliability and accuracy of the results, as well as provide voters with services and resources that encourage participation. Administering secure and engaging elections requires resources; not just technology and equipment, but well-trained and professional local staff and supportive state and federal institutions. The amount of funding, security and staff support provided by governments for election administration directly impacts whether voters encounter obstacles or question the integrity of the voting process, which inhibits participation, or are provided the services and have the confidence they need to meaningfully participate in elections.
Examples of programs CVF is pursuing to advance this goal include:
- Supporting funding in California’s state budget to help pay for election administration and voting system upgrades.
- Researching county funding patterns to determine variations in the commitments made to supporting elections and the democratic process.
- Exploring and promoting the need for ongoing federal grant programs to help states improve their voting system equipment and security.
3. Promote and support voting system transparency and security, and meaningful audits of ballots in California and nationwide.
CVF has long been a champion of voting security and will continue to provide leadership in this crucial area. California made significant improvements in its voting system security between 2003-2008. But more work is now needed to keep California at the forefront of verifiable elections. In particular, all ballots cast in California must be subject to auditing so that any errors or interference in the balloting process can be detected and so that voters can verify the accuracy and integrity of election officials’ work. CVF has long opposed internet voting and will work to find acceptable alternatives to the email and fax voting already underway.
Examples of programs CVF is pursuing to advance this goal include:
- Monitoring California voting system certification and participating in the development of voting security regulations.
- Exploring new approaches to post-election auditing such as the implementation of risk-limiting audits.
- Participating in the Election Verification Network and supporting election verification efforts across the US.
- Supporting increased funding for more secure voting technology.
- Supporting efforts to protect voter data privacy and ensure citizens can register and participate in the voting process without putting their personal data at risk.
- Supporting the development of disclosed open source voting technology to bring greater transparency and provide an alternative to proprietary voting systems.
2011 - 2017
When the California government was first organized in 1850 the state had just 27 counties and 92,527 residents. Today, it has 58 counties and more than 37 million people. Yet the way elections are managed today is much the same as it was 160 years ago. Every county, ranging in size from 1,000 residents (Alpine) to over 10 million (Los Angeles) bears responsibility to manage voter registration records, conduct voter outreach programs, mail sample ballots, print ballots, process vote-by-mail ballot requests and ballots, train poll workers, locate and staff polling places, count votes, and verify and report results.
The commonality of these responsibilities stands in marked contrast to wide variations in the resources counties can bring to bear to do all these jobs. For voters, the harsh reality of county-by-county election management is that election practices and procedures vary widely across the state, particularly when it comes to voting by mail, provisional voting, and poll worker training. This variation creates confusion for voters. It creates complex inefficiencies for election workers. And the effective net result at every election is substantial voter disenfranchisement.
In the abstract there is wide acceptance of the core values that promote public confidence in voting and elections (1). In reality the extent to which voting and elections in California and other states meet these standards is far from clear.
In this program area CVF will collect and analyze data to assess California state and county election performance, gather input from voters, and participate in county voting system modernization efforts. CVF will examine the history of election administration in California, look at the fiscal relationships and distribution of responsibilities between state and local governments, and compare California’s voting systems and administration with those of other states. These critical analyses are important steps toward understanding California’s election costs and procedures and identifying improvements needed to bring greater efficiency, fairness, and participation to the process.
2. Modernize voter registration in California to facilitate greater participation
California is a leader in election technology reform. In recent years California elections have been made more secure and reliable by requiring voter-verified paper audit trails of votes cast and public post-election audits to verify computerized vote counts.
However, California lags far behind the rest of the nation in other areas of election technology, most critically in its system of voter registration. While other states have created robust, statewide voter registration databases, enabling them to keep registration records up-to-date and voters reliably informed of their registration status, California has failed to do so. California is the last state not in compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act statewide voter registration database requirement. California also lacks a statewide online registration status lookup tool, one of just nine states in the nation failing to provide this service to voters. More than six million Californians who are eligible to vote are not registered, placing the state’s rate of registration at 42nd in the nation.
CVF believes the first step toward modernizing voter registration in California, already authorized and funded but not yet a reality, is the successful creation of a new statewide voter registration database, called VoteCal, enabling California voters to register and to check their registration status online.
In this program area, CVF is committed to monitoring the VoteCal project to help get it on track and implemented. In the interim, CVF will also work to create a statewide online voter registration status lookup tool so that all voters can easily find out whether they are registered to vote at their current address. CVF will also promote improvements to California’s existing online-assisted registration process.
3. Improve disclosure of financial interests in initiative campaigns to help voters make informed choices
Throughout its history CVF has worked hard to improve campaign finance disclosure. Information about money in politics needs to be plentiful, transparent and readily accessible to the public through tools they understand and are comfortable using.
Nowhere is the need for campaign finance disclosure greater than it is in relation to ballot propositions, where voters are asked to play the role of lawmaker. Too often well-funded groups try to obscure their interests in initiatives and keep voters from knowing the true sources of funding that pay for campaign advertisements and staff.
Despite the fact that California has one of the best disclosure systems in the nation, there is still much room for improvement. CVF will work to ensure voters have access to the information needed to identify accurately the people and organizations supporting and opposing state propositions.
Specifically, CVF will participate in initiative disclosure reform efforts, promote the creation and dissemination of “top donors” lists, and publish a “How to Follow the Money” guide to help citizens better understand the state’s disclosure laws and processes.
The criteria that need to be met if voting and elections are to enjoy public confidence include the equal protection and treatment of all voters; avoidance of disenfranchisement; security, accuracy, transparency, ease of use, accessibility, and reliability in voting systems; efficiency and accountability in elections administration; and respect for voter privacy.
2004 - 2010
1. Advance public verification of election results
Computers are playing important roles in the voting process. But voting equipment in California and the United States is provided by private companies, and the software that is used to record and count votes is proprietary and not open to public inspection. Over the past forty years, in effect, the voting process has been outsourced to the private sector. Yet government at all levels is unable to provide the public with assurance that the use of computers in the voting process is safe.
The California Voter Foundation is committed to advancing oversight, accountability and transparency in the voting process by encouraging election officials to provide physical, paper records of every ballot cast and utilizing those records to publicly verify the accuracy of computerized vote counts so that everyone can have confidence that all votes cast in all elections -- from the local school board race to the Presidential contest -- are cast and counted accurately.
2. Provide California voters with access to nonpartisan election information
The California Voter Foundation uses the Internet to improve California voters’ ability to make informed electoral choices. For more than a decade, CVF’s nonpartisan California Online Voter Guide has provided voters with free and convenient access to a wealth of reliable information sources for each election. CVF’s web site also features political district maps, an archive of campaign promises, voting equipment maps and directories, timely information on voting and voter registration, and information on California state and local government, all of which is designed to help the voting public make informed, confident choices.
The California Voter Foundation is committed to continue providing Californians with access to nonpartisan election information, and offering its web site as a state and national model for online voter education. CVF is also committed to working with state and local government agencies and institutions to increase public access to reliable election and government information via government web sites.
3. Promote transparency of money in politics
CVF advances accountability in government and ensures voters are empowered to make informed, confident decisions by making it possible to “follow the money”. CVF is a pioneer of electronic filing and Internet disclosure of campaign finance records, shining “digital sunlight” on money in politics throughout the state and nation. CVF’s work advancing online disclosure opens up public access to this data and provides voters with crucial information about who is funding candidates and measures.
The California Voter Foundation is committed to continue promoting transparency of money in politics and ensuring voters have convenient and timely access to information about those who financially support candidates and measures on the ballot. CVF’s ongoing Grading State Disclosure program promotes greater accountability of money in politics in all 50 states by assessing, grading and ranking each state’s campaign finance and online disclosure programs.
4. Protect voter privacy
New technologies bring new opportunities for democracy, but also new challenges. Putting voter registration data on computers, especially when combined with other changes in elections technology and campaign practices, makes sensitive voter data easily accessible to a wide array of users without voters’ knowledge or consent. A 2004 survey conducted by CVF found that one reason why nearly one out of four nonvoters in California is not registered to vote is because they want to keep their personal information private.
The California Voter Foundation is committed to advancing better public policies and practices in the area of voter data privacy to ensure that access to and use of this data by campaigns and others does not deter voter participation. CVF also recognizes that voters have the right to cast a secret ballot and is committed to protecting this right from any encroachments brought on by new technologies.
1. Foster an informed public debate on emerging democracy and technology issues
CVF will develop and participate in online and offline forums that promote public awareness and discussion about cutting-edge policy issues where democracy and technology intersect, such as voting technology, Internet voting, voter information and privacy, online voter education, and Internet disclosure of money in politics.
New technologies bring new opportunities for democracy, as well as new challenges. While there are many political experts and many technology experts, there are too few people who have a working knowledge of both fields. CVF wants to bring experts from different fields together in public forums where knowledge can be shared in a meaningful way and better public policy can be developed.
CVF is also committed to helping the public stay informed and participate in debates about changes that impact the way we participate in democracy. State-by-state research on cutting-edge democracy and technology issues needs to be conducted to provide a clearer picture of how technology is transforming democracy in the U.S. and what kind of policies different states are adopting to address challenges that arise. In addition, CVF will advance internship programs as a long-term approach to closing the politics and technology information gap and cultivating a new generation of future leaders with a grasp of both fields.
2. Advance democracy in California via the Internet
CVF will continue providing reliable, nonpartisan information to the public and innovating Internet-based public information projects that advance democracy in California and serve as models for the rest of the nation.
CVF will produce and disseminate voter information on statewide candidates and propositions on the ballot in 2002, as well as pre-election information resources that inform the public about initiatives and the electoral process. CVF will improve voter access to reliable information about local ballot propositions and develop innovative voter information tools, such as online archives of campaign promises. CVF will also continue improving public awareness of the role of money in politics through Internet disclosure of campaign finance data.
In all of these areas, CVF will follow its winning strategy of developing new public information resources for the calvoter.org web site while at the same time working with government institutions to increase public access to reliable, official election information via government web sites. CVF will also advance its projects as models that other states and communities can replicate, in effect formalizing a service the organization has performed on an informal basis since 1994.
3. Promote democratic standards for government online information practices that shape a more informed electorate
CVF will develop and advance high standards and expectations for how government institutions should perform when providing public information on the Internet.
The Information Revolution has resulted in a great deal of information online from governmental institutions. Now we must move past the novelty of this revolution and into the hard work and thoughtful attention needed to fundamentally shift expectations about how the public becomes informed in a democratic society in this digital, Information Age.
In this program area, CVF will focus on content as well as on specific characteristics of public information on the Net that need to be considered, such as archiving and advertising practices, publishing formats, privacy policies, and ensuring that online public records are preserved when administrations change hands. Information in the "dot gov" domain needs to be reliable and insulated from redaction or political manipulation. Government web sites need to develop into public information centers rather than promotional tools for politicians. High standards for performance by government agencies for how public information is made accessible to the public via the Internet need to be developed and promoted.
1994 - 2000
1. Educate voters via the Internet
The Internet offers an extraordinary opportunity to provide millions of people with convenient, in-depth election information. CVF's pioneering efforts in the field of online voter education began with the 1994 California Online Voter Guide, an Internet site featuring information on statewide candidates and ballot measures. CVF's statewide voter guide is updated for each election, and has proven to be highly popular, logging thousands of visitors each year.
2. Enhance public disclosure through electronic filing
Access to important public records such as campaign contributions can be improved by computerizing the disclosure process. CVF has been a leading force behind efforts to improve public access by promoting electronic filing, rather than paper filing, of political disclosure reports. CVF's web site, Digital Sunlight, features resources and contacts that help facilitate the movement toward electronic filing across the country.
In 1995, CVF produced the San Francisco Online Voter Guide, which featured the first database of campaign contributions and expenditures available on the web prior to an election. The San Francisco project successfully demonstrated how electronic filing allows for fast, convenient and comprehensive online access to campaign finance data.
3. Work with news organizations to improve political coverage
CVF is an active participant in exploring ways that the news media can better provide the public with the information necessary to shape a healthy and engaged electorate. In 1995, CVF co-sponsored "Your Voices Count", a civic journalism project aimed at engaging citizens in the issue of money and politics. CVF's Internet resources provide journalists with a wealth of information that enriches their news coverage.