TO: CVF-NEWS FROM: Kim Alexander, CVF President DATE: May 16, 2001 RE: Update on voting technology legislation
There have been many voting technology developments in the past week. In this issue of CVF-NEWS:
* Governor Gray Davis' revised budget no longer includes funding for voting equipment * Renewed bi-partisan effort in the U.S. Senate to address electoral reform * U.S. House of Reps Committee on Science to hold hearing on voting technology * Florida enacts sweeping electoral reform legislation
Governor Gray Davis' revised budget no longer includes funding for voting equipment
This week Governor Davis unveiled his "May revise" budget, which is a revision of the budget plan he announced in January based on the state's actual income for the year. As many people anticipated, the governor eliminated funding for most of the new initiatives proposed in January, including the $40 million he originally suggested be spent to upgrade California's voting equipment. The energy crisis, slowing economy and steep drops in the stock market are seen as the cause for California's reduced income and budget-tightening.
It's worth noting that back in January, when the state's economic outlook was far rosier, the Governor chose to unveil his budget with lots of fanfare and a live webcast; this time around, when unveiling the much gloomier May revise budget, there was no live webcast and not even a mention of the event on either the state web site or the Governor's web site, despite the fact that the unveiling of the May revise budget is considered to be one of the most important events that take place at the Capitol.
Meanwhile, AB 56, Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg's bill to provide $300 million for new voting equipment, is before the Assembly Appropriations committee, where fiscal negotiations between lawmakers will get underway in earnest now that the May revise budget is out. The legislature's deadline for passing a budget is June 15, so we should know within the next few weeks whether the State of California will be spending any money to upgrade from the punch card machines that are currently used by 75 percent of the state's voters. As Speaker of the Assembly, Hertzberg holds a lot of clout when it comes to budget negotiations, and we'll have to see if he uses it to push for voting equipment funding in the final budget deal.
Renewed bi-partisan effort in the U.S. Senate to address electoral reform
Things may look bleak in California, but in Washington, D.C. the prospects for election reform are looking much brighter. Today four senators -- Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey), Charles Schumer (D-New York), and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) -- announced their plan to introduce the "Bipartisan Federal Election Reform Act". This development is a welcome surprise. Many who have been watching Congress wrestle with election reform in the aftermath of the Florida fiasco were growing concerned that reform efforts couldn't surmount partisan differences.
The key provisions of the senators' new proposal include:
* providing $2.5 billion to help state and local governments buy new voting equipment, train pollworkers or implement other reforms as recommended by the federal government; * establishing a bipartisan, "blue ribbon" panel to study all aspects of election systems and administration including voting procedures, ballot design, voter registration, and access for disabled, military and overseas voters; and * creating a new federal agency called the "Election Administration Commission" to implement the findings of the panel and distribute funding.
The federal funds would come with some strings attached: local governments would have to pay 25 percent of the cost, and would have to demonstrate they are in compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, are not illegally purging voters and are ensuring that voters with disabilities can vote with the same privacy and independence as other voters, according to the May 15 New York Times.
For more details, see the Times' story online at http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/15/politics/15VOTE.html?pagewanted=print (registration required), or today's news release from Senator Brownback: http://www.senate.gov/~brownback/pressapp/record.cfm?id=176445
U.S. House of Reps Committee on Science to hold hearing on voting technology
Next Tuesday, May 22 the House Science Committee will hold a hearing on voting technology. I'll be traveling to DC to testify before the committee during the two hour hearing which begins at 10 a.m. eastern time. We'll have more details about the event on our web site, including a link to the committee's live webcast.
Florida enacts sweeping electoral reform legislation
Last week Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed an election reform package that enacts major new reforms for the Sunshine State. The package includes $24 million for counties to upgrade from punch cards, paper ballots and lever machines to optical scan systems; counties that want to go with touchscreen may do so if they can pay for the additional cost out of their own coffers. The reform bill also includes $6 million for pollworker training and voter education (wahoo!!) and another $2 million to create a statewide voter registration database.
The law also implements "second chance" voting, where voters can have their ballots scanned at the polls and informed if the have undervoted, overvoted, or spoiled their ballot in some way. While I think it's important to give voters a way to correct spoiled ballots, undervotes are a different matter. Many voters deliberately skip contests on the ballot. In fact, given how many contests are on a typical ballot, it's doubtful that most voters cast votes in every race.
Florida's pollworkers are likely to have a mess on their hands if they have to inform every voter who undervotes that they had a "problem" with their ballot. The California Voter Foundation is always reminding voters that voting is not a test and that it is okay to leave something blank if you feel unprepared to make a decision. Not only will notification of undervotes put pressure on voters to make a choice on every contest, it will likely lead to voter embarrassment and it undermines the right to cast a secret ballot. For this and many other reasons, I believe it is more important than ever that we give voters the ability to proactively cast a nonvote in every race.
Overall, I think Florida has enacted a great set of reforms. Floridians should be proud that their elected leaders tackled their election problems in a thoughtful and thorough way. If you want to read the new law, it's online at:
That's all for now. Have a great week!
-- Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation
email@example.com, 916-325-2120, www.calvoter.org
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This page was first published on May 16, 2001 | Last updated on May 16, 2001
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