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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.

Security not yet available for online voting

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


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

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

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

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

Pam Smith, Carlsbad
President Of Verified Voting

Kim Alexander
President & Founder,
California Voter Foundation

The Riggs Report: A troubling turnout trend

KCRA, By Kevin Riggs, December 10, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Across California, Many Politicians Picked By Few Voters

KQED, By John Myers, November 28, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Law May Prolong Vote Counts

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


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

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

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

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

California officials ponder all-mail voting

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, November 14, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verifying ballots is key to making them count

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ose leads Bera by 530 votes in Sacramento-area race

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Still Counting

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

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

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

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

Voter Group Concerned Over Bera/Ose Race Vote Count

FOX 40, By Lonnie Wong, November 7, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballot counting closely watched in District 7 race

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


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

Abysmal turnout marks 2014 vote

Monterey Hereld, By Jason Hoppin, November 5, 2014


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California’s election may set record for apathy

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, November 4, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaign mailers clog Sacramento mailboxes

Sacramento Bee, By Bill Lindelof , November 3, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KPCC, By Alex Cohen , November 3, 2014


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

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

Mailed ballots suggest low turnout in California

Fresno Bee, By Fenit Nirappil , October 31, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election 2014: Propositions And Campaign Finance

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving voter turnout a priority for secretary of state candidates

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporations, Advocacy Groups Spend Big on Ballot Measures

Time Magazine, By Liz Whyte, October 23, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPR Radio, By Pam Fessler, October 22, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KQED Radio, October 16, 2014


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thousands Of Mail-In Ballots Going Uncounted

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Voting Machines Are About To Wreak Havoc On Another Election

Think Progress, by Lauren Williams, September 26, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major challenges await Bowen's successor in California

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secretary of state candidates face off in debate

KCRA-TV, September 11, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s Depression

KCRW, September 8, 2014


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

Depression of elections chief raises concerns

Modesto Bee, by Fenit Nirappil, September 8, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others said they are not concerned.

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

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

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

Bowen vows to press on as election nears

Fresno Bee, by Jim Miller, September 8, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KQED, Lisa Pickoff-White, August 21, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insight interview: Mail-In Ballot Study

Capital Public Radio, August 20, 2014


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

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

Sacramento Bee, by Jim Miller, August 20, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recount in the controller's race: A fine mess

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBS13-TV, July 14, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recount in Controller's Race Takes State Into Uncharted Territory

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controller recount highlights concern about California election law

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


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

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

They will do this thousands and thousands of times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacramento County inches toward campaign finance disclosure

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

573 Santa Cruz County ballots too late to count, June 16, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacramento voters send media a message

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viewpoints: Voters had reasons to skip California primary

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California primary election turnout headed for record low

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, June 6, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander said that worries her most.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picking and Choosing in Tomorrow's Statewide Election

KCRW, June 2, 2014


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

Primary turnout could be record low

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low Turnout Expected in Today's Primary Election

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


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

Vote-By-Mail Voters Face 8pm Deadline

KFBK, by Mike Simpson, June 3, 2014


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

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

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

Dominant political parties losing voters in California

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To win a state Senate seat is even more costly.

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

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

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

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

Equally frustrating for voters is the length of the ballot.

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

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

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

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

Secretary of State Race Draws Crowded Field

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millions of Californians missing from the registration rolls

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candidates say they would represent a break from Bowen

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Maybe even you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacramento County's SACVOTE Mobile Application

April 1, 2014

Results from independent redistricting are mixed

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


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

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

Capital Public Radio's "Insight 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

Capital 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?

Electionline, 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 Miranda, 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"

Capital 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)

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 Forum Show, hosted 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

Marketplace Morning Report, 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, by 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

News21, by 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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