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CVF in the News


Below is a collection of some of the news stories featuring the California Voter Foundation's activities and projects. Some of the links below go to sites that require registration in order to view their stories, and some of the links may expire after stories are moved into fee-based archives.

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.”

- - - - - - - - - - -

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.

- - - - - - - - -

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.

- - - - - - - - -

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)

Elections officials: Get used to uncounted votes

San Jose Mercury News, By Juliet Williams , June 7, 2012


The waiting is the hardest part.

With more than 830,000 primary ballots still uncounted, many candidates and campaigns in California remained on pins and needles Thursday awaiting the results of undecided races.

Proposition 29, the proposal to increase taxes on tobacco products to pay for cancer research, was among the contests that remained too close to call.

Election officials warned that more of the same could occur after November's general election, when the stakes are even higher, due to California's all-paper voting system and meticulous legal requirements for counties that tabulate results.

More than half of California voters now cast ballots by mail, requiring elections officials to verify signatures and voting status. Ballots delivered to polling places on Election Day cannot be verified and counted until after polls close at 8 p.m.

In addition, thousands more voters cast provisional ballots when their eligibility is in question, they move, or lose their vote-by-mail ballot.

"Our job is to ensure accuracy. It's not about the speed. We've become this `I want it now' society and people are just going to have to wait," said Gail Pellerin, president of California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and the registrar of voters for Santa Cruz County.

"We want to make sure everything's accurate and correct," Pellerin said. "It's not a simple, easy process."

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Ninety percent of ballots cast are counted by 8 a.m. the day after the election, but the final 10 percent can take three to four weeks to tabulate because of lengthy administrative procedures to ensure that nobody voted twice, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan voter education group. Clerks have 28 days after the election to certify results.

She said California election laws are written to make it as easy as possible to vote, including allowing voters to drop off ballots at any polling place in their county on Election Day. However, the bollots must then be transferred to the correct precinct.

The state has also returned to an all-paper voting system after serious failures of electronic voting machines that caused massive problems at polling places.

"The bottom line is that in providing more avenues for voters to vote, we've also created more work for elections officials when it comes to counting ballots. We're trading convenience for timeliness," Alexander said.

With likely more than 20 congressional and legislative candidates facing same-party runoffs in November and voters possibly deciding more than a dozen ballot initiatives, the waiting could be even longer. That election, which includes the presidential race, is expected to generate much higher turnout than the abysmal 25 to 30 percent estimated turnout for Tuesday.

Eleven of the state's largest counties reported a total of 800,000 uncounted ballots as of Wednesday, with about 4.1 million votes counted so far. The state has a total of more than 17.1 million registered voters.

Counting the ballots more quickly has a downside, noted Alexander: The increased likelihood of recounts, which take even longer and cost more. (full story)

New Primary System Shakes Up California Elections

NPR, By Tamara Keith, June 6, 2012



California voters also turned out yesterday, and one thing is clear: The state's new open primary system has shaken things up. Under the new system, the top two candidates will move onto the general election, regardless of party. And in quite a few races, this means come November, two candidates of the same party will face off. NPR's Tamara Keith has that story.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When all the votes are counted, nearly 30 congressional and state legislative races will feature a Democrat on Democrat or Republican on Republican contest this fall. By far, the highest profile intra-party battle will be a November rematch between Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman and Howard Berman. For residents of L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, that means a whole lot more of this...

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KEITH: In this new district dominated by Democrats, about a quarter of registered voters are Republicans. And another quarter are independent, so-called no-party-preference voters. In all of the more than two dozen races that will feature two candidates from the same party, Schnur says the rules of campaigning are changed, rewarding...

SCHNUR: Those candidates who talk not only to their most fervent ideological supporters, but those who are willing to reach out across the party spectrum in order to gain the necessary support. That can't help but to be a good thing - not necessarily for the two political parties, but certainly for the voters.

KEITH: In fact, Schnur says the two political parties fought hard against both the state's new independent redistricting system and the top two primary. Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, says no-party preference voters will play a bigger role in the new system. They now make up about 20 percent of California's electorate and she says will have a much stronger voice in deciding races.

KIM ALEXANDER: Most of them were decided in the primary, where you only needed a plurality of the vote to win, and the general election was not competitive because the district leaned so heavily towards the Democrats or the Republicans. Now, we see in those so-called safe seats, they're going be competitive all over again because of the new open primary rules.

KEITH: Alexander says there's one word to describe the shift in California's political landscape that took shape yesterday.

ALEXANDER: We have an enormous amount of competition coming out of this election, and I think that's very exciting for California voters.

KEITH: She figures some 40 percent of the races in California this fall will be competitive - quite a change for a state where November used to be largely irrelevant. Tamara Keith, NPR News.(full story)

Low turnout despite sweeping California proposals

Real Clear Politics, Juliet Williams, June 5, 2012


California's statewide primary election was marked Tuesday by light turnout at polling sites and few problems flagged by election officials even as the state tested out some sweeping changes.

The primary was providing the first statewide run on a top-two voting system and newly redrawn legislative and congressional districts. Voters also were weighing in on a cigarette tax and changes to term limits.

San Diego and San Jose _ the nation's eighth- and 10th-largest cities _ are being closely watched as voters decide on heated measures to curb retirement benefits for current government workers. San Diego also has a fierce mayoral fight.

Some such as 72-year-old San Diego resident Ursula Freeman were motivated to change local pension systems. She voted for putting limits on the pensions of current city employees.

"Go for it, absolutely," Freeman said.

Glendale preschool aide Sharon Miller said she supported the cigarette tax in a vote against Big Tobacco.

"Anything that makes cigarettes cost more money is a good thing," she said.

Others who turned out were hopeful that the new top-two system will deliver more competitive contests and more moderate candidates even as they were confronted with a longer, more complicated ballot. In some cases, candidates of the same party are vying to meet again in November.

"I think it helps to level the playing field," said attorney Susan Hyman after casting her Democratic ballot at a skilled nursing facility in Long Beach. "The districts have been too entrenched by party."

State election officials reported few problems as polls opened for the day. Voters in Sacramento County may have noticed Chinese added to English and Spanish on their ballots. The move was prompted by recent census changes, said Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

Deputy Secretary of State Nicole Winger said about 2,000 people had called in to a voter hotline as of Tuesday afternoon, but most callers simply wanted to know their polling site and registration status. She said the volume was low compared to general elections. (full story)

California Voter Foundation President: "This Whole Election Is Unprecedented"

Neon Tommy, By Matt Pressber , June 5, 2012


Fifth-generation Californian Kim Alexander is president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to improving our local democracy with a focus on technological innovation and donor transparency. The California Voter Foundation has published its California Online Voter Guide, which aggregates comprehensive election information from its diaspora across government websites, every two years dating back to 1994.

Neon Tommy spoke with Alexander via telephone Monday afternoon about today’s primaries and other California election topics.

Neon Tommy: How can we better inform people as to the real money behind some of these ads?

Kim Alexander: What we would like to see is a list of the top donors for and against every proposition actually included in the ballot pamphlet itself. That’s what we think would be most helpful for California voters. Right now you have a ballot pamphlet that’s sent to every household from the Secretary of State, and it contains lots of really helpful information—there’s the actual text of each measure, the pro-con arguments, the impartial analysis by the state’s legislative analyst. But at the end of the day a lot of voters simply want to follow the money. They want to know who’s putting up the money to pay for this initiative, to qualify this initiative and to campaign against this initiative. And that’s a great shortcut for voters who are busy and maybe don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to dive into the nitty-gritty details of a proposition—they can use a shortcut like knowing who the top donors are for and against a proposition and a lot of times that’s often just what voters need to make an informed choice.

NT: This year, with Citizens United, the floodgates are open to a greater degree. What kind of unprecedented things do you think we’re going to see this fall?

KA: This whole election is unprecedented. We’re going to see Democrats competing against Democrats and Republicans competing against Republicans in the fall. We’ve never had that in California. Traditionally, the only time you see competition among people of the same party is in the primary election. Now, because we have this new top-two primary election, the two top vote-getters in the primary contest will advance to the general even if they’re of the same party, and that really throws the whole money chase for a loop, because you’re going to have Democrats trying to reach out to a broader base of support in the primary trying to get votes so they can rate in the top two candidate positions and Republican candidates are going to do the same thing. So there is likely for the Congressional contests to be a lot of outside money that comes into play, particularly for the fall, when we’re going to see a number of California Congressional seats up and highly competitive and the outcome very unclear.

NT: California famously had all the outside money coming in from Utah for Proposition 8—

KA: I want to just make a distinction. There’s outside money that you know about and there’s outside money that you don’t know about. When you talk about California propositions, we have the best disclosure laws in the country. There’s certainly room for improvement. We’d like to see listing of the funders who paid to circulate initiative petitions on the petition itself. We’d like to see top donors listed in the ballot pamphlet. But for the most part, our laws are pretty strong and voters often are generally aware of where the money’s coming from or have some idea of where the money’s coming from in proposition campaigns, even if it’s coming from out of state. At least you know who the donors are. The Citizens United decision in federal contests is going to create—is creating—large amounts of campaign ads that are underway where the source of the funding is not identifiable. So you’ve got lots of ads that are going on the attack and the voters unable to hold accountable the people who are responsible for that message, and we think that’s a crisis.

NT: Do you think California’s been doing a good job as far as getting its eligible voters to the polls and do you expect turnout to be high in the fall?

KA: No, we’re not doing a good job with voter registration. We have an archaic system; a lot of states have implemented online voter registration, which although we do not support online voting due to a number of serious security problems with that, we do support online voter registration and fortunately that is being implemented in California for the fall election. Hopefully that will get in place. Its going to help a lot of people not just register, but keep their registration up-to-date, because you have to re-register every time you move, and for a voter to try to track down a new voter registration card, fill it out, get it in in time for an election; often people just overlook the fact that they have to do that in order to vote at their current address, and then it’s too late.

So, I think moving to online voter registration is going to speed things up, but really, one of the reasons we have so many voter registration problems in California is because we are the very last state in the country to comply with a federal requirement that we have a statewide voter registration database that can be operated at the state and local level and checked against other government databases to make sure our records are up-to-date. That’s the Help America Vote Act. We have one, but it’s not completely HAVA-compliant, and our new database, [which] began back in 2006, is still at this stage out for bid.

We are way behind other states with modernizing voter registration and that’s a big reason why our registration numbers are lagging. A lot of people are simply falling through the cracks, and there’s a lot of problems at the DMV, where people don’t get on the rolls properly. Because we don’t have a HAVA-compliant registration database, we don’t have a statewide voter registration status lookup tool. We’re one of only nine states in the country that does not have a statewide tool on the Secretary of State’s website where a voter can go online and simply find out if they’re registered to vote or not at their current address. (full story)

Explaining California’s ‘Top Two’ primary

KCRW Radio, By Darrell Satzman, June 4, 2012


Ballots will look a little different Tuesday than in past elections because of California’s new open primary system. Approved by voters two years ago, the open primary sends the top two finishers to the November general election, regardless of party. Backers say the system will lead to more moderate candidates… perhaps. What’s immediately clear is that this is increasing competition for all candidates, including incumbents. KCRW’s Chery Glaser spoke to Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation about the change. “For the first time people who are not affiliated with any party can easily get on the ballot and compete on a level playing field with partisan candidates,” said Alexander. (full story)

California’s Everybody-Into-the-Pool Primary Faces Test

Business Week, By Michael B. Marois, June 4, 2012


When Californians go to the polls tomorrow for the state primary election, they won’t find three- term Senator Dianne Feinstein running against just fellow Democrats.

New rules that may alter the political landscape put Feinstein head-to-head with 23 challengers of all stripes -- Republican, Libertarian, American Independent, Peace and Freedom. The two who get the most votes, regardless of party, will move on to the general election in November.

The so-called top-two system is intended to fight partisan gridlock that has paralyzed lawmakers from Sacramento to Washington. In theory, politicians will no longer be forced to stick to party dogma to avoid being ousted in the primary, allowing voters more choices.

“The rules of the game have changed,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a Sacramento-based nonpartisan group that has advocated for open democracy. “Democrats and Republicans no longer have a lock on the process.”

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The top-two primary may mean that in heavily Democratic or Republican districts, two candidates from the same party could advance to the general election. That may be influenced by independent voters, who make up 20 percent of the electorate, and will be new to the system.

That may force Democrats and Republicans toward more moderate positions, Alexander said.

“Up until now, they have had no say in the primaries,” she said of the independents. “If some of those folks get elected we could see an impact in the power struggle in the Statehouse.”

With the primary looming, California lawmakers have withheld action on the state’s resurgent $15.7 billion budget deficit. Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, blamed legislators for making the deficit larger by failing to pass some budget cuts he sought in March. (full story)

California estrena el voto electoral abierto

La Opinion, By Araceli Martínez Ortega, June 2, 2012


Por primera vez los californianos van a votar en las elecciones primarias abiertas de este martes por el candidato a la legislatura estatal y al Congreso que quieran, sin importar el partido político al que pertenezcan, en una boleta electoral en la que los aspirantes aparecerán listados sin que se vea su filiación partidista.

Los dos candidatos de cada contienda que obtengan el mayor número de votos se enfrentarán en la elección general del 6 de noviembre. Algo que nunca había pasado antes es que estos dos ganadores podrán ser del mismo partido, o independientes.

"Estamos muy vigilantes porque hay casi 100 contiendas y los resultados no van a ser los ideales pero vamos a estar en buenas condiciones para la elección de noviembre y le estamos poniendo muchos esfuerzos", afirmó Tenoch Flores, portavoz del Partido Demócrata en California.

Agregó que a pesar de que en la boleta electoral ya no aparecerá a qué partido pertenece el candidato, se han asegurado que los votantes sepan quiénes son demócratas y voten por ellos y sus temas.

Los votantes aprobaron en 2010 las elecciones primarias abiertas con la esperanza de que sean electos a la legislatura estatal, políticos de corte moderada y no los extremistas de los partidos políticos que estancan cada año las negociaciones presupuestales.

"No puedo predecir sí tendremos legisladores más moderados, lo que sí sé es que las elecciones abiertas primarias ponen a todos al mismo nivel; y a largo plazo vamos a ver a más independientes compitiendo", dijo Kim Alexander, fundadora y presidenta de la no lucrativa y partidista Fundación de los Votantes de California. (full story)

What do we need to know about Tuesday’s election in California?

KALW Radio, May 31, 2012


On today’s Your Call, we’ll have a conversation about the two statewide ballot measures to increase the taxes on cigarettes and to change term limits for state legislators. Voters will also vote on the 2012 presidential contest, and local and statewide races. What’s at stake? What questions do you have? Join us live at 10 or send an email to It’s Your Call, with Matt Martin and you.


Kim Alexander, President & Founder of California Voter Foundation

Peter Schrag, the former editorial page editor and columnist of the Sacramento Bee and a frequent contributor to the California Progress Report. (full story)

"Top-Two" How-To: A Primary Primer

Capitol Public Radio, May 29, 2012


The upcoming June 5th Primary is the first statewide election under California’s new “top two” primary system, and voters will see some very different looking ballots.

Okay, California voter - open up your sample ballot, and check out the U-S Senate race. There are 24 different candidates, and you get to pick one of them. The top two finishers will advance to the fall general election - hence the name "top two primary."

Alexander: "There will be more choices for everyone in the primary, but fewer choices in November."

Kim Alexander is with the California Voter Foundation. She says the old system left independent voters - or as they're now called in California, "No Party Preference" voters - without a voice in primary elections. Now, everyone can participate - whether registered with a political party or not.

Alexander: "So the bottom line is that more people are going to be participating in the decision-making process to whittle down the choices."

The new system only applies to races for Congress and the state legislature. (full story)

California moves to 'top-two' open primary election system

KABC-TV, By Nannette Miranda , May 22, 2012


In two weeks California's voters go to the polls in the June primary. This will be the state's first open, or "top-two," primary. The new format will have an impact on the legislature, state policies and programs.

President Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for president. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee challenging him.

But when Californians vote in the June 5 primary election, they don't have to belong to a political party to pick a nominee for congressional, legislative and statewide races.

Voters still get one vote for each office, but the first- and second-place winners, regardless of party, move on to the November general election.

"This change is going to give millions of California voters more of a say in the voting process, more power to decide who the candidates and the ultimate winner will be in political districts up and down the state," said Kim Alexander, founder and president of the California Voter Foundation. "This new process really shakes things up a lot."

The idea of a "top-two primary" is to help elect more moderate people to the legislature and other non-presidential offices to end gridlock, especially in Sacramento, by electing lawmakers who are more willing to compromise.

The new system also aims to lessen the power that party leaders have over which candidate gets to be the nominee.

But opponents say the top-two primary system could result in two candidates from the same party vying for one office, leaving little chance for smaller, less-funded parties to win. (Full Story)


Winning design for first ‘I Voted’ sticker contest recognized by Board of Supervisors

Valley Community Newspapers, By Mark Albertson, May 22, 2012


Sacramento County voters will get a newly designed “I Voted” sticker after they cast their ballot on June 5. The winning sticker, created by an area high school student in the County’s first “I Voted” sticker contest, is also featured on the cover of the June 2012 sample ballot booklet.

First place winner Alicia Chan, C.K. McClatchy High School and runner ups Kevin Thao, Grant Union High School and Darian Rosengard, Rio Americano High School were recognized by the Board of Supervisors on May 8.

The Department of Voter Registration and Elections invited students from five area high schools to design a new “I Voted” sticker for the June Statewide Primary Election. Participating high schools were Rio Americano, Galt, Grant, McClatchy and San Juan. The response was overwhelming, with 76 entries submitted.

“The goal of the contest was to engage high school students’ talent, while at the same time encouraging their participation in a civic activity by creating a new ‘I Voted’ sticker for the voters of Sacramento County,” said Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine.

The artwork was judged by former Sacramento Mayor Anne Rudin; Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation; and Debbie O’Donoghue, deputy secretary of state, voter education and outreach. (full story)

Hackathon follows the political money at Stanford

San Franciso Examiner, By Mark Albertson, May 22, 2012


The weather was spectacular in the Bay Area this past weekend, but a group of scientists, engineers and journalists sat hunched over their computers in a basement room on the Stanford University campus, blissfully ignorant of the beautiful climate outside. They were hot on the trail of money, lots of money, and how it flowed weekly, daily, even hourly through the backrooms and boardrooms of the American political system.

The two-day “hackathon” was organized by Teresa Bouza, a Knight Fellow at Stanford, who received a grant to develop new tools that journalists and others could use to make sense out of the huge amounts of online data available today, drawing from multiple sources such as the FEC’s own website to information collected by independent groups like MapLight. She pulled together a number of sponsors including O’Reilly Media, Knight-Mozilla Open News, the Sunlight Foundation, Sony, Revolution Analytics, and mongoDB. With a Presidential election looming, Bouza thought a focus on campaign financing would be especially timely.

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To help facilitate the exercise, Google donated unlimited access to its App Engine service and there were multiple databases the teams could draw from for the financial data they needed. But there was one major group of lawmakers for whom no online data detailing current political contributions exists today: the august members of the United States Senate.

Unlike their counterparts in the House of Representatives (who must file their reports electronically with the Federal Election Commission), Presidential contenders, and a vast majority of the statewide and local legislative candidates in the country today, current or prospective members of the Senate still file their campaign contributions by paper to the chamber’s Secretary. Access to these reports, when they are finally posted online after a lengthy and cumbersome process, is usually after Election Day.

According to Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, there is a bill – S219 – that is designed to bring campaign filing for Senate candidates into the 21st century. But, as Alexander ruefully admits, “it’s not going anywhere.”

On Sunday afternoon, after the last database had been downloaded and the final graphics rendered, the tired but satisfied teams gathered to hear presentations of each other’s work. Prizes were handed out, including a brand-new 46 inch Sony television. After spending two days building tools to shine new light on the darker corners of campaign finance in the U.S., the teams saved their data, unplugged their laptops, and climbed a long set of stairs into the bright sunlight. (full story)

California Open Primary Around the Corner - What it Means to Voters"

CVF President Kim Alexander's interview with KXTV-10 Sacramento's Dan Elliott, May 9, 2012 (Video)

California looks to crack down on political bloggers paid by campaigns

Sacramento Bee, By Jim Sanders, April 20, 2012


Paid political attack dogs always have found safe haven in the free-wheeling anonymity of the Internet, but California is set to challenge that.

The leader of the state's political watchdog agency said Thursday that she wants bloggers to be required to disclose payments received from campaigns.

"The public should know about such a connection in the political arena so they can properly evaluate endorsements," Chairwoman Ann Ravel said.

The proposal is sure to be watched closely nationwide for targeting a mass medium known as a bastion of anything-goes free speech.

FPPC officials said they believe California would be the first state to place strings on political commentary.

Critics contend that government could be overstepping its bounds.

"I think if people are blogging an opinion, they have a right to do it," said Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda. "I just think a free press is fundamental, even if people are paid to (blog)."

Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, countered that voters have a right to know who is getting paid to sway their opinions.

"Transparency is always good in government," he said.

Ravel said she initially will ask the FPPC to adopt guidelines asking bloggers to disclose before the November presidential election.

Her goal for future elections is mandatory disclosure, Ravel said.

"I think this is one of those issues that's extremely controversial, so it needs to be done incrementally," Ravel said. "But my view is, it should ultimately be required."

Payments to bloggers became a public issue in the 2010 gubernatorial election after a Placer County blogger, Aaron F. Park, was removed from a conservative website when it was learned that he was paid by a consultant for Steve Poizner.

- - - - - - - - - -

Other critics of Ravel's plan say the issue is complex: What dollar value should be reported for a hyperlink from one website to another, for example? And would disclosure be required if a candidate responded to a favorable blog post by later buying advertising on the site?

Park said that bloggers could evade disclosure by working for political consultants hired by a campaign, not by the campaign itself.

"At the end of the day, even if it's a good idea, I just don't see how constitutionally, how legally, you get there," former legislator Steve Peace, who now runs a nonprofit public policy group, said of regulating Internet bloggers.

But Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, applauded Ravel's proposal.

"I think people should have the right to say whatever they want, in any format, on any platform, unless they're being paid by someone else to make those comments," she said. "And if that's happening, you need to identify who you are and who your donors are." (full story)

New ballot to greet voters in state's June primary

San Francisco Chronicle, By Wyatt Buchanan, April 9, 2012


When Californians vote in the June 5 primary, they will see an entirely new kind of ballot that some hope will lead to changes in the types of candidates who are elected to public office.

For this first year, many voter advocates and elections officials say, they are just hoping to avoid mass confusion.

"I think it's going to be bewildering for voters," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. The new election process comes as voters will be choosing candidates in newly drawn districts, a result of the once-a-decade redistricting, she noted.

"We want to come up with shorthand tips for voters, but it's very difficult," Alexander said, adding that, for some, reading the ballot may be like facing a strange algebra question. County officials on Friday began sending the first vote-by-mail ballots to people living overseas or in the military.

What voters will see is a new "top-two" primary system, which was approved via ballot initiative, Proposition 14, in June 2010. Previously, primary ballots would be separated by party - with each party winner moving to the general election. Now, all candidates will be together on a single ballot, and only the top two vote-getters will move on to the November election regardless of party.

Writing in candidates is no longer allowed in the November election.

The open primary applies to candidates for Congress, the Legislature and statewide offices such as governor.

Candidates will be listed by their "party preference," though they can also choose to have "no party preference."

Some elections officials say it is analogous to an Olympic race in which the first heat determines who gets to compete in the final, and the competitors in the final could be from the same country. That means some November races could be between candidates of the same party, or candidates unaffiliated with either party.

"In the past, the party nominee would be their guy or gal in the final race," said Gail Pellerin, president of the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials and the Santa Cruz County clerk. "Now that power is in the hands" of all voters, she said.

There is one big exception, though, that will be in play this year. The presidential primary will be run as it has in the past, which means voters must be registered as a member of a specific party to vote for that party's nominees. Only candidates from one party will be on the ballot for president, opposite of the other races on the ballot. (full story)

New System May Increase Voter Participation

KCRA, By Danielle Leigh. February 21, 2012


The Secretary of State says she hopes to unveil a new online voter registration system before Labor Day.

Last year, state legislators passed a law requiring Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office to develop an online voter registration system.

Right now, voters can register online in many counties through an assisted system, but you still have to print out a form and mail it in.

Bowen said the new system will rely on individual's signatures on file with the DMV to validate election ballots instead.

Voters’ advocates call the tool an important step toward increasing voter participation.

“We have 6.5 million Californians who are eligible to vote but not registered. That's 27 percent of our state’s voting population, and we believe if we could improve the voter registration process, it could help more people become participants,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

Bowen said her office still has to do some testing before it unveils the new system. (full story)

Secretary Of State: Mail-In Ballots In Jeopardy

KCRA, February 20, 2012


California Secretary of State Debra Bowen said she is concerned thousands of mail-in ballots will be delivered late, and wouldn't be counted in both the California primary and presidential elections because of plans from by the United States Postal Service to close more than 200 mail processing facilities to save money.

According to statements by the USPS, the closures could begin in May when a moratorium on the closures expires.

Bowen said the closure of mail processing facilities in California last year extended delivery times of mail-in ballots in Ventura and Monterey counties up to seven days, instead of the one- to three-day USPS standard.
"My fear is that we will have tens of thousands of ballots that come in Wednesday or Thursday and cannot legally be counted," Bowen said.

Records from the Secretary of State indicate more than 50 percent of Californians voted by mail in the past two elections. In the Sacramento region, the average was even higher, just more than 60 percent.

"It just hurts to think about how we have encouraged people to vote by mail, and now, this could result in their ballot not being counted," Bowen said.

Bowen is urging the postmaster general and Congress to postpone the closures until after the election.

- - - - - - - - -

Voter advocate Kim Alexander said if possible, voters should fill out their mail-in ballots and drop them off at their polling location, if they want to be sure their ballots will be counted.

"I think we are going to have to make an extra effort to educate voters," said Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "It is a situation that requires leadership at a statewide level by the Secretary of State if we are going to try to prevent a potential crisis this year, and make sure people can get their ballots in on time to be counted."

Bowen said legislation is pending in Congress that could postpone the closures of processing facilities.

In an email, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service said legislative relief could change the reductions the Postal Service needs to make. (full story)

Move over robo-calls, states sell email addresses for campaigns to reach voters

Fox News, By Kathleen Foster, February 6, 2012


If your email inbox starts overflowing with messages from political campaigns this election season, it could be because your state sold you out.

A Fox News study has found 19 states plus the District of Columbia, now ask for an email address on voter registration cards. In nine of those states, email addresses from the cards are then sold to political parties, organizing groups, lawmakers and campaigns who can use them to send unsolicited emails.

If it were a Viagra ad, it be considered a crime in some states. But a political message, that's all perfectly legal.

The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) law enacted in 2003 puts restrictions on commercial mass emailing, but not on political mass emailing. Politicians can "spam" and do. Political messages of any kind, including electronic, are protected free speech under the First Amendment.

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Like phone numbers, email addresses are not required to register to vote anywhere in the United States. Giving the information is optional, but that may not be clear to the average voter.

"I think this is really one of those untold stories. It's all going on behind the scenes," said Kim Alexander, president of The California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit organization which produced the study "Voter Privacy in the Digital Age."

"People who are in the election business, people who are administrators, people who are in campaigns, they all know what's going on. The voters are in the dark, and that has got to change. It's disrespectful and it's deceitful," said Alexander.

In 2008, Alexander helped redesign California's voter registration card to clearly mark the word "optional" in the form's email field.

Eight of the states that collect emails fail to clearly mark the information as "optional" on their registration forms. Not one of the states that sells email addresses clearly explains on the voter form that emails could or would be sold.

"States are now getting into, essentially, the data brokering business so they understand that the more points of contact that they have for a voter, they can make more money," Dakin said. (full story)

A look into the upcoming California elections.

KPBS, January 9, 2012


CAVANAUGH: First of all, when is the California primary this year?

ALEXANDER: Oh, that's a good question. It would be the first Tuesday in June. And that would know -- I'm just looking at my calendar. We should know these things. That would be June 5th. Yes. June 5th.

CAVANAUGH: Now, back in 2008, if I remember correctly, we had a California primary in February. It was part of what they were calling super Tuesday.


CAVANAUGH: Why did that change?

ALEXANDER: Well, California has experimented with our primary for the last several presidential elections. And we traditionally have had a June primary. But we moved it to first March back in 2000, we had a March primary in 2004, trying to get California to have a voice in the selection of presidential candidates. And the March primaries were still too late for California voters to weigh in on the presidential primary selection process. So California tried something new in 2008, and we had a bifurcated primary, where we had the approximate presidential in February. But we had the rest of the contest still on the ballot in June, which saw a really abysmal turnout. So that was probably one of the main reasons. It was very expensive to split the primaries, and even though it gave California a voice, it really cost the state a lot in terms of money. And we saw that really poor turnout in that primary. So I think that was one of the main reasons the state went back.

CAVANAUGH: Now, in June, we have a new open primary. How does that change things for voters?

ALEXANDER: It's going to change a lot of things for voters. And that's another thing. Not only have we varied the date of our primary, but we've changed the rules around in our primaries for the last several election cycles. And so this is something new again for voters. We have basically an open primary system that gives more choice to everyone in the primary. But less choices in November. Basically what happens is for the first time, it won't matter what party you're registered to, if you want to vote for a candidate of another party, you can crossover and do that. And you can vote for --

CAVANAUGH: So Democrats can vote for a Republican in our primary? For a Republican presidential nominee in June?

ALEXANDER: No, this applies to all contests except the presidential.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay.

ALEXANDER: And also party central committee contests. So it's very confusing. I talked to our local registrar here in Sacramento today about what their plans are for implementing this, and basically what voters and counties will stay across the state, there will be one ballot that has everybody on it, except for the presidential candidates and the federal committees. It'll have the major and minor party candidates for all the partisan contests for legislature and Congress. Then there will also be an additional ballot card for democratic voters to vote in the democratic primary for president. Republican voters to vote in the Republican primary for president. So the party primaries for president will still be able to be reserved just for voters of those parties, unless those parties decide to open up their primaries and allow voters of other parties or independent voters to vote in a presidential partisan primary, which the Democratic Party has done in the past, but the Republican party does not do.


ALEXANDER: So it's very complicated. (full story)

Technology failures prompt criticism of secretary of state

By Will Evans, California Watch, December 20, 2011


The latest technology snafus to hit Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office have added to growing frustration from registrars and watchdog groups, who say Bowen has been unresponsive to their concerns.

The server crash that brought down California’s campaign finance disclosure database for more than two weeks now also has incapacitated the state system for validating new voter registrations.

This, on top of a years-long delay in creating a new voter registration database, as well as other elections issues, has ratcheted up the criticism directed at Bowen, who's in her second term.

"Sometimes, I feel like we’re having to knock really hard on the door and scream that we’re out here and need time and attention and guidance and leadership," said Gail Pellerin, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. "It’s been really hard to get a seat at the table."

Bowen acknowledged the latest technology problems have been "extremely frustrating," but said she has always worked closely with county officials and advocates to formulate policy and fix problems.

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California has access to federal funding to create a new statewide voter registration database, but that process has been marred by years of delays. Bowen's office fired the contractor on that project last year and is still working to find a new one. The system isn't expected to be in place until 2015. Bowen blames the problems on the state's procurement process.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, draws a connection between the various technological setbacks.

"Technology projects have appeared to have stalled out in the secretary of state's office," Alexander said. "The situation cries out for leadership."

Alexander helped write a study by the Pew Center on the States that gave low marks to California for its lack of online lookup tools for voters. Alexander said she and several other organizations recently tried to meet with Bowen to discuss a proposal for an online tool allowing voters to find out if and where they are registered. The meeting request was denied, she said.

"It’s very discouraging," Alexander said.

Bowen said 24 out of California's 58 counties, representing about 80 percent of the population, already provide a registration lookup tool, and "there's just no reason to duplicate that effort."

"It was my judgment that with extremely limited resources that we should focus on the longer-term solutions with online voter registration," Bowen said. (full story)

California website's glitches block online tracking of campaign donations

By Torey Van Oot, Sacramento Bee, December 15, 2011


With just six months until the June primary election, campaign cash is starting to flow to candidate and ballot measure committees.

But for much of the past two weeks, technological difficulties have blocked the public's ability to track the transactions online.

Cal-Access, the 12-year-old portal for filing campaign finance and lobbying reports, has been down for all but 30 hours since Nov. 30.

Although staff at the secretary of state's office have been working since Monday on three separate approaches to try to restore access, Secretary of State Debra Bowen said Wednesday it's unclear when the site will be back up and running.

"We want to get it up as soon as possible, but we also want to complete the fix that will be the most stable over time," Bowen said.

In the meantime, lobbyists and political committees are reverting to the paper filing system they used for years before the 1999 creation of Cal-Access, submitting reports via mail, by fax or in person. Members of the public can call, email or visit the secretary of state's office to access the information.

But with fundraising for 2012 ballot measures and candidate campaigns ramping up, the repeated failures of the state's only online disclosure database for campaign and lobbying reports is troubling for advocates.

"The public needs access to this data sooner rather than later," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "We're heading into another legislative session, (and) there's going to be a lot of contested legislative and congressional races."

Bowen said that while she hopes her staff's efforts will keep the online database in place through the election, a permanent fix will require a complete overhaul. (full story)

Report: Maryland Has Nation’s Second Best Election Website

City Biz Lists, December 9, 2011


Maryland has the second-best state election website in the nation, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States.

The report - represented on the Pew Center's website by a series of interactive charts and lists - ranks election websites based on how easily they can be used, how easy it is to search for information, and what kind of basic information was included. Maryland's two election sites got a score of 84 out of 100, behind only Montana.

"I do think the site reflects the election agency's dedication to serving voters," said Kim Alexander, the president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, and the lead researcher on the study.

The study looked at only each state election website and the information presented there. It did not consider campaign finance disclosure websites. Alexander said that the study's criteria came from a group of experts working on behalf of the Pew Center, the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies, and the Nielsen Norman Group. (full story)

California trails in online tools for voters, study finds

By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles TImes, , December 8, 2011


Why would you want to be in Minnesota in November rather than in sunny California?

Because Minnesota has far better online tools for voters than the Golden State, according to a new study from the Pew Center for the States.

"While many other states have made great progress in recent years utilizing the Internet as an effective and efficient tool to help voters engage in elections, California is lagging behind," Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, which helped write the report, said in a statement.

The study found California was one of only two states that failed to give all its voters five basic online tools. (The other state was Vermont.)

The report dinged California and the secretary of state's office for giving voters no way to check their registration status, polling place, requirements to register or instructions on using special voting equipment for people with disabilities. Some counties do make such information available to voters online.

California was also criticized for providing its voter information in PDFs rather than more user-friendly HTMLs. (full story)

California’s election web site needs work

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Contra Costa TImes, December 8, 2011


A Pew Center Center on the States’ study on election web sites found California’s in need of improvement.

Click here to read the full study, called “Being Online Is Not Enough.”

The Golden State scored below average and while researchers found some good stuff, the state is shy on key look-up tools offered elsewhere. Here’s a summary of they had to say about and

California provides rich and detailed voting information for users, but offers none of the five recommended lookup tools, reducing its overall score. Improved navigation and content organization can help voters find needed information.

The California Secretary of State’s office operates the sites evaluated. The tools include voter registration status, polling place, ballot information, and absentee and provisional ballot status.

The California Voter Foundation, Center for Governmental Studies and the Nielsen Norman Group participated in the project.

While many other states have made great progress in recent years utilizing the Internet as an effective and efficient tool to help voters engage in elections, California is lagging behind,” wrote California Voter Foundation

director Kim Alexander. “At CVF, we are working with a number of individuals and organizations to promote a statewide voter registration status lookup tool and hope that someday soon California voters will have as

good, if not better access to modern election tools as voters in other states.” (full story)

State of Florida’s elections site scores well in Pew Center report

By Peter Schorsch, Saint Peters Blog, December 8, 2011


Being Online Is Still Not Enough provides state-by-state reviews and analysis based on detailed criteria of election websites for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It also includes recommendations for improving each site

to better inform voters, and provides a list of best practices adopted by many states to maximize their election office’s online presence. This report follows Pew’s initial 2008 study, Being Online Is Not Enough.

Assessments were based on three categories: content, lookup tools, and usability. Roll your cursor over the map below to see each state’s overall score, and scores broken down by category. (full story)

Vast majority of Santa Clara County voters opted to vote by mail

By Jessica Parks, Peninsula Press, November 16, 2011


Santa Clara County voters last week were split on labor issues, school board members, council candidates and a composting facility. But there was one choice an overwhelming majority agreed upon: voting by mail.

Of the 44,403 votes cast Nov. 8 in Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, Orchard School District and Sunnyvale School District, more than 80 percent came via mail-in ballots, according to county election results.

Kim Alexander, founder and president of the California Voter Foundation, said it’s common to see a higher percentage of mail-in ballots in low-turnout elections. “I think that’s because there are about 3 [million] to 4 million people in the state who vote in every election, and many of those people are voting by mail,” she said.

Presidential elections, on the other hand, draw a larger number of occasional voters, who are less likely to register as permanent absentee voters.

- - - - - - -

Oregon and Washington now conduct all of their balloting by mail, a change that proponents say has reduced costs and boosted turnout.

Alexander said that system wouldn’t work for California. “We’re not Oregon or Washington. Our electorate is far more diverse,” she said. “There are a lot of people who benefit from poll-worker assistance.”

She also pointed out that Oregon has a “unified statewide voting system,” whereas in California, instructions and procedures can vary by county. Even policies set at the state level are sometimes implemented differently from one polling place to another, she said.

Santa Clara County’s Nov. 8 turnout would seem to indicate that absentee ballots increase voter turnout — the county got back 41.8 percent of the absentee ballots it distributed, while only 25.3 percent of non-absentee voters actually made it to their polling place.

But a recent study by the Pew Center on the States found that a mandatory vote-by-mail system in California would reduce an individual’s likelihood of voting by 13.2 percent, and have an even stronger dampening effect on urban and minority voters.

Critics of all-mail balloting also note that voters can confirm that their ballot was received, but they can’t always confirm that their vote was counted. They say many ballots have been misplaced in the mail, arrived after election day, or been disqualified because the voter did not sign the envelope.

In the 2008 primary election, 4.8 percent of absentee ballots submitted in Santa Clara County were not counted, according to data on the Secretary of State’s website. In the general election that followed, that rate dropped to 1.6 percent. Statewide, the percentages of uncounted absentee ballots for those elections were 2.5 and 2.8, respectively.

Absentee voting is “beneficial to those voters who are using it, but it’s not the solution for everyone,” Alexander said. Her foundation advocates a hybrid approach to election reform, both improving accountability in the absentee voting system and boosting efficiency in polling places. (full story)

KCRA 3 Examines 'Occupy' Protesters' Voting Records, Novemebr 2, 2011


Occupy Sacramento protesters have been expressing their anger at the government's priorities by protesting in Cesar Chavez Park and refusing to leave afterhours.

As of last week, 50 people had been arrested, some several times, according to the Sacramento Police Department.

KCRA 3 requested voting records for those people from Sacramento County.

Records provided by the Assistant Registrar of Voters confirmed nearly half, 24, are registered to vote in Sacramento County.

Of the protesters who are registered to vote, most have voted on average, two times in the past five years.

Some protesters admit they have never voted.

"I don't believe the system works," said Christina Kay, an Occupy Sacramento protester.

Other protesters, such as Mark Bradley, said they have never missed an election.

"I believe it's important that if I am going to express my opinion, that I ought to back that up with voting," Bradley said.

Kim Alexander works to increase voter participation. She said, in her experience, these voting records are typical.

"I really think that for most people who aren't voting in California, it's not that they are hardcore non-voters, they simply are busy."

Other registered voters watching the Occupy movement said they think the protesters should be voting. (full story)

I. In Focus This Week

By M. Mindy Moretti, Election Line Weekly, October 13, 2011


With the stroke of a pen from Gov. Jerry Brown, California recently once again legalized online voter registration providing an additional opportunity for more than six million residents of voting age to register to vote.

California law already allows for online voter registration, however the process on the books before the new legislation was approved was contingent upon the completion of the state’s federally approved voter registration database — VoteCal.

While the state does have a statewide voter registration database, the current system does not make it possible to fully register to vote online. Tired of waiting for the state’s fully federally compliant statewide voter registration database to come online San Francisco Senator Leland Yee introduced SB 397 which would allow counties to offer online voter registration now.

“This is an important first step toward fully upgrading California’s voter registration, making use of better technological tools to make the voter registration process more accurate, less expensive, and more efficient,” said David Becker, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Election Initiatives.

Under SB 397, citizens will input their voter information online and the county elections office would use the voter’s signature from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to verify authenticity. That signature can be matched against the voter’s signature at the polling place.

- - - - - - -- -

When online registration is finally available in California, there will be multiple benefits. In addition to getting more people accurately registered to vote, one of the biggest impacts of the new law will be cost savings. Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation said that the cost savings are “potentially enormous.”

Research by the Pew’s Election Initiatives indicates that there are substantial cost savings that result from online registration.

“For instance, in Maricopa County, Ariz., where they’ve had online registration for almost a decade, it costs them only an average of 3 cents to process each online registration, as opposed to 83 cents to process a paper registration, and they’ve reduced their printing costs by 75 percent,” Becker said.

According to Becker, as a result of these kinds of savings, jurisdictions that have implemented online registration have recouped their initial investment in around two years or less.

Alexander said another cost savings may be found on provisional voting.

“California has more provisional voting than any other state - in 2008 it accounted for one third of all provisional ballots cast nationwide! One fifth of those ballots [issued in California in 2008] were not counted because those voters were not properly registered,” Alexander said.

One area of concern about the new online voter registration law is what impact not having a statewide voter registration database could have on the registration process.

Alexander said that California is one of only nine states that lacks a registration status look-up tool for voters and without that tool, there could be problems with the new online system.

“I'm concerned if we implement online registration without an accompanying registration status lookup tool then many people will end up reregistering when they actually don't need to, and this will lead to extra, unnecessary work for counties processing those registrations,” Alexander said.

The state has already applied for a federal grant to help pay for the process and representatives from the secretary of state’s office are working with their counterparts in the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to create the new online process. (full story)

Editorial: Initiative process deserves reform

Visalia Times-Delta, October 12, 2011


Anyone who has voted in a statewide election in California knows that the initiative process has become corrupted from its noble intentions.

Now there is hard evidence.

According to "Democracy by Initiative," a report by the Center for Governmental Studies, the initiative process has been taken over by special interests and big business to promote their interests. In addition, various nonprofit and citizen watchdog groups have found that California's initiative process has strayed a long way from the populist reform adopted by the state under Gov. Hiram Johnson 100 years ago.

In the beginning, initiatives were used sparingly to correct corruptive abuses by government itself. Now they promote specific causes and values, often for the advantage of big business or special interests.

According to "Democracy by Initiative," a report by the Center for Governmental Studies, two-thirds of all ballot initiative contributions came in amounts of $100,000 or more in 1990. By 2006, two-thirds of all contributions came in amounts of $1 million or more.

"Ironically, we're sort of back where we started when Hiram Johnson started the initiative process," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "It's dominated by the very special interests he sought to overcome through the initiative process."

Many specific remedies have been proposed to reform the initiative process. It's time some of those were tried. The process is subverting the legislative process, and it's only getting worse. (full story)

At 100, California Direct Democracy Gets Facelift, October 10, 2011


Political watchers gathered in Sacramento on Monday morning to mark the 100-year anniversary of California's initiative process and discuss the potential impact of legislation recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown signed SB 202 by Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock of Berkeley on Friday. The law moves all statewide initiatives and referendums to November general elections ballots. Previously, such votes also could take place during primary elections in June.

"I think it's a significant change," said Kim Alexander, of the California Voter Foundation.

Alexander was one of about 50 people who attended a day-long conference on the initiative process at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in downtown Sacramento.

In signing the bill into law, Brown said it "restores the original understanding" that initiatives were to be considered at a general election and involve more people.

Alexander said that may be true, but added that the November-only rule could also have unintended consequences.

"Rather than looking at eight measures in June and 10 measures in November, people are going to end up with 18 measures on one ballot," Alexander said. "And that could be very challenging for voters." (full story)

Corporations, wealthy dominate initiative process

By Judy Lin, San Jose Mercury News, October 9, 2011


California's initiative process was intended to give people a way to arm themselves against corruption, whether it was from lawmakers in the Capitol or the special interests that controlled them.

But in the 100 years since former Gov. Hiram Johnson rallied against the corrupt politics that permeated state government, corporations and wealthy individuals have adapted to California's initiative process—and in some years dominate it—by qualifying ballot measures that benefit them.

Insurance, oil, pharmaceutical and utility companies are among the well-funded interests that have spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years to promote their causes through California initiatives. In 2008, for example, Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens' company contributed 98 percent of the $22.8 million spent to promote an initiative regarding the use of natural gas in vehicles, a move that would have benefited the billionaire's business interests. Voters rejected it.

In the June 2010 primary, the only two initiatives not placed on the ballot by the Legislature were funded primarily by two corporations—Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Mercury Insurance. The largest donation given to any one initiative campaign came from Hollywood producer Steven Bing, who gave $48 million in support of Proposition 87, an unsuccessful alternative energy initiative on the November 2006 ballot.

- - - - - - - - - -

According to "Democracy by Initiative," a report by the Center for Governmental Studies, two-thirds of all ballot initiative contributions came in amounts of $100,000 or more in 1990. By 2006, two-thirds of all contributions came in amounts of $1 million or more.

"Ironically, we're sort of back where we started when Hiram Johnson started the initiative process," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "It's dominated by the very special interests he sought to overcome through the initiative process."

Mercury Insurance illustrates how narrow interests have laid claim to the process.

In 2010, the company sunk $15 million into Proposition 17, an attempt to overturn state law banning auto insurance companies from considering a driver's insurance history in setting rates.

While that measure failed, Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph has donated nearly $8.1 million to a political action aiming to place a similar initiative on the ballot next June. American Agents Alliance, which runs the PAC, says the proposal will allow customers to receive a discount for having consistent coverage in the past and is allowed in almost every other state. (full story)

Era of Reform May Lead to More Changes in Sacramento

By Joe Moore, Valley Public Radio, October 4, 2011


One hundred years ago this month, California’s experiment in direct democracy was born with the introduction of the ballot initiative and referendum process. Now, a century later, Californians are again looking at new ideas to fix what many feel is a broken system in Sacramento. So what might the next 100 years have in store?

If you take a moment to compare California of 2011, to that of 1911, the differences are huge. Back then, the state was home to only 2 million people, and Hollywood, industrial scale agriculture and Silicon Valley simply didn’t exist. But there’s also some striking similarities to the present day, at least politically.

“I think that the state capital is just as much controlled by special interests today as it was one hundred years ago. It may not be one single interest, but the rules of the game have not changed,” says Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation.

“It still takes a lot of money to run for office, the capital is filled with lobbyists, and the legislative docket is filled with bills from lobbying groups and industries. It was true 100 years ago and it’s true today.”

Back then, Sacramento was controlled by the powerful Southern Pacific Railroad. California voters responded to the situation by electing a reform minded governor, Hiram Johnson, who led the charge to let citizens take lawmaking into the own hands. The result was the initiative, the referendum and the recall.

In the past ten decades, thousands of initiatives have qualified for the ballot, and while a relatively small number have actually become law, the process remains popular.

“Most Californians think that the initiative process does a better job of making policy tha the governor and the legislature,” says Mark Baldasarre, President and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California. In the PPIC’s most recent public opinion poll, released last month, sixty two percent of Californians say they are satisfied with the initiative process. Compare that to the state Legislature, which gets an approval rate of just 26 percent.

- - - - - - - - -

In the new PPIC poll, six in ten voters supported the concept of changing the current limit of eight years in the State Senate and six in the Assembly, to a total of twelve years in any of the two houses. A initiative to that effect has already qualified for the 2012 ballot.

Even the initiative process itself is not without its problems and potential fixes.

“The problem is we’re making initiative policy in a vacuum, and voters aren’t really being given the full picture, the way the Legislature is when they pass a budget. They’re looking at the whole budget, the whole state and all the programs. Voters are just looking at one proposal at a time,” says Alexander.

She says there are proposals in the Legislature that would help voters weigh the cost of initiatives in advance. Other reform suggestions involve the way measures qualify for the ballot, to reduce the reliance on paid signature gatherers.

“We have a very short qualification period and we haven’t changed that in the 100 years of California’s initiative process. There could be a different approach where we give proponents more time to gather signatures so they don’t have to be so dependent on money.”

Jim Boren says he’d like to see more transparency in the process to determine legal and fiscal problems with initiatives before Californians vote on them. “I’d like to see a system where if an initiative is qualified for the ballot it that has to have Legislative hearings so you could find out the problems in it,” says Boren.

But regardless of the changes that may come to state government in the coming years, one thing is certain, California’s century old initiative process isn’t going anywhere.

As Alexander says, “Californians have a love hate relationship with the initiative process. We love to complain about it but don’t you dare talk about taking it away.” (full story)

After 100 years, does California's initiative process need a tune-up?

By Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star, September 24, 2011


Paul Jacob, president of Virginia-based Citizens in Charge Foundation, may be the fiercest defender of direct democracy in America. He's helped organize more than 150 petition drives in 47 states, and feels so strongly about the righteousness of the initiative process that he risked going to prison by defying an Oklahoma law prohibiting the use of paid signature-gatherers in that state.

When Jacob comes to California, he feels right at home. He gives the state's initiative process an A grade.

"The essential thing is that there be a chance for people to represent themselves," Jacob said. "Most states get a D or an F. California has a very robust process."

Bruno Kaufmann, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe, has studied direct democracy around the world, especially in Switzerland, where direct democracy dates to the 14th century and was the inspiration for California's system. When he looks at California, he shakes his head.

"It may be the only place in the world where I would recommend less, not more, direct democracy," he said. "The California process is not about solving conflict. It's an inflexible way of dealing with constitutional affairs. What you have is the hammer and not the screwdriver."

- - - - - - - - -

But voters have proved to be a hard sell. They rejected the prohibition of alcohol four times and twice shot down the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. They sided with the medical profession over public hysteria by voting down a plan to eliminate compulsory vaccinations and, 65 years later, to quarantine people with AIDS. They also said no to assisted suicide.

"Only one out of three initiatives has passed," noted Kim Alexander, founder and president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "Voters really have pretty high standards."

Jacob, Kaufmann and Alexander were among the panelists at a forum — titled "How do we put people back in the initiative process?" — sponsored by the civic engagement group Zócalo Public Square last week in San Francisco.

Most initiatives don't deal with such emotional topics as those cited above. Rather, most address issues at the intersection of people and their government: taxes, spending priorities and the rules that govern elections and the legislative process.

Over the last 35 years, Californians through ballot initiatives have restricted property taxes, required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for tax increases, established legislative term limits, set a floor for spending on K-12 education, approved the borrowing of money to pay for parks and stem cell research, and set aside untouchable pots of funds to pay for early childhood development, after-school programs and services for the mentally ill.

Critics say all these stand-alone measures have had the cumulative effect of tying the hands of legislators in dealing with the state budget and contributed to the dysfunction of state government. (full story)

Patt Morrison Asks: Balloteer Kim Alexander

By Pat Morrison, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2011


What's a nice girl like you doing in a mess like this?

I love elections; I grew up with elections. My dad ran for Culver City City Council when I was 7. Election night, we had a big party and my dad was the underdog and someone was on the phone getting the numbers and I [wrote] the numbers on the chalkboard. To me, politics has been about community service.

You also learned about the political version of trick or treat.

Someone showed up at the door with a $500 [campaign contribution] check. For a Culver City election, that was a lot of money. My dad sent him away. He said: "I don't know that man, I don't want to know him and I don't want him to think I owe him anything." My first lesson in how money in politics works!

We have former Secretary of State March Fong Eu to thank for banning pay toilets -- and for the California Voter Foundation?

[It was] an offshoot of the secretary of state's office, to raise charitable funds for extra voter outreach. By 1993, it was [defunct], out of compliance with various tax filings. In college I'd worked for Gary K. Hart when he ran for Congress. It was grueling: high stakes, consultants, opposition research -- that stuff is really unpleasant. I wanted to be for all the voters, not just some of the voters. So this opportunity to restart the California Voter Foundation fell into my lap.

Even voter registration has become politicized. Someone on a right-wing website wrote that it is "profoundly … un-American'' to register welfare recipients to vote.

It's unfortunate. In a lot of the world you're automatically [registered] when you become 18 and you're a citizen. Here we have this extra hurdle.

Across the country, voting rights are not shared among all Americans. In California there's a variety of practices between the counties, an unevenness. That's a big problem.

You almost weren't allowed to vote in 2008.

They told me my polling place had moved. I got my sample ballot and went back and said, "This is my polling place." They were turning other people away.

Elections are run as if they're one-day sales. We run polling places for 12, 14 hours, staffed by people with very little training working very long hours on a job they only do once or twice a year. We should have people vote over several days in an environment staffed by well-trained people. I think about elections year-round; most people only think about them for maybe two months. It's hard to sustain the momentum to implement election reform.

What kinds of problems have you encountered at other polling places?

In 2006, when the electronic voting battle was raging, I went in with a crew from [the PBS] "Newshour" to a polling place in Stockton, with cameras. It was complete chaos. [A poll worker] hadn't shown up; they literally had pulled someone in off the street to help. All these security seals on the electronic voting machines, poll workers just tore [them] off, because they didn't know what they were doing.

I went to another polling place in the same county that afternoon without the cameras. I gave them my card and they thought I was some government official. The poll worker opened the machine up at to show me the paper trail spool – exactly the opposite of what they were supposed to do.

The biggest fiasco I witnessed was paperless electronic voting in March 2004. We found out that San Diego County bought its equipment from Diebold before it was even certified by the state or the federal government. The second largest county in the state. They deployed thousands of voting machines and more than half [in] their polling places were not operating at some point during [election] day. People were literally told to go home and come back later when maybe the machines would be working.

Voting is a constitutional right, but some states demand that voters show official IDs, to stop fraud. Critics say that's about suppressing the vote.

It's a solution in search of a problem. There's this myth of voter fraud.You see hardly any instances.

First-time voters [already] have to show ID when they vote. When you sign the poll book, you're doing so under penalty of perjury. I'd like a happy medium where maybe you don't show a photo ID but some [document] with your name on it. (full story)

California set to move its presidential primary back to June

By David Siders, Sacramento Bee, July 29, 2011


Tired of presidential candidates treating California like an ATM, raising vast sums of money here but spending it in states where campaigns cost less and matter more, state officials four years ago agreed to hold the 2008 primary in February.

The early date, they hoped, might focus more attention on the Golden State. "Now California is important again in presidential nominating politics," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said at the time.

But more than 20 other states moved their primaries up, too, and California, if not the afterthought it was in previous elections, was marginalized yet again.

Now, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign legislation moving next year's presidential primary back to June, consolidating it with the statewide primary election.

- - - - -- - - - - -

Fong's bill would return California's presidential primary to June, where it lasted for decades before being moved to March in 1996 and 2000. The February vote in 2008 was the earliest in state history.

Turnout in that election was historically high, but without the presidential candidates at the top of the ticket in June, turnout for the statewide primary plummeted.

Critics in 2008 said the switch to February was motivated at least in part by lawmakers' hope that a proposition to alter the state's term limit rules could pass in time for termed-out lawmakers to file for re-election.

Debate about Fong's bill has not been without political overtones. With Obama in the White House, the presidential primary next year matters to Republicans far more than Democrats.

"The Democrats right now, I think, will feel a little bit differently four years from now, because they already have their nominee," Strickland said. "I guarantee you four years from now the same state Legislature – different players, obviously, because of term limits – will argue to move it forward."

Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation hopes they don't. Holding one primary instead of two is less confusing for voters, she said. If Brown signs the change, she'd like California to stick to it.

"From the voters' perspective, the one thing you can anticipate about primaries in California is that it won't be the same as last time," Alexander said. "What benefits voters is consistency, and we do not have that in California." (full story)

Americans Elect backing effort for nonpartisan Web-based presidential convention

By Torey Van Oot, Sacramento Bee, July 28, 2011


Voters dissatisfied with choosing between President Barack Obama and his Republican challengers next year could find themselves turning to the Web to pick the nation's next commander in chief.

A national effort has emerged to hold a virtual convention in June 2012, when the major party nominees will be all but decided, to select an alternative, bipartisan ticket to run on the November ballot in all 50 states.

Americans Elect, which is organizing the drive, says it is committed to creating a nonpartisan process that will use the Internet "to give every single voter – Democrat, Republican or independent – the power to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012."

The Washington, D.C.-based group takes a major step today toward making its vision a reality as it starts submitting 1.6 million voter signatures to California election officials in an attempt to ensure that the candidates chosen through its nominating process will appear on the state's ballot.

The group's chief operating officer, Elliot Ackerman, called the movement "an effort to elevate our political discourse and get our politics into a position where it's really solution-oriented."

"There's a lot of Americans that feel they're a bit more nuanced than the prescriptive positions that the two parties offer right now," he said.

Observers say an outside choice – and a 21st century system for choosing nominees – could appeal to voters fed up with partisan gridlock in Washington, pointing to the stalemate over the debt ceiling as elected officials' latest offense. And unlike in 1995, when the Reform Party launched by Ross Perot gained ballot access across the country, the current effort can rely on the networking capabilities of the Internet and social media to deliver its message and drum up support.

"Their effort is debuting at a perfect time. ... There is a spirit of independence, political independence, within American politics that this group may successfully tap into and provide a constructive path for people looking for alternatives," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. (full story)

Vote-by-mail service under threat in budget cuts

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen, San Jose Mercury News, July 26, 2011


California's beloved vote-by-mail system will remain largely intact, despite state legislators' raid on its relatively small pot of dollars.
County election clerks say they likely will scrape up the $33 million the state sliced from the budget for elections.

Permanent vote-by-mail allows voters to sign up once and automatically receive ballots. Under the old system, voters who wished to vote by mail requested a ballot each election.

Nearly half of the 10.3 million residents who cast ballots in November did so through the mail. The percentage topped the halfway mark in most counties, offering further evidence that voting by mail has become an indispensable feature for many.

However, the fact that the fate of permanent vote-by-mail service rests with each of California's 58 counties now that the state suspended reimbursement is prompting voting rights advocates to rekindle their calls for a stronger state role in elections.

California's decentralized election system means counties could "decide to eliminate the permanent vote-by-mail option," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "Voter access is already uneven from county to county, and the suspension of the mandates is only going to make it worse.

"What do we tell voters when they want to know if they can vote by mail?"

California law mandates that counties offer permanent vote-by-mail, but the law also requires the state to pay for it.

With no state funding, counties may opt out -- although it appears none plan to do so. (full story)

With Brown in office, Democrats renew efforts for ballot initiative reform

By Will Evans, California Watch, July 25, 2011


One hundred years after California adopted the ballot initiative process, legislation to reform it is steadily making its way through the state Legislature. Reform proponents hope they have a new opportunity to change the process with Gov. Jerry Brown, after previous efforts were vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A bill that would ban signature gatherers from getting paid per signature is waiting on Brown's desk. Another bill, which would have paid signature gatherers wear a badge to distinguish them from volunteers, passed the state Senate on a party-line vote and was slightly amended in the Assembly.

Yet another bill would require that the top financial backers and opponents of ballot measures be disclosed on the ballot pamphlets voters receive. Senate Democrats also passed that bill over Republican opposition.

"The playing field is different because we have a new governor," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "There’s good reason why lawmakers are having a second go at (these) bills."

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Walnut Creek, who wrote the badge bill and funding disclosure bill, said abuse of the initiative system is one of the biggest problems in California governance.

His bills are "baby steps to getting the general public to realize that the initiative process has been hijacked by moneyed interests on the left and right," he said. "It's just transparency."

Opponents say the reform effort is a power grab by Democratic legislators who want to make citizen legislating harder (full story)

For redistricting commissioners, what's a conflict of interest?

By Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star, July 20, 2011


In the spring of 2010, when he applied to become a member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, Gabino Aguirre of Santa Paula described himself as a "community activist" who had been an "advocate for a variety of causes."

Aguirre survived the rigorous screening process conducted by the State Auditor's Office and was ultimately chosen as one of 14 commissioners selected from a pool that originally included 25,000 applicants.

Now, with the commission poised to adopt political district maps that are certain to displease many Californians, Aguirre, one of five Democrats on the panel, has become the subject of sharp attacks from Republican Party leaders who accuse him of being a community activist who has been an advocate for a variety of causes.

The attacks raise anew questions that the State Auditor Elaine Howle struggled with in 2009 as she developed guidelines and regulations for the selection of commissioners, a task with which she was charged under Proposition 11, the initiative that created the independent redistricting process.

Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said she believes the auditor "struck the right balance" in disqualifying those whose political connections were so strong as to make them potentially beholden to a particular party or politician while at the same time keeping the process open to those who had been engaged in civic activities.

"No one involved in crafting this commission expected you to have applicants who had zero political involvement in their history," she said. (full story)

Delaware courts: Chris Tigani campaign finance case runs into weak laws

By Jeff Montgomery and Maureen Milford, June 10, 2011


Christopher J. Tigani's guilty plea to federal election-law violations has highlighted the fact that Delaware has some of the weakest such laws in the nation.

Federal prosecutors this week said their investigation of Tigani's crimes also led them to evidence of violations of state election laws by others. That evidence has been turned over to the Delaware attorney general, who said he will appoint an independent counsel.

Any investigation, however, will be up against state election laws that are so weak that many longtime observers say no one has ever been prosecuted under them.

National public-interest groups and surveys have repeatedly tagged Delaware's campaign- finance reporting law as anemic.

In 2008, a multiyear national study by a group funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts gave Delaware its lowest failing grade, and pointed out that the state was one of only two that lost ground since 2003.

The report pegged Delaware as having one of the nation's sketchiest campaign-finance disclosure systems, citing omissions of details about contributors, delays in release of last-minute contributions until after elections, and severe limitations on public record review capabilities.

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Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said Delaware should have little trouble improving.

Failing grade

The foundation, supported by the Pew Center on the States, published a series of reports that found Delaware in the minority of states allowing only voluntary electronic filing of campaign reports. The group gave Delaware a grade of "F," and ranked only Alabama, the Dakotas and Wyoming lower. Wyoming has since adopted major reforms and expanded access to records.

"Voluntary programs are good, but they're not good enough," Alexander said. "Unless there's a requirement, you won't see a lot of data online in a form that's user-friendly."

Peter Quist, a researcher with the National Institute on Money and State Politics, found in a 2010 report that 35 states require donors to list employers or occupations -- provisions that can help track patterns of giving -- and 41 provide systems that allow some degree of searches of contributors.

(full story)

GLBT and business groups want downtown and Midtown to have just one city council member

By Cosmo Garvin, The Sacramento News & Review, May 05, 2011


In Sacramento we think about “the grid” as a distinct area, geographically and culturally. It’s where Sacramento’s night life is centered, where you find the great neighborhoods of century-old Victorians and equally old trees. It’s the home of an expanding restaurant district, a thriving gay and lesbian community, and where Second Saturday has taken root.

But when it comes to political representation at City Hall, Midtown and downtown are downright balkanized.

Consider Steve Hansen’s neighborhood, Alkali Flat. His address is in city council District 1, represented by Angelique Ashby. “But if I walk one block, I’m in a different district,” he explained—specifically District 3, represented by Councilman Steve Cohn. “But I’m still in the same neighborhood.” A few blocks south and he’s in another council district entirely, Councilman Rob Fong’s District 4.

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That dilutes the political power of central city residents, or so the argument goes.

“If the person living across the street from you has a different council member, you can’t go together and say, ‘Hi, we’re your constituents.’ The political clout of the central city just doesn’t exist,” said Kim Alexander, director of the California Voter Foundation. She used to live in the Poverty Ridge neighborhood (around 21st and T).

While downtown gets lots of attention for its flashy projects and high-profile issues like the rail yards and K Street, it’s harder for neighborhoods to get the care and feeding they need, adds Hansen.

“Everybody wants to be there when there’s a groundbreaking. Nobody wants to be there when there’s a break-in,” he said.

Hansen and the other members of the redistricting commission will meet every Monday evening at City Hall until the end of June. You can go to the city’s website for agendas, and to watch video of past meetings. The city also provides software tools for citizens to experiment with and even submit their own proposed district maps. The deadline for citizen map submissions is May 16.

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Cohn said another problem with unifying the central city is that right now it has three council members with a stake in the grid’s success. Change the lines, and the central city’s lone council member may find themselves the lonely vote for the interests of the urban core.

“The other council members might look at the central city as just one other district,” says Cohn.

Still, Cohn is open to the idea. “I’m up in the air right now,” Cohn said, but added, “If we’re going to do it, I think my district would make the most sense,” said Cohn, explaining that District 3, which already contains the biggest chunk of Midtown, may be best suited to take on the other grid neighborhoods.

But maybe Rob Fong in District 4 wants to hold on to his piece of downtown, or would rather have all of it. Or perhaps Sandy Sheedy in District 2 would like to see her north Sacramento district slide across the river and snatch up the downtown rail yards.

Kim Alexander believes the redistricting process ought to be taken out of city council members’ hands.

“Fundamentally, it’s a conflict of interest for politicians to draw their own council districts and then vote on them.”

This year, the citizens redistricting panel—which actually started with Councilman Kevin McCarty and Mayor Kevin Johnson, in a rare moment of agreement—is an attempt to give the public more input. But it remains to be seen whether unification of the central city will fare better than it did 10 years ago.

It ought to, Alexander says. “Midtown is the public face of Sacramento. It’s the social and cultural center of Sacramento. We need to make sure they can effectively represent their community.” (full story)

Editorial: Online voter registration system is long overdue

The Sacramento Bee, May 01, 2011


Think about 6.4 million people. That's more people than live in 34 of the 50 states. It's also the number of Californians who are eligible to vote but are not registered.

Individuals are most directly responsible for shirking their most basic civic duty. But California's top election official, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, has a role.

Bowen, a Democrat, won a second four-year term in November. Now, she is running in a special election for a congressional seat in Los Angeles County left vacant when Jane Harman stepped down.

While she has her eye on Washington, Bowen has some unfinished business here in Sacramento, most notably bringing California's voter registration system into the computer age.

Bowen, a cautious person, last year canceled a contract with a software company that had agreed to create a voter database that would allow Californians to register to vote online.

But six months after winning re-election, the secretary of state and the Department of General Services have failed to put a new contract out for bid. The delay is unacceptable.

Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation gathered some statistics:

The Legislature approved online registration in 2008, to no avail. Clearly frustrated with delays and excuses, some lawmakers are plunging ahead with their own solutions. (full story)

Burn the wagons

The Economist, April 20, 2011


California in the 21st century faces a question that would fascinate the classical and Enlightenment thinkers who influenced America’s founders. Most of them stipulated that participatory democracies must be small. Their populations should be culturally homogeneous. And they must be virtuous.

California, though, is the most populous and diverse state in America, and no more or less virtuous than any other modern society. The historical achievement of America’s federal constitution was to create a republican structure that would preserve liberty and stability even in a large and diverse society. The price was to make democracy indirect and less participatory. Can California avoid paying that price?

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The executive branch, in turn, must become more accountable. It might seem, but is not, paradoxical that this means electing fewer statewide and local officers and giving them more power. “I currently have 22 people I elect to represent me at all levels of government, and I can’t name them—and I’m president of the California Voter Foundation,” laments Kim Alexander, an expert on voter education. Ideally, Californians should elect just one statewide executive, the governor, and let him appoint the other seven. The people can then re-elect or fire the governor for his choices.

The recommendations above are essentially the same as those The Economist made in 2004 when it last examined California in a special report. It is encouraging that some of these steps (such as redistricting and open primaries) have already been taken, others are well under way and yet others are attracting increasing support among the policy elite. (full story)

Brown's Countdown, Day 27: Absentee ballots on Jerry Brown's chopping block?

By Torey Van Oot, Sacramento Bee, February 5, 2011


Nearly 5 million voters chose to cast their ballots by mail when Gov. Jerry Brown was elected in November, representing almost half of all votes cast in the statewide contest.

Now election officials are warning that a piece of Brown's budget proposal could put the increasingly popular form of balloting, and the integrity of the voting process, in jeopardy.

As part of his plan to close a projected $25.4 billion deficit, Brown wants to stop reimbursing local governments for the costs of complying with various state laws, including the 1978 law that gives all California voters the option of casting their ballots by mail.

Department of Finance officials have scored roughly $32.6 million in savings by not paying the tab for several years' worth of reimbursement claims for specific costs associated with six election mandates. They include establishing a permanent absentee voter system, extending the voter registration window to 15 days before an election and processes for registering voters.

Ending the reimbursements makes the associated laws optional for local governments in the coming fiscal year.

County election officials are still assessing the actual impact Brown's proposal would have on election departments and voters if adopted by the Legislature, but California Association of Clerks and Election Officials President Gail Pellerin called the move "not a wise policy."

"Everyone is going to have to take a cut, everyone is going to have to give a little bit, but I think suspending these vital programs voters have come to rely on is not a good direction," said Pellerin, the Santa Cruz County clerk.

Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer cautioned that suspending the mandates does not necessarily mean counties will suspend the services.

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Kim Alexander, founder and president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said failing to fund the mandates could compound the existing problem of "uneven access to the voting process at the local level."

"Given how little money counties have already to fund elections, it would be a huge blow," Alexander said.

In Sacramento County, the funding loss would be an estimated $800,000 to $1 million in the next fiscal year, according to Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill Lavine.

"It definitely will add to the stress if I have to find another million dollars in my budget just to maintain the level of service I have right now," she said.

Still, it could cost more to communicate the changes to voters and accommodate increased traffic at polling places, Lavine and other election officials said.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, said while he thinks the state should reimburse counties for costs it forces on them, there are some cases in which removal of mandates could have a beneficial effect.

"In many instances, the state mandates things that the local governments don't want to do and sometimes the local governments find a cheaper way to do it," he said. "If there's a removal of the mandate and counties can revert to the old way of voting, there might be a better way to (provide those services)."

And some say the more costly policies, including the absentee voting and permanent absentee list laws, still merit review.

"I know the way it's working right now is not in everyone's interest and is wasteful," Alexander said, noting a report that found more than 23 million absentee ballots have been lost or never returned since California created a permanent vote-by-mail system in 2002.

It is not certain whether all – or any – counties would revert to the pre-mandate laws, such as enforcing a 29-day registration deadline or providing absentee ballots only to voters unable to vote in person because of illness, handicap, religious conflict or absence from the precinct on Election Day (full story)

Cheaper, popular mail-in ballots worry critics

By Deia de Brito, California Watch, December 23, 2010


Californians are mailing it in.

Results from the Nov. 2 gubernatorial election – which had the highest turnout since 1994 – show that ballots cast by mail made up 48 percent of total votes. During the 2006 gubernatorial election, only 41.6 percent of voters cast ballots by mail.

The increasing shift to vote-by-mail ballots is a positive sign for many election officials. They say it increases voter turnout and is considerably cheaper than the cost counties pay for regular voters. But critics argue the true cost of the system may be higher than reported by its boosters. They also say election officials need to take a closer look at the social costs, such as how the mail-in system affects homeless voters.

Gail Pellerin, president of the Association of Clerks and Election Officials, said that in Santa Cruz County, where she serves as county clerk, regular voters cost the county $10 while vote-by-mail voters cost $3.

Costs are lower because of less staff time and fewer equipment costs. Plus, the state refunds counties the costs of sending out and counting vote-by-mail ballots – another major incentive for local governments to promote voting by mail.

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Since California adopted its permanent vote-by-mail program in 2002, the number of such voters has increased dramatically. In the 2002 primary election, only 4 percent of registered voters were permanent vote-by-mail voters. In the 2010 primary election, 35 percent of registered voters had signed up to vote permanently by mail, according to recent figures [XLS] from the secretary of state.

Kim Alexander, founder of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit based in Sacramento that encourages voter participation, said that despite its popularity, not enough is known about the effectiveness of mail-in voting. “How many ballots are going out, how many are coming back, how much extra work are they creating for election officials?” Alexander asked.

The vote-by-mail system is supposed to make it easier on election departments by allowing voters to turn in their ballots before Election Day, but a large number of vote-by-mail voters turn in their ballots at the last minute.

In San Francisco, 87,747 ballots were returned before Election Day, and 56,881 were returned on Election Day. In Alameda County, 150,000 vote-by-mail ballots were returned before Election Day and 90,000 on Election Day, according to election officials.

“It takes more time for us to process the ones that come in on Election Day – that just adds to our workload,” said Dave Macdonald, registrar of Alameda County, where the vote-by-mail turnout was more than twice as high as at the polls. “We had a lot of staff after Election Day to process all the vote-by-mail ballots.”

Nevertheless, he said, "I think if you talk to most registrars in California, most us are pretty big fans of vote-by-mail."

Every election, a high percentage of voters return the vote-by-mail ballot they requested. But a large number of ballots are wasted – printed, mailed and then never used. Since the permanent vote-by-mail system was instituted, 23 million ballots sent out to potential voters have been either lost or never returned to election departments.

"I’ve seen a lot of ... ballots not connecting with voters," Alexander said. “We had lots of people calling us on Election Day saying, ‘I lost my vote my bail ballot, how do I vote? I don’t want to be a permanent vote-by-mail voter – how do I get off of this? I never got my ballot – can I still vote today? Am I registered to vote today?’”

In a 2005 survey by the California Voter Foundation, 44 percent of non-voters said they were registered to vote – but not at their current address. About one in four said they were eligible but unregistered because they moved around so much that it was difficult to stay registered. (full story)

Voters don't trust each other, find ballot confusing

By Joshua Emerson Smith, California Watch, December 1, 2010


Despite feeling generally enthusiastic about the November election, voters for the first time in one major California survey said they don't trust their fellow voters to make the right decisions.

According to a survey released yesterday by the Public Policy Institute of California, less than half of voters say they’re confident others will make the right decisions on Election Day. Only 35 percent said they had a "fair amount of confidence" in other voters, while an even smaller slice of the electorate – 9 percent – said they trusted other voters "a great deal."

Combined, this was the lowest level in the history of the PPIC poll.

Despite questioning the discretion of their neighbors, most voters said they were happy they had the choice to vote on the ballot measures, and two-thirds were satisfied with the initiative process in general.

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One reason why people may not have had confidence in their fellow voters might have had less to do with the initiative process in general and more to do with the complexity of this year’s measures.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, said this was one of the most challenging ballots she’d ever seen.

“Usually there are a number of straightforward measures that we would consider to be water cooler fodder.” With the exception of Proposition 19, she said, “the rest of them required the voters to have a pretty detailed understanding of existing California law and public policy in order to make an informed choice."

While Proposition 19, which would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, didn’t sport the technical jargon or detail of some of the other initiatives, it may have been a hard choice for some voters.

Prop. 19 [PDF] would have left it up to “local governments to authorize, regulate, and tax various commercial marijuana-related activities.” And it would have reserved the right, “whether or not local governments engaged in this regulation,” for California as a state to “regulate the commercial production of marijuana.”

The pro-legalization camp was vehemently split over this ambiguity. A sizable number of people make and have made their livelihoods growing and selling pot in California for decades. And many were afraid the loose language of Prop. 19 would usher in an era of expensive growing permits squeezing out all but big business.

Eleven percent of people who voted no said they favor legalization in general, a significant number considering the measure went down by only 6 points.

Alexander says that traditionally polls say voters trust the initiative process more than the legislative process. “If that’s no longer true we need to have a serious discussion about initiative reform,” she said. (full story)

Lottery selects group to draw Calif. district maps

By Don Thompson, San Jose Mercury News, November 18, 2010


One of California's biggest political-reform efforts in decades took a major step Thursday after initial members of a redistricting commission were selected in a random drawing.

State Auditor Elaine Howle used a spinning wire basket and ping pong-style lottery balls to choose the first eight members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Those members in turn will select the final six members of the commission by Dec. 31. The 14 member-commission is charged with drawing new state legislative and congressional districts by Aug. 15, in time for the 2012 elections.

Voters removed the responsibility for drawing legislative boundaries from the state Legislature by passing a 2008 ballot initiative. They expanded the commission's scope in this month's election by adding congressional districts.

Supporters of the independent commission hope it will lead to more competitive districts that will give all candidates a fair shot at winning, thus reducing the partisanship in Sacramento and in the congressional delegation California sends to Washington.

"That's what this is all about," Howle said. "It's about the people of California having the opportunity to draw the lines for their districts."

The eight people selected Thursday include three men and five women. Four are Asian, two are white, one is black and one is Hispanic. Five of the eight come from Northern California, the others from the southern part of the state.

By design, three are Republicans, three are Democrats and two are from neither major party. The final panel must include five Democrats, five Republicans and four voters registered outside those parties.

"It seems like it's a very diverse group," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit that helped devise the final selection procedure.

The eight were narrowed from an initial list of about 30,000 applicants. (full story)

Redistricting picks to shape future elections

By Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star, November 14, 2010


On Thursday in an auditorium of the building that houses the offices of the secretary of state, State Auditor Elaine Howle will conduct the most consequential lottery in California history.

At stake will not be millions of dollars or a financial jackpot of any kind. Each of the eight winners will receive only a temporary, modestly compensated state job — but one that carries with it the authority to define California’s political landscape for the coming decade.

The lottery will culminate a painstaking, byzantine selection process that since February has narrowed a pool of 30,000 civic-minded applicants down to 36 finalists.

Along the way, the finalists have had to meet conflict-of-interest qualifications, write essays, solicit letters of recommendation, agree to have their personal and financial information posted on the Internet, submit to interviews that were webcast live and, finally, subject themselves to being blackballed by Democratic and Republican leaders in the Legislature.

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Among those eliminated in that final process was Greg Freeland, a political science professor at California Lutheran University and president of the board of the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a community advocacy group based in Ventura.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, has closely followed the selection process from the outset. She called the provision to allow legislative leaders to winnow down the list “the most interesting component of the application process.”

Since both Republican and Democratic leaders were certain to be suspicious of any possible potential bias among any of the finalists, Alexander said, the process “built in the Legislature’s partisanship as a safety valve. I think it’s brilliant. It was a clever way to have a final ferreting-out process.”

After the first eight members are chosen by lottery they will collectively select six more from the pool of finalists to complete the 14-member commission. The two-step selection process was designed to ensure the final panel is geographically and ethnically diverse. The final six must be selected by the end of the year.

By law, the panel must consist of five Democrats, five Republicans and four from the pool of independents and minor party members. They will be paid $300 for each day they are engaged in holding hearings or otherwise conducting commission business.

The final maps must be approved by at least nine of the 14 members, including affirmative votes from at least three members of each pool.

When it was created by Proposition 11, the commission was given until Sept. 15 to complete its work. However, the passage of Proposition 20 — which added congressional districts, as well as legislative districts to the commission’s work — moved up the deadline to Aug. 15. (full story)

Proposition 19 loses in California

By Mathew Hall, The San Diego Union-Tribune, November 3, 2010


California voters rejected Proposition 19, the initiative that would legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana use statewide.

Fourteen years after approving marijuana for medical purposes, the state’s voters refused to make it legal for anyone 21 or older to grow, possess and use small amounts of pot. Possession would have been limited to less than an ounce, and cultivation to 25 square feet of private land, but marijuana would have remained illegal under federal law.

The measure would have allowed local governments to regulate and tax the commercial production, distribution and sale of pot to adults. Sales to minors would have been illegal, as would have possession on school grounds, use in public settings or smoking while minors are present.

It was being defeated by a wide margin late Tuesday night when none other than Gil Kerlikowske, the White House's drug policy director, weighed in.

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Critics contended that it would create a confusing patchwork of laws from city to city, encourage more youngsters to smoke pot and make roadways more dangerous. The opposition campaign’s website prominently displayed a crushed car alongside a school bus lying on its side. It was the first image a visitor saw.

Both campaigns highlighted the measure’s effect on drug cartels, with supporters saying it would drain a major source of their profits and opponents saying it would make them more deadly.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter circulated by the measure’s opponents that if it passed, federal officials would vigorously enforce federal laws that make marijuana ille gal.

Holder’s comments on Proposition 19 came with three weeks left in the campaign, just days before Mexican officials announced the largest pot bust in the history of Baja California — nearly 296,000 pounds of seized marijuana.

At the time, the measure had attracted fewer campaign contributions than any other California ballot measure, according to an analysis by the California Voter Foundation. (full story)

The Changing Face of California Elections

KQED Radio, November 1, 2010


The best guess on turnout for tomorrow's eleciton is that about 9.5 million Californians will casts votes. That's about 55 percent of registered voters, a low turnout but not an unusual one for a midterm election. One thing that is very different from past elections, though: fewer than half of those casting ballots will do it the old-fashioned way—by going to the polls. Instead, they're mailing their ballots in. As Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation tells host Cy Musiker, that increasingly popular practice raises new concerns and challenges for both voters and voting officials. Also see: The California Voter Foundation's California Online Voter Guide.

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She says the biggest issue is with voters who don’t return their mail-in ballots until election day—when they can be brought directly to the polling place or county registrar’s office—or who simply lose their ballots. How widespread is the problem? As of Monday morning, an association of elections officials said many counties had received only about half of the absentee ballots they mailed out.

"A lot of these ballots are going missing," Alexander says. "So I think there's going to be a lot of voters showing up at their polling place tomorrow who were signed-up as vote-by-mail voters and don't have that ballot and still want to vote."

Those voters will be able to cast a provisional ballot on Tuesday if they go to their polling place. They should make sure that they receive a special envelope to place the ballot in and sign the envelope, so that the ballots can be processed specially.

"Election officials have to make sure that nobody is voting twice, so it takes a lot of extra work on the back-end of this process," Alexander says. (full story)

Millions of Calif vote-by-mail ballots unreturned

By Robin Hindery, The San Francisco Chronicle, November 1, 2010


Millions of Californians have not yet returned their vote-by-mail ballots, and the flood of returns expected on election day could delay results in tight races, officials said Monday.

The state's 58 counties had reported receiving just under 3 million absentee ballots as of early afternoon Monday — less than 40 percent of the 7.6 million ballots requested statewide for the general election, according to the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.

In some counties, vote-by-mail is expected to exceed in-person voting.

That means a huge number of last-minute returns will not be processed Tuesday, and the most competitive races may remain too close to call.

"The ballots are coming in later than average and there's more of them than average, which means more uncounted ballots on election night," said Contra Costa County Clerk Steve Weir, who estimated that one-quarter of his county's absentee ballots would not be included in Tuesday's tally.

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"When you issue 7.6 million (ballots), you're not going to get 7.6 million back," she said. "Ideally, there would be more at this point, but you take what you can get."

Experts say turnout this year will likely hover around 60 percent — similar to past midterm elections but significantly lower than 2008, when more than 79 percent of registered voters participated.

Counties started sending out vote-by-mail ballots the first week of October. Since then, almost all of the calls received by the nonprofit California Voter Foundation have been procedural questions about how to fill them out, said the group's president, Kim Alexander.

"Even though vote-by-mail continues to be popular, I expect more than half of the ballots will still be cast at the polls," she said.

Some voters may not have returned their ballots early because they lost them or filled them out incorrectly, Alexander said. (full story)

Cut the scare factor on Election Day

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen - Contra Costa Times, October 30, 2010


Election Day need not scare the socks off you.

Here are some survival tips:

DON'T put your vote-by-mail ballot in the mail if you haven't mailed it yet. It may not arrive in time.

Ballots that land in the election office after 8 p.m. Tuesday will not be counted, so take your ballot to your polling place or drop it off at your county election office.

DO Google or deploy the search engine of choice. There are lots of nonpartisan websites that will help you navigate the ballot measures and link to the candidates' statements and online materials. For a set of useful links, go to California Voter Foundation at

DON'T vote based on the appearance of a candidate on a paid slate mailer, those cards that say, for example, "Women's Election Education Guide" or the "COPS Voter Guide."

Private companies produce slate mailers for a profit. And while we're all for profits, candidates pay for that placement and they may or may not be endorsed, per our example, by law enforcement or teachers. (full story)

Voters poised to take the political spotlight

By Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star, October 30, 2010

When California makes the transition into the second decade of the 21st century in January, it will do so under the guidance of either the oldest governor it has ever had, a 72-year-old Democrat who seeks to return to the office he first held in 1970, or its first woman governor, a 54-year-old former eBay CEO who has never held an elected position at any level.

And when Californians tune into the nightly news next year to see how the new governor is handling the state’s challenges, they will be able to do so either while sipping a beer or, perhaps, taking a toke off a legal joint of marijuana.

Voter resources

California Voter Foundation: The nonpartisan group’s Online Voter Guide has information on the propositions, links to candidates’ websites and even a lively “Proposition Song” to help you remember what number goes with which proposition.

Ballot Initiative to Delay Carbon Cuts Loses Steam

By Jeffery Ball, The Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2010


Among other prominent donors against Proposition 23: Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who has given $1 million, and Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, who has given $700,000.

A spokesman for Mr. Gates said that his donation "is consistent with his advocacy for continued progress toward low-carbon energy."

Mr. Khosla, asked whether he will give more before Tuesday's vote, said: "The more the oil companies [spend], the more the no-on-23 people will."

It's not unusual for prominent California ballot initiatives to draw tens of millions of dollars in contributions, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. But among the nine initiatives on Tuesday's California ballot, Proposition 23 had attracted the most money as of Oct. 17, when the foundation last analyzed the numbers.

One important factor in the measure's fate may be a sentiment among many Californians that efforts to curb climate change help the economy more than they hurt it, said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. In a September poll by the institute, 41% of likely voters said that "California doing things to reduce global warming" would result in more jobs, and 26% said it would result in fewer jobs. The margin of error was 3.6%.

That sentiment helps explain why drumming up voter support for the ballot measure has "turned out to be more complicated messaging than maybe the yes side had envisioned," Mr. Baldessare said. (full story)

Slow public access to campaign finance info

By Bob Warner, Philidelphia Daily News, October 27, 2010

Pennsylvania is among just 11 states that continue to allow unlimited campaign contributions. Its disclosure requirements are ranked around the middle of the 50 states, according to a comparative analysis supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, run by the UCLA School of Law, the California Voter Foundation and the Center for Governmental Studies.

Its most recent study gave Pennsylvania's Department of State high marks for its campaign-finance website, allowing citizens to browse through candidate reports or look for donations to multiple candidates by a single contributor or employer.

But the Pew-funded researchers gave Pennsylvania failing marks for not requiring computerized filing by candidates and political-action committees - the main reason that last week's reports are not yet accessible to the public.

The Department of State has been paying about $35,000 for data-entry work to put campaign finance information on its website. It's enough to cover candidates and PACs based in Pennsylvania, but not out-of-state PACs that contribute to Pennsylvania candidates.

This year, that gap omitted Corbett's biggest contributor - the Republican Governors Association, which has given Corbett a total of just over $4 million.

The biggest contributors to the GOP governors' group this year have been out-of-state businessmen in hedge funds, energy, drugs and other industries.

The largest single donors were Paul Singer, a partner in the Elliot Management hedge fund of New York City, $994,000; Steven Cohen, of the hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors, $500,000; Kenneth Griffen, CEO of the hedge fund Citadel Group in Chicago, $500,000; and investor Foster Friess, of Jackson Hole, Wyo., $250,000 to the GOP governors on top of a $100,000 donation directly to Corbett.

Also, John Paulson, a New York hedge-fund manager who made billions of dollars in 2008 and 2009 betting against subprime mortgage instruments, donated $250,000 to the Republican governors.

But none of this information is available on the state's website, because the Department of State has not been entering data from most out-of-state PACs. (full story)

Campaigning On The Cheap, Prop 19 Still Builds Buzz

By Richard Gonzales, National Public Radio, October 26, 2010


California's Proposition 19 appears to be the exception to the rule that a ballot initiative needs several million dollars for expensive TV and radio buys to reach the state's 17 million voters.

Neither side in the battle over legalizing marijuana is raising or spending a lot of cash. And Proposition 19 is still getting plenty of "buzz" among voters.

Polls show the measure has plenty of name recognition. Nearly 9 out of 10 California voters know what Proposition 19 is all about. It would allow adults to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana and possess up to an ounce. It also would authorize cities and counties to tax and regulate commercial cultivation and retail sales of pot.

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Salazar and other election experts say most campaign dollars are getting soaked up in the high-profile races for governor and the U.S. Senate, not to mention a half-dozen controversial ballot initiatives on taxes and climate change.

"All the other propositions on the ballot have some big money, big financial interests behind them. That's not the case with Prop 19 — we don't have a well-established marijuana industry in California," says Kim Alexander, who directs the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works on democracy and technology issues.

Supporters of Proposition 19 say taxing recreational marijuana could bring $1 billion into California's coffers. (full story)

Insight: Sac Sheriff's Race / Kings' 25th / One-Rabbi Show / Proposition Song

Capitol Public Radio, October 25, 2010

Proposition Song The California Voter Foundation has recorded and released "The Proposition Song" to encourage people to vote and to help them remember the different props on the ballot. We'll hear it. (audio)

Region, state slammed by political ads

By Kevin Yamamura, Sacramento Bee, October 24, 2010


In one half-hour newscast last week, Sacramento television viewers saw 15 campaign ads packed into three commercial breaks on Channel 3.

Among them: A U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad attacking Rep. Jerry McNerney for supporting the federal health care overhaul. An ad promoting Treasurer Bill Lockyer as a straight talker who offers voters "No Bull#*+!" A commercial praising Democratic congressional candidate Ami Bera for being a "fresh voice," countered in a subsequent break by a GOP-aligned American Crossroads ad tying Bera to "Obama-care."

With the November election approaching, campaigns are bombarding Californians with nonstop advertisements, nowhere more so than in a Sacramento market that contains some of the state's most competitive legislative and Congressional battles.

"It's wall to wall everywhere on broadcast and cable television," said Bill Carrick, a veteran Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist. "The clutter always drives everybody crazy. It drives media buyers crazy, it drives campaigns crazy and it drives voters crazy. But we have so much that gets on the ballot here that we have to deal with it as a reality."

Even in an era where viewers use devices to skip commercials and watch television on their computers, many campaign strategists believe broadcast television remains the quickest way to reach a broad audience. Late in a campaign, they feel pressure to match opponents' ads or risk having the message be one-sided.

"They lose their impact when the saturation is so great," said GOP strategist Dave Gilliard. "The people who could afford to advertise a little earlier before everyone was on the air had an advantage. Now it's difficult to break through, especially when most of the ads are negative in the last two weeks."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said voters are struggling to wade through the advertising and noted that the ballot initiatives are particularly complex this year.

"What's interesting to me about this ballot is that the initiatives represent high stakes battles between interest groups that fought it out in the Legislature, and now voters are being asked to referee and reconsider the Legislature's decisions," Alexander said. "That's hard for most voters to do."

Spending this year may fall short of the nearly $500 million spent on initiative and gubernatorial campaigns in 2006. But the governor's race is already the most expensive in U.S. history with Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown spending more than $188 million in the election cycle through Oct. 16.

The state has its most competitive U.S. Senate race in more than a decade, with $39 million in spending by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and GOP challenger Carly Fiorina through mid-October. (full story)

Viewpoints: When do voters gag on campaign cash?

By Peter Schrag, Sacramento Bee, October 25, 2010


Is there a natural spending "limit" in political campaigns, a point when more spending by a candidate or a ballot committee becomes counterproductive? We may be about to find out.

Thirty years ago, Daniel Lowenstein, who had been the first chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, concluded that a disproportionate amount of money spent against a ballot measure was more likely to succeed than disproportionate spending in favor. If an opponent can confuse voters enough, they'll almost invariably vote no.

In the three decades since, the California initiative process – and Golden State elections generally – have become a playpen for millionaires, corporations, unions and other deep-pocketed interest groups.

With some exceptions – and always recognizing that almost nobody can qualify an initiative in California without a lot of money – their record has generally borne out Lowenstein's thesis. Big money prevails more often on the "no" side than on the "yes" side.

Conversely, the conventional wisdom holds that for both candidates and ballot measures, big money will almost inevitably distort outcomes in its favor. But is that more myth than reality?

We may never get a better test than this year's election – not only of Lowenstein's conclusion but of the wider possibility that spending too much, or at the very least, spending too much in a doubtful cause by the wrong people will turn voters against a big spender.

Should she lose, GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman would of course become Exhibit A. Even counting the union-funded independent expenditure campaigns against her, Whitman's spending, likely to approach $200 million before it's all over, will swamp Jerry Brown's ragtag campaign against her.

In her case, voters may not be turned off as much by the amount that she spent as by the shamelessness with which it's been done. Yes, issues, experience, party, political philosophy and candidate personality should make the crucial difference. But in this election, the differences aren't as glaring as the candidates pretend.

And then there are the ballot measures, particularly Propositions 23, 24, 25 and 26, all battles among economic behemoths – energy companies, the liquor industry, tobacco companies, the Chamber of Commerce, public sector unions – and the stakes, both for the behemoths and for the state, are considerable.

Proposition 23, the initiative primarily funded by out-of-state oil companies to set aside California's program to reduce carbon emissions, appears to be going down – in considerable part because its sponsors are now so well known. What's not generally known is that, according to numbers compiled from official campaign reports by the impartial California Voter Foundation, the opponents have far outspent the sponsors $27 million to $9 million. (full story)

It's Politics: It don't come cheap

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, October 22, 2010

In the past few weeks alone, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has spent nearly $23 million - almost the same amount that her Democratic rival Jerry Brown has spent so far in his entire campaign.

According to the latest campaign finance disclosures released Thursday, Brown's campaign has raised a total of $37.1 million and spent $25.5 million, leaving him with $11.6 million for the final weeks of the campaign.

While Brown has received the financial support of unions across the state who did most of his bidding over the summer, his campaign's spending is a fraction of the $163 million Whitman has spent since she began her campaign a year ago.

Billionaire Whitman has contributed more than $141 million of her own money to the race, nearing the $150 million limit she has pledged to spend.

Have all those television commercials been worth it?

According to the latest Public Policy Institute of California poll, the spending hasn't produced a slam dunk for the political newcomer in November the way it did in the GOP primaries

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Meanwhile, the campaigns surrounding the measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana, Proposition 19, have garnered barely $3 million - $2.7 million from supporters and $200,000 from opponents.

The support has largely ($1.5 million) come from S.K. Seymour LLC, aka Oaksterdam University, aka "America's first cannabis college."

Despite that support, public interest in passing the initiative is falling. According to the PPIC 49 percent of voters are against legalizing marijuana, while 44 percent support it.

In you are into who is spending money on which initiative, the California Voter Foundation has a wealth of information on the ballot measures, including their financial backers, at (full story)

Incumbent California secretary of state seeks another term to fulfill agenda

By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2010


Reporting from Sacramento — Debra Bowen won election as California's secretary of state four years ago promising to turn the low-profile office into a more tech-savvy and efficient operation and to fix security flaws in the state's electronic balloting systems.

She garnered national acclaim for protecting the integrity of state voting, but the state's budget crisis, bureaucratic inertia and missteps by her office have stymied other initiatives.

The time it takes her office to process business filings has more than tripled, to an average of 58 business days. A project to allow online voter registration is four years behind schedule. And open-government advocates are grumbling ever louder that California's campaign finance reporting database, run by Bowen, is antiquated and unwieldy.

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She has had mixed success in improving Cal-Access, a database and website that allows Californians to see how much money political candidates are raising and spending and who is contributing it.

In Bowen's first year in office, 2007, a study by the California Voter Foundation gave the state's financial disclosure system an overall B+ grade, but a C- on ease of use and helpfulness to the public. A year later, the overall grade was an A and the usability grade improved to a B+, according to Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan foundation.

"California relative to other states did perform very well overall," Alexander said. But, she added, "There are a lot of problems with Cal-Access."

The system lacks some user-friendly features available on other websites, including the ability to call up on a single page summaries showing spending of all candidates in specific races, according to Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. (full story)

California Votes - Part Three

SOCAL Connected, KCET, October 20, 2010


Next, if you're feeling "prop mania" this election cycle, you may have Paul Mandabach to thank. He's the man we've dubbed "The Godfather of Propositions." Mandabach is often credited with mastering the business of marketing propositions. He talks with anchor Val Zavala for a rare and candid interview. (video @ 20:30)


Propositions Raise 120 Million Dollars Combined

By Chuck Welch, Capitol Public Radio, October 20, 2010

Kim Alexander is president of the California Voter Foundation, the group that tracks proposition spending. She says it's hard to convince California voters to approve a ballot measure. Typically, about one in three initiatives passes.

Alexander says heavy spending in support of a proposition does not improve the chances of passage.

"You really have to convince voters to vote yes. Because the default is if you don't understand it or you're suspicious of what's really behind this measure, a lot of people simply vote no or they make skip the measure and simply move on to the next one."

Still, money is pouring into the ballot initiatives. Proposition 23, which would suspend California's green houses gas reduction law, has gotten the most money. Supporters of that measure have given almost 10 million dollars, while opponents have raised more than 27 million.

The poorest initiative is Proposition 19, the measure to legalize and tax marijuana. Supporters and opponents combined have raised less than three million dollars on that measure. (full story)

Wealthy donor's passion project is redistricting - but will voters care?

Caliifornia Watch, Mallory Fites, October 18, 2010

California's turbulent election history is spotted with the failed ambitions of wealthy donors who have funded ballot measures – pet projects that, however good the intentions, ended up rejected by voters.

This year, a couple from Palo Alto – physicist Charles Munger and attorney Charlotte Lowell – have joined this small crowd of rich individuals spearheading ballot initiatives as a personal passion rather than as passive donors. Whether they find success remains to be seen on Nov. 2.

Munger has contributed nearly $11 million from his fortune to support Proposition 20, which would require congressional districts to be drawn by a 14-member panel instead of by the state Legislature. He is also funding an effort to defeat Proposition 27, which would eliminate a citizens' redistricting panel now in place to draw legislative districts.

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Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said she has seen numerous initiatives backed by wealthy funders come and go – mostly go.

"You can't win an initiative without money, but you can't win with only money," Alexander said. "It takes not only money but coalitions, grassroots support and a good organization."

It's easy to judge the motives of campaigns funded by, say, a public employee union or the Chamber of Commerce. But voters may ask themselves this year: Who, exactly, are Charles Munger and Charlotte Lowell?

Munger is a physicist at Stanford University, while his wife is a lawyer with the powerful New York law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom. She graduated from Harvard Law School and the University of Notre Dame. They married in 1989, and their wedding announcement appeared in the New York Times. (full story)

How will California change if voters make marijuana legal?

By Daniel B. Wood, Christian Science Monitor, October 1, 2010


In a street-level flat of offices off a downtown sidewalk here, computers hum, volunteers make calls, and James Rigdon explains why Proposition 19 – California's ballot initiative to legalize marijuana – should pass.

"The decades-long war on drugs has failed," says the field director of the Yes on 19 campaign. "It's still easier for a kid to get his hands on a joint than to get a beer or a cigarette. Sixty percent of drug cartels' money comes from marijuana sales. We need to take that away."

Several blocks away, Livina Hedgerow, kneeling in her garden, says Prop. 19 is a bad idea.

"This is just what we don't need," says the retired teacher. "Another legal drug for kids to get messed up on. It will lead them to worse drugs. It's just wrong."

The two comments frame the debate swirling in California over Prop. 19 and what the state would look like if voters make it the first in the nation to legalize, regulate, and tax the sale of marijuana.

Opinion polls show Yes on 19 holding the advantage with a little more than a month to go before the Nov. 2 election. Among likely voters, 47 percent support the measure, while 37 percent are opposed, according to a survey released Sept. 15 by Public Policy Polling. The poll's margin of error is 3.9 percent. Back on July 5, a Field Poll of likely voters had the opposition leading, 48 percent to 44.

As Election Day nears, the propaganda war is intensifying, with the two sides expecting that whatever happens in California is likely to be replicated elsewhere, eventually.

"The whole country and world are watching," says Kim Raney, vice president of the California Police Chiefs Association, which has come out against Prop. 19. "That's why it's absolutely critical that the public here have a serious discussion based on the facts without spin."

Fundraising surrounding the ballot measure has been relatively modest, says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. Prop. 19 proponents have raised almost $2 million, while opponents have brought in $95,100, she says. Moreover, about $1.3 million was spent to qualify the measure for the ballot. "This is a very low-budget campaign so far," says Ms. Alexander. (full story)

California's online voter registration plan on hold

By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2010


Reporting from Sacramento — Arizonans can register online to vote, thanks to a system created by the state in four months at a cost of $100,000. Washington state did the same thing in seven months for $270,000.

But two years after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger authorized a similar system in California, the project has stalled and is in turmoil. Officials say state voters may not have access to paperless registration for four more years, after a separate $53.4-million computer system modernization is completed.

Citing inadequate performance, Secretary of State Debra Bowen in May ended a contract with the consultant who had been hired to develop the updated system that is needed before online registration can be accommodated. The resulting delay will mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings.

Voter-rights advocates are frustrated that the effort to simplify participation in elections is not likely to be in place for the 2012 presidential contest.

"It's hard to understand why we are having so much difficulty doing something that other states have been able to accomplish," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.

Bowen and her staff share a "substantial'" part of the blame for the project's problems, said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., because ultimately it's Bowen's job to pick the right contractor, scale the project so it is feasible, tell the contractor what needs to be done and oversee the work.

Bowen said she had reduced the project's scale to keep costs down and took decisive action early when it appeared to be in trouble. She said she had to move cautiously because of the high stakes involved.


There are 6.5 million Californians who are eligible to vote but not registered, according to Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, which promotes the use of technology to improve voter participation.

Currently, Californians can fill out a voter registration application online, but clerks must mail them a paper form to be signed and returned. The new system would allow a resident's digitized signature, on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles, to complete the registration without paper.

"California is the home of Silicon Valley, the heart of the high-tech revolution, and yet we are stuck in this 19th century voter registration system," Alexander said.

Each of California's 58 counties maintains separate voter files and uploads its entire voter database to the state system each night. Records of new voters cannot be entered directly into the state system, because it is not sufficiently consolidated with county databases.

The trend nationwide is to allow voters to go online to register to vote or change an address, according to Christopher Ponoroff, an attorney who has studied the issue for the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Seven states besides California have projects in the works to follow Arizona and Washington, and several others are considering such a move, Ponoroff said.

Paper registration "swamps election officials, burdens taxpayers and creates a risk for every voter that human error — a misplaced form, a data entry slip — will bar her access to the ballot box," Ponoroff said in a recent report on the issue. (full story)

Residents seek to draw the lines on state government

By Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star, August 6, 2010


Like most engineers, Henry Norton of Oak View likes to examine broken things and figure out how to fix them.

In recent years when Norton looked at his state government, he concluded one of its structural flaws was a system that allowed lawmakers to draw political districts which protected their interests and those of their political parties. Lawmakers elected from impartially drawn districts, he concluded, would improve the system.

After Proposition 11 passed in 2008, creating an independent redistricting commission of ordinary citizens, Norton said his friends issued a challenge: “Put your money where your mouth is.”

So along with about 25,000 other Californians, Norton submitted his name for consideration to become a member of the Citizens Redistricting Commission. He’s now one of 120 finalists remaining for one of 14 positions on the panel.

Today, a panel of three auditors from the State Auditor’s Office interviewed the first four finalists, kicking off a painstaking and remarkably open interview process that will continue every weekday through Sept. 9. By Oct. 1, the panel will submit to the Legislature a list of 60 individuals, kicking off the final stage of the selection process.

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Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said the decision to webcast the interviews was controversial when the selection regulations were debated, because some believed those who interview later in the process could gain an advantage by watching and learning from earlier interviews.

That concern, she said, “was outweighed by the desire to make the process as transparent as possible.”

Indeed, transparency has been a hallmark of the selection process. All the applications — including personal essays, letters of recommendation and statements of economic interests — are available online for public inspection.

Norton, who retired after 30 years as a civilian engineer with the Navy, is one of two finalists from Ventura County. He is in the pool of 40 registered Republicans.

The other is Gabino Aguirre, a retired high school principal and member of the Santa Paula City Council. He is in the pool of 40 registered Democrats.

Aguirre, who grew up in a family of migrant farmworkers, said he believes that as someone “who has come up through the school of hard knocks,” he could bring a common man’s perspective to the commission’s work.

The selection process so far has worked out precisely as supporters of Proposition 11 had hoped, said Trudy Schafer of the League of Women Voters of California, a major backer of the redistricting initiative.

“I’ve just been hugely impressed by the kinds of backgrounds these people have,” she said of the remaining 120 applicants. “There’s such a depth of community work. We knew these kind of people were out there — people who are very active but not known to the power brokers.” (full story)

Prop 8 Donor Web Site Shows Disclosure Law Is 2-Edged Sword

By Brad Stone, New York TImes, February 7, 2009


For the backers of Proposition 8, the state ballot measure to stop single-sex couples from marrying in California, victory has been soured by the ugly specter of intimidation.

Some donors to groups supporting the measure have received death threats and envelopes containing a powdery white substance, and their businesses have been boycotted.

The targets of this harassment blame a controversial and provocative Web site,

The site takes the names and ZIP codes of people who donated to the ballot measure — information that California collects and makes public under state campaign finance disclosure laws — and overlays the data on a Google map.

Visitors can see markers indicating a contributor’s name, approximate location, amount donated and, if the donor listed it, employer. That is often enough information for interested parties to find the rest — like an e-mail or home address. The identity of the site’s creators, meanwhile, is unknown; they have maintained their anonymity.

A Web site takes names and ZIP codes of donors supporting the measure and overlays data on a map. is the latest, most striking example of how information collected through disclosure laws intended to increase the transparency of the political process, magnified by the powerful lens of the Web, may be undermining the same democratic values that the regulations were to promote.

With tools like eightmaps — and there are bound to be more of them — strident political partisans can challenge their opponents directly, one voter at a time. The results, some activists fear, could discourage people from participating in the political process altogether.

That is why the soundtrack to is a loud gnashing of teeth among civil libertarians, privacy advocates and people supporting open government. The site pits their cherished values against each other: political transparency and untarnished democracy versus privacy and freedom of speech.

“When I see those maps, it does leave me with a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which has advocated for open democracy. “This is not really the intention of voter disclosure laws. But that’s the thing about technology. You don’t really know where it is going to take you.”

Ms. Alexander and many Internet activists have good reason to be queasy. California’s Political Reform Act of 1974, and laws like it across the country, sought to cast disinfecting sunlight on the political process by requiring contributions of more than $100 to be made public.

Eightmaps takes that data, formerly of interest mainly to social scientists, pollsters and journalists, and publishes it in a way not foreseen when the open-government laws were passed. As a result, donors are exposed to a wide audience and, in some cases, to harassment or worse.

A college professor from the University of California, San Francisco, wrote a $100 check in support of Proposition 8 in August, because he said he supported civil unions for gay couples but did not want to change the traditional definition of marriage. He has received many confrontational e-mail messages, some anonymous, since eightmaps listed his donation and employer. One signed message blasted him for supporting the measure and was copied to a dozen of his colleagues and supervisors at the university, he said.

“I thought what the eightmaps creators did with the information was actually sort of neat,” the professor said, who asked that his name not be used to avoid becoming more of a target. “But people who use that site to send out intimidating or harassing messages cross the line.”

Joseph Clare, a San Francisco accountant who donated $500 to supporters of Proposition 8, said he had received several e-mail messages accusing him of “donating to hate.” Mr. Clare said the site perverts the meaning of disclosure laws that were originally intended to expose large corporate donors who might be seeking to influence big state projects.

“I don’t think the law was designed to identify people for direct feedback to them from others on the other side,” Mr. Clare said. “I think it’s been misused.”

Many civil liberties advocates, including those who disagree with his views on marriage, say he has a point. They wonder if open-government rules intended to protect political influence of the individual voter, combined with the power of the Internet, might be having the opposite effect on citizens.

“These are very small donations given by individuals, and now they are subject to harassment that ultimately makes them less able to engage in democratic decision making,” said Chris Jay Hoofnagle, senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California.

THANKS to, the Internet is abuzz with bloggers, academics and other pundits offering potential ways to resolve the tension between these competing principles. One idea is to raise the minimum donation that must be reported publicly from $100, to protect the anonymity of small donors. (full story)

Mail-In Ballots May Slow Calif. Tally

By Allison Hoffman - Associated Press, January 18, 2008


California elections officials predict that nearly 13 percent of all ballots cast for the Feb. 5 primary could remain uncounted on Election Night, possibly slowing the presidential tally in the state.

The reason is twofold: More Californians than ever are expected to vote by mail, and the unsettled nature of the Republican and Democratic campaigns may prompt many of those voters to wait until the last minute to submit their ballots.

About half the ballots cast for the election are expected to come by mail, up from 33 percent in the 2004 presidential primary. Registrars say that could lead to a backlog of ballots on Election Night, potentially delaying the announcement of winners in close races.

"If people hold on to their ballots and we don't see them until Election Day, they won't be counted until the week or so after the election," said Deborah Seiler, registrar in San Diego County.

About 4 million of California's 15.5 million registered voters are classified as "permanent absentee," meaning they automatically receive their ballots by mail. That could grow to at least 4.3 million by the time registration for the presidential primary closes on Jan. 22, according to the statewide registrars association.

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Possibly adding to confusion over which candidates have won is the system for allocating party delegates by congressional districts, which often cross county lines, especially if some counties fall behind on their tallies, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

Registrars can begin sorting ballots received before Election Day and will be able to start feeding them through counting machines a week before the election. That will allow a quick release of early absentee results when the polls close. But then the focus will switch to tallying ballots from individual precincts, while late-arriving absentee ballots in some counties will simply sit in their envelopes. (full story)

Kim Alexander discussed the Statewide Ballot Measures

KFPA, January 17, 2007

(Audio clip available online)

High stakes on gambling props battle

By Edward Sifuentes - North County Times, January 17, 2008

The battle over expanded American Indian gambling agreements has become one of the most expensive ballot initiatives in state history.

Those supporting and opposing the agreements have raised nearly $94 million.

Propositions 94 through 97 would allow four Southern California tribes, including the Pechanga band near Temecula, to add a total of 17,000 slot machines in exchange for giving a larger share of their revenue to the state.

Typically, campaigns raise from a few millions to as much as $20 million, said Kim Alexander, a political analyst.

The most expensive single ballot initiative campaign in the state was 2006's Proposition 87, which unsuccessfully sought to impose a $4 billion tax on oil companies to promote alternative fuels and energy-efficient vehicles.

It raised a total of more than $155 million from both sides.

By comparison, the $94 million raised on Props. 94 through 97 is more than the $93 million that tribes and their opponents raised in 1998 on Proposition 5, which legalized tribal gambling in California (though in today's inflation-adjusted dollars, Prop. 5's $93 million would be $118.3 million). (full story)

Kim Alexander discussed how Mail Ballots Complicate the Campaign Calendar

All Things Considered, December 21, 2007

(Audio clip available online)

Hearing looks at political e-filing

By Peter Hecht - Sacramento Bee, September 27, 2007


A state panel heard testimony Wednesday over whether computer technology can safely protect the public's right to know about campaign spending in California and also eliminate hundreds of thousands of paper pages documenting money-raising for candidates and causes.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen and the state Fair Political Practices Commission are reviewing the state's online public access system for political finance information and considering whether campaigns that file reports electronically can be exempted from submitting disclosure statements on paper.

On Wednesday, attorneys for both Republican and Democratic campaigns argued that they are burdened with excessive staff costs in submitting paper copies of political spending reports under California's disclosure laws.

But while campaign treasurers argued that the entire process can be handled electronically, they got a lecture from Ross Johnson, chairman of the FPPC, and a former lawmaker.

Johnson argued that the duplicate, paper copies that clog voluminous shelves and storage space at the secretary of state's office and state archives protect a fundamental right "to make available to ordinary citizens information on who is funding political campaigns."

He argued that people who aren't comfortable with computers can't easily access information posted on the state's campaign finance information Web site, known as Cal-Access.

He also said key information -- such as addresses of campaign contributors -- cannot be posted online under state election disclosure rules but is included in hard-copy campaign documents accessible to the public.

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Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for Bowen, said the secretary of state hasn't taken a position on whether to eliminate paper copies of campaign disclosure forms.

Bowen, who wasn't present at the informational hearing led by Johnson, advocated a "verifiable paper trail" for electronic voting machines after announcing that a a security review showed some machines vulnerable to hackers.

Tony Miller, head of Bowen's political reform division, said the secretary also wants to ensure the electronic system for posting campaign contribution reports is "operating safely and efficiently" and can't be compromised.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a Sacramento nonprofit group that follows election technology issues, said the state should maintain hard-copy filing requirements -- which mandate that candidates and campaign treasurers sign paper disclosure forms.

"What I'm concerned about is the candidate would be another step removed" with only electronic filing, she said. "We have had incidents in the past when candidates have denied knowledge of their contributions and reports. Those (signed) statements under penalty of perjury come in handy." (full story) (registration required)

E-voting companies scramble to win approval before November '08

By Niraj Sheth, San Jose Mercury News, August 11, 2007


Sequoia Voting Systems and other e-voting companies whose machines were decertified last week for use in February's primary elections are under pressure to design new systems that pass muster in time for the November 2008 presidential elections.

That means they'll have to meet the stricter standards espoused by Secretary of State Debra Bowen, whose decision to mothball the voting machines from Sequoia and other companies raised the bar for e-voting security requirements.

"If they don't do it by then, they will lose a lot of credibility with the counties," said Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies and former elections counsel for the state. "And if there are no refunds, there will be lawsuits."

Sequoia, headquartered in Oakland, wouldn't comment on the specifics of products in development or on a definitive timeline. But a spokesperson for the secretary of state said the company has told the state a new version is forthcoming.

"We heard Sequoia in the public hearing and in other occasions acknowledge that there are security flaws in their current system and promise they would be fixing those flaws in the next version of their product," said Bowen's spokeswoman Nicole Winger.

- - - - -

When Santa Clara County bought elections equipment from Sequoia in April 2003 - including 5,500 touch-screen machines for $3,000 each - it also agreed to pay the manufacturer for technical support and service for the next 20 years. Now, even though Sequoia's e-voting machines have been decertified, that regular fee may not change.

"In our contract, we never envisioned that these machines were going to be replaced," said county Registrar of Voters Jesse Durazo.

Ultimately, voting equipment manufacturers can bank on the relationships they've formed with states, counties and cities, which often go a long way in an industry known for its close connections.

"Though the secretary of state has decertified vendors, she hasn't altered the fundamental relationship between vendors and jurisdictions," said Moon of FairVote. "I'd be shocked if this hurt their bottom line."

Meanwhile, critics of electronic voting who have been advocating for tighter security are claiming victory.

"I was there in Santa Clara in January '03 urging your supervisors to not buy an electronic voting system," said Kim Alexander, president of California Voter Foundation.

"There were predictions that every county in California would have bought electronic voting machines by now, but the reality is that counties have voted with their feet." (full story)

Meltdown at the E-Voting Machine

By Andrew Gumbel, LA City Beat, August 9, 2007


Usually, politicians reserve Friday nights for making unpleasant, embarrassing announcements they’d much rather nobody heard too much about. In the case of Debra Bowen, California’s reformist secretary of state, the drama that unfolded in her Sacramento offices last weekend was more a matter of racing to beat the clock.

Bowen had set herself a midnight deadline by which she promised she would decide what to do about the state’s inventory of electronic voting machines. For four years, the studies carried out by the country’s top computer scientists had been well-nigh unanimous: The systems developed by the likes of Diebold, Sequoia, and Election Systems & Software were riddled with software-writing flaws and security holes that made the likelihood of error or foul play unacceptably high. The fact that the electronic systems had no reliable paper back-up – certainly not before one was mandated by law in many states, including this one – only made the systems’ vulnerabilities all the more unnerving. Not only could an election go badly wrong or be outright stolen; there was no guarantee anybody could prove it if it happened.

Bowen, who came into office in January promising to carry out a top-to-bottom review of the state’s voting systems, was true to her word and did not just rely on the findings commissioned by others. Starting in May, national teams of researchers, coordinated by the University of California campuses in Berkeley and Davis, conducted their own software inspection of the four major systems in use in the state (the fourth, in Orange County, comes courtesy of the Texas company Hart InterCivic). They also carried out so-called Red Team exercises – controlled attempts at hacking an election.

Two of the systems, Diebold and Sequoia, scored disastrously. Hart InterCivic was found to have gaping, but reparable flaws. ES&S, makers of the InkaVote system used here in Los Angeles which is not an electronic system but rather a hybrid between the old punch card and lever systems, did not submit the required materials in time for the tests to be carried out at all.

- - - - -

These, though, are the last gasps of a dying breed of political sycophant. Bowen is unlikely to face a Shelley-style backlash, first because she has a reputation as the straightest of straight arrows, and secondly because the terms of the e-voting debate have changed significantly in the past three years. “Dozens of researchers all over the country are now working on the reliability and security of electronic voting,” said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, an early critic of e-voting. “Back in 2004, a lot of it was just guesswork. Now researchers have looked inside the systems and seen where all the holes and the opportunities for error and fraud are.”

California is not alone in rejecting e-voting: New Mexico and, intriguingly, Florida have gone down the same road, as have dozens of individual counties across the country. Voters themselves have led the way on this debate: As Bowen herself pointed out, somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of California’s voters opted for a paper ballot in last November’s mid-terms.

The importance of California in the national debate remains considerable – because of our size, and also our concentration of computer science experts – and it’s a fair bet that Bowen’s ruling will greatly accelerate the nationwide trend away from electronic voting to something more transparent and verifiable. In other words, she has notched an unambiguous victory for the cause of voter rights. (full story)

Official: New Voting System Means Counts Are Slower, More Secure

Alison St John, KPBS Radio, August 7, 2007


California Secretary of State's decision to pull the plug on most screen voting machines is forcing San Diego to resort to a vote counting technology that is slow and cumbersome. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.

Instead of using touch screen voting machines, voters will have their paper ballots counted by optical scanners in 2008.

Kim Alexander is President of the California Voter Foundation. She explains voters will have to wait longer for election results using optical scanners than they did in the days of the unreliable punch card ballots.

Alexander: We've used computers to count ballots for over 40 years in California , but with a punch card you'd take a stack of cards and put them inside the counter and they would zip through. With the optical scan machines, you've got to feed them through one at a time so it takes longer.

Some California counties are faced with big bills to buy more optical scanners.

But San Diego has a contract with Diebold that requires the company to provide alternatives if its touch screens are decertified.

County Registrar Deborah Seiler says the County will use the scanners Diebold provided at polling places last June.

Seiler: Our strategy is to put a lot of scanners on, granted they are not fast but we would have a lot of them.

However, because of the new conditions set by the secretary of state, the scanners will remain in the Registrar's office, and poll workers will bring the ballots in to be counted.

That may also cause even longer delays.

Nicole Winger of the Secretary of State's office says it's worth it to restore voter confidence.

Winger: Americans like Speed but Americans also like democracy. (full story)

California Report Slams E-Voting System Security

By Robert McMillan, PC World, July 27, 2007


Researchers commissioned by the State of California have found security issues in every electronic voting system they tested, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen said Friday.

The report was published Friday as part of a complete review of the state's e-voting systems initiated earlier this year by Bowen's office.

Its findings were not encouraging for backers of e-voting.

"The security teams were able to bypass both physical and software security in every system they tested," Bowen said Friday during a conference call with media.

Bowen is set to decide by Aug. 3 which systems will be certified for use in the 2008 presidential primaries. She declined to comment on how the report's findings will affect this decision until she has completely reviewed the report. "The severity of it, what it means ... that's a matter for us to investigate and pull apart and analyze between now and next Friday."

But she did acknowledge that the security problems found by researchers were important. "It's a big deal for many people in this country," she said. "We are a democracy and our very existence as a democracy is dependent on having voting systems that are secure, reliable and accurate."

- - - - -

With California on the forefront of voting system reforms, the report will be closely scrutinized by state officials across the country, said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. "Even though we've made a number of improvements to voting systems in California, doubts persist about the reliability of our voting equipment."

In 2004, for example, voting was delayed by several hours in many San Diego precincts as the city struggled to roll out a new US$31 million Diebold electronic voting system.

The report was conducted under added time constraints. In March, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger moved the date of the state's 2008 presidential primary vote ahead from June to February 5.

State law mandates that the Secretary of State must give counties at least six months' notice if machines are to be de-certified, forcing Bowen to make a decision on the matter by August 3.

She said Friday that it was unfortunate there was not more time for study and debate, but that putting off the review was not an option. "I don't want any doubt about the reliability of our voting systems come February 5, 2008," she said. (full story)

Future Tense with Jon Gordon

American Public Media, July 24, 2007

Voting machines companies, registrars await findings of security investigation

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen will soon reveal the results of a two-month study of touch-screen voting systems in her state.

Making good on a campaign promise, Bowen ordered the so-called "top-to-bottom" review to ensure California's voting systems are secure for the state's February primary election.

A team of computer security experts have been poking and prodding the systems from three companies - Diebold, Sequoia and Hart InterCivic, looking for vulnerabilities that would make them prone to error or manipulation. Bowen could decide to decertify any of the machines, a prospect that has county election officials on edge.

Guests: Brad Friedman of BradBlog, Stephen Weir of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, and Michelle Shaffer of Sequoia (full story)

E-voting systems `hacked' for flaws

By Steven Harmon, San Jose Mercury News, July 23, 2007


In a nondescript storage room, tucked deep behind layers of security doors, a handful of computer experts have just wrapped up an intense two months of hacking or otherwise manipulating electronic voting systems.

The rigorous testing for vulnerabilities in touch-screen voting machines are part of an unprecedented "top-to-bottom" review ordered by Secretary of State Debra Bowen to ensure that the state's voting systems are secure - and whether they should be certified for use.

She is expected to report Aug. 3 - six months before the Feb. 5 presidential primaries, a timeline that is making election officials nervous.

Bowen is fulfilling what her supporters and voting security advocates consider to be the mandate she received from last year's election, in which she clashed with her predecessor, Bruce McPherson, over how much scrutiny the state's electronic voting and tabulations systems needed. She won in November amid a national outcry over fears of hacking, vote flipping and election rigging with suspicions squarely aimed at touch-screen voting systems.

"Voting machine companies are quaking in their boots," said Brad Friedman, the author of, which is devoted to voting security. "She's doing exactly what she was elected to do. I will be stunned if they find systems that don't have enormous, gaping vulnerabilities."

Three vendors - Diebold Election Systems of Texas, Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland and Hart InterCivic of Texas - are awaiting the outcome of the review, as are county registrars, who worry that any decertification could lead to chaos on Election Day.

Bowen's team of hackers have worked around the clock in the third-floor storage room of the Secretary of State's Office building to intentionally try to alter votes and manipulate how they are counted. The level of testing, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which monitors elections across the state, is beyond what has been done in any other state or in federal testing.

"Previous testing looked at whether the systems work the way vendors said they're supposed to work," Alexander said. "It didn't include scenarios that would crop up in real elections, such as a software attack or the taking down of a polling place through technical manipulation."

- - - - -

Some wonder if Bowen has a predisposition to rid the state of touch-screen machines, given her history, her campaign and the people with whom she's surrounded herself. For instance, one of her deputy secretaries, Lowell Finley, is a Berkeley lawyer who sued McPherson for approving Diebold touch-screen voting machines.

"She certainly gave every indication she'd do everything it took to get Diebold out of the state," said Matt Rexroad, who was McPherson's political consultant during the campaign. "I don't know how they get a fair hearing by the chief elections officer."

Weir, the state's top registrar, said that clerks could decide to ignore Bowen's findings and continue to use their systems, which are already federally qualified; that would almost certainly create a legal standoff.

That would be a mistake, said Alexander, the voting security expert.

"What's most important is that we have election results that are accurate and that the public has confidence in," Alexander said. "We don't audit elections for the convenience of election workers. We do it for having a representative democracy." (full story)

Hackers Test California's Electronic Voting Machines

By Nannette Miranda, July 2, 2007


The hackers are the latest attempt by California to ensure voters their ballots will be counted. Paper trails and public audits are already required by law.

Kim Alexander, CA Voter Foundation: "This review and evaluation of the software that's driving our voting systems will pick up any other problems that may have been overlooked."

The stakes are high to get the vote count right, because with the Presidential Primary moved up from June to February 2008, California has the potential to affect the outcome the race for the first time in years.

Debra Bowen, (D) CA Secretary of State: "The goal of this review is for us to do that on voting systems where we can be confident that the effect we have on the Presidential Primary is the effect California voters intended."

The hackers have until July 20th. If they're successful, Secretary Bowen could de-certify those machines and counties will have to scramble to find another way for Californians to vote. (full story)

'And that's it', County dismisses critics of elections—office hires

By Kelly Davis, San Diego City Beat, May 30, 2007


In the eyes of voting-integrity activists, San Diego County hit the trifecta this spring.

It all started in April with the hiring of Michael Vu as San Diego County's new assistant registrar of voters. Vu's most recent job was head of elections for Ohio's Cuyahoga County, where, this past January, two of his deputies were found guilty of tampering with a vote recount in the 2004 presidential election; both received jail time. A year ago, an audit by an independent elections review board described Vu's handling of Cuyahoga County's May 2006 primary as an "across-the-board failure." A follow-up audit of the November 2006 general election found far fewer problems, but both Vu and assistant registrar Gwen Dillingham resigned in February.

Vu's new boss is Deborah Seiler, hired by the county in May to replace Registrar Mikel Haas, who was promoted to the department that oversees the registrar's office. Haas was criticized for allowing poll workers to take electronic-voting machines home with them.

- - - - -

Kim Alexander, who heads the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that follows electronic-voting issues, said that although Seiler is controversial, "she's also one of the most experienced people in California when it comes to election administration."

Prior to working for Diebold, Seiler was chief of elections under former Secretary of State March Fong Eu. When Eu left office, Seiler went to work for Sequoia Systems before being hired by Diebold as head of West Coast sales. In 2004, Solano County hired Seiler as its elections manager, second in command under the registrar. Like San Diego County, in 2003, Seiler sold Diebold machines to Solano County that had yet to be federally tested or state certified.

Other counties purchased their electronic-voting machines from other vendors, like Sequoia Systems, which haven't been without problems, either, though Diebold's name is perhaps the most recognized.

Secretary of State Shelley ultimately banned the Diebold machines prior to the November 2004 presidential election but not before San Diego County used them in the March 2004 primary. In that election, poll workers at some locations had trouble with the device that activates the cards voters must insert into e-voting machines to call up a ballot. This glitch resulted in just over one-third of polling places opening late.

"You cannot discount the impact of Diebold in all of this," Alexander said. "San Diego selected a vendor that has a troubling history and that has bolstered the critics' concerns and their fears." (full story)

Local governments outsource elections that puzzle voters

By Chip Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, May 29, 2007


Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, was interviewed a few years back about an upcoming election and complained about the sheer size of the ballot and how -- and why -- California voters seem to vote on every nitpicking little thing.

As a Sacramento County resident, she said, she would have to vote for 22 different elected representatives at the local and state level.

"I mean, what the heck is the mosquito abatement district and why should we care about this?" she asked. After hearing the interview on air, her father, a retired Culver City Council member, called her to say he was a member of the Los Angeles County Mosquito Abatement District's board of directors.

Still, voters across the state are asking the same question Alexander did just about every time they look at their ballots. And this month, thousands of Alameda County property owners have been scratching their heads over not only what they are deciding in a mail election -- but who is counting the votes.

Some of them have called the county elections department, which confirms that it is not counting the ballots for the "Vector and Disease Control Assessment" proposed by the county's Vector Control Services District.

The ballots have an unusual return address -- to an accounting firm in Fremont that is, indeed, tallying the results in July.

For the record, the special district, which controls rodent and insect infestation for every city in the county except Fremont and Emeryville, is asking county property owners for a $4.08 annual increase in their property taxes. (full story)

Hackers Asked to Test E-Voting Systems


Despite federal promises to safeguard electronic voting systems, California's top elections chief has commissioned a panel of UC experts and hackers to review eight primary e-voting systems. It is considered the largest and most aggressive equipment review of any state so far.

Debra Bowen campaigned for Secretary of State on the pledge to do a top to bottom review of the voting systems. This panel, led by computer security experts at both UC Berkeley and UC Davis will test eight primary systems sold by the country's four largest suppliers.

The panel has until the end of July to wrap up its analysis; under state law Bowen has until the beginning of August to decertify any problematic systems before the early, February 5th primary.

"California is not the only state that's undergoing this kind of process," explained Kim Alexander with the nonprofit election reform group California Voter Foundation. "Ohio is also conducting a top to bottom review and Florida's governor has led that state to replace electronic voting altogether with paper ballot systems. So there is a lot of review of our voting systems going on, as there has been ever since the 2000 presidential election." (full story)

Being first can be costly

By Michelle DeArmond and Kimberly Trone, The Press-Enterprise, April 24, 2007

Inland voters could find themselves voting with paper ballots in future elections if the touch-screen voting machines can't be certified as secure, experts said this week.

Complaints about the security of touch-screen voting machines have been growing throughout the nation and state, including in the Inland area. Critics have charged that touch-screen machines are more vulnerable to fraud and manipulation by political interests.

San Bernardino County's top election official said she is hopeful that the county's system will pass a state review.

- - - - -

Regardless of what Bowen does, one elections watcher said she suspects growing numbers of people are going to conclude that electronic voting is not the safest system.

"I would not be surprised if other counties move in that direction as well, whether there is a federal or state mandate," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization. "I think we got ahead of ourselves in electronic voting."

She said she hopes that government officials, when deciding how to proceed, will consider reliability and voter confidence instead of the cost of replacing existing systems, if it comes to that.

Pam Smith, president of, said in the long run, the costs of touch-screen machines likely will exceed those of lower-tech systems. Her group is urging counties to switch to paper systems as a cheaper alternative that requires less storage and less maintenance. Many counties have made similar conclusions.

"It has been kind of a trend, and I think from our perspective a positive one," she said. (full story)

Campaign spending records go online

By Diane Dietz, The Register-Guard, March 28, 2007

Oregon voters are about to benefit from a quantum leap in the amount and quality of information available about campaign donors and the money that sways state and local elections.

Early this year, the state launched an online campaign finance database and began requiring all candidates and officeholders to report, within 30 days of receipt, all the donations they get. The deadline shrinks to seven days in the six weeks before each election.

The new system allows anyone with Internet access to easily see which individuals, companies and interest groups are donating money to politicians.

The continuous online reporting is a huge leap forward from the cumbersome paper reports that PACs and candidates previously had to file at set - and often distant - intervals.

Now, activists will be able to use the state Web site to check as often as they like on the latest receipts and expenditures of a candidate or political action committee.

If knowledge is power, the new database makes Oregon citizens more powerful than people in most - and maybe all - other states.

"Oregon is on the cutting edge of disclosure changes that many states are considering. Other states will be keeping a close eye on Oregon," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which studies disclosure laws and practices in the 50 states.

- - - - -

Under the old system, political action committees didn't have to report the money they collected or spent until September - leaving as much as eight months of political activity in the dark.

That won't do in the Internet age, Alexander said. "Why we should have huge gaps of time between when contributions are made and when they're reported?" she asked.

This year, for the first time, voters can track how much key political action committees have in their coffers during the Legislative session. For example, the Oregon PERS Retirees is reporting $43,408; the Oregon Restaurant PAC, $63,961; and the Oregon Medical PAC $140,695.

The database system adopted by the Legislature requires candidates and PACs to enter their contribution and expenditure records in a standard format on a Web-based form.

The public, journalists and other political watchdogs then have instant access to the standardized data. Gone are the trips to Salem to dig through paper records. Watchdogs can download the data into an Excel spreadsheet with the click of a button. (full story)

Kim Alexander discussed California's manual recount process to verify election results with host Jeffrey Callison

Capital Public Radio, December 8, 2006

(Audio clip available online)

Nov. 7: Tipping point for e-voting?

By Greg Kane, Stockton Record, December 4, 2006


Technically, the Nov. 7 election was a success for supporters of the touchscreen voting machines on which more than 100,000 San Joaquin County voters cast ballots.

Politically, the election's results could turn out to be their worst nightmare.

Debra Bowen, a Democratic state senator from Redondo Beach, defeated incumbent Bruce McPherson in the race for secretary of state on Election Day. Bowen is a vocal critic of the Diebold voting machines used in San Joaquin County and has promised to review all the electronic equipment McPherson certified earlier this year.

Deborah Hench, San Joaquin County's top elections official, won't speculate on what Bowen's election means to the future of the 1,625 ATM-like Diebold TSx machines the county agreed to purchase for $5.7million three years ago. And while few believe the new secretary of state will begin her tenure by decertifying the equipment, some electronic-voting opponents believe Bowen will be more open to their concerns.

- - - - -

Kim Alexander, president and founder of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation, said last week that some elections officials across the state have expressed worries about a new secretary of state taking over.

Alexander does not believe Bowen will take office and make drastic changes, although Bowen certainly has the authority to do so.

"She could decertify e-voting machines the day she takes office if she wanted to," Alexander said. "The secretary of state has a tremendous amount of authority."

Hench, San Joaquin County's registrar of voters, says the equipment performed well in November despite some problems getting them up and running on Election Day.

The machines also sped up the ballot-counting process: The county posted its final results at 12:35 a.m., its earliest tally from a primary or general election since at least 1990.

Still, Hench acknowledges that the county could be in for more questions about the system's future.

"It's hard to know what's going to happen," Hench said. "(Bowen) is going to have her staff review all the systems. What happens after that, nobody knows." (full story)


Bowen plans upgrades to Cal-Access

By Malcolm Maclachlan, Capitol Weekly, November 23, 2006


The knock on our democracy is that it's too much like an auction. Incoming Secretary of State Debra Bowen said she wants to counter pay-for-play government by making campaign finances as easy to search as eBay.
Bowen is planning major improvements for the Cal-Access Web site. While she has yet to set a timetable, she did say the redesign will focus on factors like standardizing the formats of names, having late disclosures cataloged more quickly and making it easier to search for information around independent-expenditure committees. There are also plans to make it easier to find trace which committees are being controlled by particular politicians.

"My goal is to create a system that's as easy to use and provides as much information in a user-friendly format as possible," Bowen said.

While she doesn't have specific changes ready to announce, Bowen said the main goal will be to move Cal-Access from a "form-driven" to a "data-driven" model. Cal-Access was launched in 2000 by then-Secretary of State Bill Jones in response to legislation. It basically took existing campaign forms and put them online. While there were many usability improvements, such as offering lists of donations in Excel format, the data is not yet gathered with the Web in mind, Bowen said.

Kim Alexander, president and founder California Voter Foundation, applauded this approach, saying she hoped Bowen would enable better coordination between the information gathered by the Fair Political Practices Commission and data made available by the secretary of state's office.

"If there are going to be significant changes in Cal-Access, you'll have to change the way data is filed," Alexander said.
When Cal-Access first came online, it was the best state campaigns Web site in the country, she said. However, we ranked only third behind Washington and Virginia--with a "B+" grade--when the CVF rated the states last year. The Web site was created via 1997 legislation by then-Senator Betty Karnette when she chaired the Senate Elections Committee. This followed previous attempts by Senator Tom Hayden in 1995 and Assemblywoman Jackie Speier in 1996.

The site has been a "work in progress" ever since, Alexander said. During his time as secretary of state, Kevin Shelley added search functions and created pages for ballot propositions. Among the improvements she would like to see, Alexander said, are better labeling of the sections on the Web site and the release of finance summaries for campaigns and propositions. (full story)

Hand Recount Underway In California

By Ellen Ciurczak, Capital Public Radio, Nov. 22, 2006
(Audio clip available online)

New Tools Help 2006 Campaigns

By Jenny O'Mara, Capital Public Radio, Nov. 20, 2006

(Audio clip available online)

Latest vote count expected

By Michelle DeArmond And Kimberly Trone, The Press-Enterprise, November 21, 2006


Election workers were counting the last of Riverside County's absentee ballots Monday as they prepared to post their first results update since Nov. 8.

The registrar's office had fewer than 10,000 ballots left to count Monday afternoon and planned to update the results sometime this week, said Rebecca Martine, Riverside County's deputy registrar.

Workers started counting about 100,000 outstanding absentee ballots Thursday and worked through part of the weekend to finish them. The ballots were turned in just before or on Election Day two weeks ago and have left a few races hanging in the balance.

Although the registrar has until Dec. 5 to complete and certify the results, some candidates and others have been critical of Registrar Barbara Dunmore for having so many ballots uncounted so long after the election. The absentee ballots that were turned in late accounted for about a third of the votes cast.

One candidate, Phil Paule, criticized the registrar for not releasing the late results as the ballots are counted.
"The public perception of this election has been that of a colossal failing for your office," Paule wrote to Dunmore. Paule is an Eastern Municipal Water District Division 1 candidate with a 74-vote lead.

- - - - -

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said many counties may be taking the full month to tabulate results this year, although candidates tend to pressure registrars for faster results.

"The only thing worse than a slow vote is a hasty and incorrect vote count," Alexander said Monday.

Alexander said she was concerned in general about problems with the Nov. 7 election, including reports of long lines and technological problems in counties across the state.

"Cumulatively, that can greatly erode voter confidence, and that's what concerns me," Alexander said. "Voters can be left with the impression that the results from the election may not be reliable."

Riverside County supervisors, who meet today, also said they are concerned about long waits at polling sites on Election Day and shortages of paper cartridges that contributed to the delays. (full story)

California officials report only minor voting problems

By Paul Elias, San Jose Mercury News, November 8, 2006


he voting nightmare that California registrars feared didn't happen Tuesday.

Instead, a series of isolated malfunctions and technological hiccups forced some voters in the nation's most populous state to cast provisional ballots. Some sites opened later than 7 a.m., and technological glitches made for 90-minute lines in Riverside County as polls closed.

Riverside technicians couldn't change printer cartridges fast enough to keep up with demand, and some voters who arrived before the 8 p.m. closing time didn't cast ballots until 9:15 p.m. - after some races had been called.

"I would rate the performance as 'needs improvement,'" said Riverside registrar Barbara Dunmore. "We need to get more printers out there so voters can vote in a timely manner."

Dunmore blamed the system overload on a lengthy ballot and high turnout among the county's 758,000 voters. The secretary of state predicted 55 percent turnout.

California appeared free of more worrisome reports in other states, including allegations of voter intimidation. In Arizona, three men, one of them armed, stopped Hispanic voters and questioned them outside a Tucson polling place, according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

- - - - -

"There are chronic problems with voting that can greatly erode voter confidence," said Kim Alexander, president of the watchdog group California Voter Foundation. "Just because it's not worse than last election doesn't make it all right."

The recent ballot listed candidates for eight statewide offices, 13 propositions and local ballot measures in nearly all 58 counties. Given the complexity, many absentee voters postponed filling out and mailing their ballots until Monday, and others dropped off ballots at polling stations Tuesday.

Those ballots won't likely be counted for several days.

"It takes a longer time to process absentee votes, especially the ones that come in at the last minute," Contra Costa County Clerk Stephen L. Weir said before the election. "It drives everyone crazy."

About 44 percent of Californians were expected to turn in absentee ballots.

Printers used to provide voter-verifiable paper records on Diebold machines temporarily jammed Tuesday morning at some San Diego County sites. (full story)

E-voting anxiety drives key race

By Steven Harmon, San Jose Mercury News, November 4, 2006


At the core of the campaign to decide the state's next top election official is a question troubling many voters: Will each vote be counted accurately?

The issue has sent Secretary of State Bruce McPherson scrambling to reassure voters that the election system he oversees is working. But Debra Bowen, his Democratic challenger, has seized on voters' anxieties over potential abuses of electronic touch-screen voting machines -- just when more voters than ever will be using them.

"This election is about addressing the incredible loss of confidence in the whole voting system,'' said Bowen, a Redondo Beach term-limited state senator. ``It's a serious problem when you have the potential for tampering and it's even a bigger problem when people lose faith in the machinery of elections.''

"The major difference between us,'' said Bowen, who leads McPherson 40 percent to 34 percent in this week's Field Poll, "is that he trusts the system and I don't.''

McPherson accuses Bowen of fear mongering, saying he has put in place a number of security measures that will ensure the integrity of the vote, particularly in the 23 counties -- including Santa Clara and San Mateo -- that will use various touch-screen machines.

"We can't, as Bowen would like to, go back to the days of hanging chads and butterfly ballots,'' McPherson said. "I'm very serious that we do this the right way. The integrity of the vote is the most important thing I need to protect. I'm not going to certify a system that doesn't meet the highest standard.''

- - - - -

"I want to assure all California voters,'' McPherson said, ``that their vote will be counted and recorded accurately.''

McPherson has gone farther than any of his predecessors in testing touch-screen voting systems, though there are still significant concerns, said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a non-partisan organization that advocates responsible uses of voter technology.

"On the one hand, McPherson has implemented more rigorous testing than we've ever seen in California,'' Alexander said. ``But on the other hand, the Diebold touch-screen is physically insecure. It's easy to open the machines, take out the memory card and replace it, opening up the possibility of hacking.''

Computer scientists around the country have found that the Diebold TSx machine's security is vulnerable. This summer, a Princeton computer-science professor and two of his graduate students showed how easily it can be hacked and manipulated with unauthorized software that could alter vote tallies -- later demonstrating the hacking at a congressional hearing.

That came after McPherson certified the Diebold machines in February.

But it's not as if he wasn't aware of the potential for problems. His own office's Voting Systems Technology Assessment Advisory Board identified 16 security flaws in the Diebold machines the very day he certified them.

The panel cited "a number of security vulnerabilities,'' but it also concluded that ``they are all easily fixable'' and ``manageable.''

Whether or not that's the case may be one of the more important questions answered Tuesday -- and, coupled with whom voters choose to oversee the state's elections -- may go a long way in determining the future of electronic voting in California. (full story)

E-voting safer -- but safe enough?

By Chris Bagley, North County Times, November 4, 2006


When some 200,000 voters in Riverside County go to the polls Tuesday, they'll cast votes on a computerized voting system that is subject to an ever-larger number of safeguards, but that continues to generate controversy and demands for additional security.

Riverside County used touch-screen voting terminals in a San Jacinto municipal election in August 1999, and became the first county in California to do so on a large scale that November. By the 2000 presidential election, every polling place in the county was equipped with them.

The chaos that paper ballots created elsewhere that year ---- most notably in Florida ---- hastened the adoption of touchscreens around the country, but it also showed Americans how flaws in voting systems could leave even the results of a presidential election in question.

Since then, more and more U.S. cities and counties have begun using touchscreens. By November 2004, about 50 million ---- or 29 percent ---- of the nation's voters were registered in counties that use touchscreens, according to Election Data Services Inc., a consulting firm. Recent studies have estimated that another 10 million to 20 million U.S. voters will use touch screens for the first time Tuesday.

At the same time, voters' distrust of them remains surprisingly strong. Several states and counties have abandoned touchscreens in the last two years.

About 80 percent of Americans believe that election officials shouldn't rely solely on the machines and their proprietary software, according to a poll of 1,018 adults conducted in August by Zogby International.

In a Gallup survey of 526 likely voters last month, 46 percent of registered voters expressed a "great deal" of confidence in electronic voting machines, with 34 percent expressing a "fair amount" and 19 percent expressing "not much." Paper ballots fared slightly worse, with 38 percent of voters expressing "great confidence" and 22 percent expressing "not much."

The distrust has been fueled by people ranging from conspiracy theorists to voters who have experienced actual glitches with the machines. Additionally, several computer scientists have demonstrated how ---- in the absence of thorough oversight ---- the computers can be hacked and vote tallies changed on a large scale, though no such hacking attempt has been documented in an actual election.

In California, new regulations have aimed to boost confidence and provide reliable backup to the electronic machines. This year's primary elections, in June, were the first to require a paper printout of each vote cast on the electronic machines. Such printouts stay inside the machines and are fished out in the event of a recount.

- - - - -

A random 1 percent of those printouts are counted in every race as a check of the reliability of the electronic tally. A similar requirement has existed for 40 years, but it was just last year that the state Legislature applied it explicitly to touch-screen systems.

"We've made a huge amount of progress in California over the last six years," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "But we still have a long way to go."

The entire nation is a patchwork of voting systems. In several states, such as Georgia and Nevada, every county uses touch screens.

Alabama, Michigan and several other states don't allow them. In Oregon, a voter marks and then mails in a paper ballot or hand-delivers it to the local county elections office.

Many other states are themselves patchworks of voting systems. California's secretary of state has certified a range of voting machines. Most counties use touchscreens made by Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, as Riverside County does; by Ohio-based Diebold Inc., which San Diego County uses; or by Election Systems & Software of Omaha.

Some of the same counties ---- and others ---- use what are known as "optical scan" ballots. Voters indicate their choices by filling in circles or squares on the ballots; an electronic machine scans and counts them.

California's voting systems, as a whole, compare favorably to most other states' in terms of security and ease of use, Alexander said. Still, she bemoaned the wide variations among the counties, saying that too many have low security standards or don't make voting as easy as they could.

One example of that variety is in the practice of posting the vote counts from each precinct at the polling place. The California Elections Code appears to require the practice, which goes back at least to the 1960s, but elections officials in more than half of the counties in the state have given it up, saying the requirement applied only to machines in use in the 1960s.

Such posting is intended to allow citizen watchdog groups to doublecheck the tallies generated by machines at the precinct against the tallies produced by a central counter. (full story)

Mail-in ballots arriving slowly; officials say voters undecided

By Stephanie Hoops, Ventura County Star, November 4, 2006


Election officials suspect it will take a full week to count the votes after Tuesday’s election because absentee voters seem to be waiting to send their ballots in.

While the mail-in ballots have been available to voters since Oct. 9, they came in more slowly than usual, said Gene Browning, assistant registrar of voters for Ventura County.

As of Friday, the county had about 57,724 (40 percent) of the 144,000 absentee ballots it mailed out.

Of course, many of the absentee ballots might simply go unused, removing the need to count them, but voting experts suspect many voters are holding out to vote, on the fence with their decisions.

"It may be that people are waiting to make up their minds," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Davis-based organization that provides online voter information.

Shirley Cobb has her mind made up. She filled her absentee ballot out, but she’s driving it to the elections office Tuesday from her home in Camarillo because she doesn’t want to take a chance on the mail.

"I want to be sure it’s OK," she said.

With more and more people voting from the comfort of home, Alexander said more time will be necessary for counting.

That’s something that campaigns and news organizations need to keep in mind, she said, as they demand quick information from elections officials.

"They feel rushed to get it out quickly because of the demand, but with tightly contested races decided on narrow margins, it can take a day or two — or even weeks — before results are finalized," Alexander said.

Ballots cast at the polls get processed faster, but absentee ballots have to be sorted into precincts, screened for errors, sliced open and flattened before they get scanned. At the polls, voters just stick them in the scanner and go.

"It’s great to give voters convenient ways to vote, but we have to remember that doing so can result in slower vote counts," Alexander said. "When votes are brought to polling places, they get counted last."

The mail-in absentee ballots get counted first, polling-place votes second and then provisional and late absentee ballots. (full story)

California Songs: "The Proposition Song"

California Report, KQED-FM, November 3, 2006

(Audio clip available online)

Voting machine CEO denies allegations, He says Venezuela is not an investor

By Greg Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 2006


A company that provides electronic voting machines in the United States -- including those in 21 California counties -- is formally asking the U.S. Treasury Department to investigate what it says are untrue accusations that its ownership by Venezuelan investors is tied to the leftist government of President Hugo Chavez.

Antonio Mugica, the CEO of Smartmatic Corp., owner of Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems Inc., said at a news conference Monday in Washington that the Venezuelan government has never invested in either company nor have they been influenced by Chavez.

"No foreign government, from any country, has ever owned a stake in Smartmatic," said Mugica, adding that the same charge has been leveled against the company since 2004 when it won the bid to handle the Venezuelan recall and referendum, which Chavez won.

"We have the most secure and advanced voting system out there. We want to make sure we can keep being successful, Mugica said. "That's why it's important for us to clear these allegations once -- and hopefully -- for all."

Questions about being able to manipulate a voter's ballot choices on a Sequoia machine -- which are used in 16 states and the District of Columbia -- is just the latest complaint about the reliability of electronic voting machines, complaints that tend to get louder as elections get closer.

- - - - -

"This investigation illustrates why private corporate ownership of voting equipment is problematic. We shouldn't have to wonder if our election results could be influenced by corporate or foreign interests," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes responsible use of voting technology.

Smartmatic asked for a formal review of its Sequoia purchase by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the same federal entity that examined a proposed purchase by a Dubai company that would have placed Dubai in charge of some operations at six U.S. ports. (full story)

Who's on your answering machine?

By Elizabeth Fitzsimons, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 31, 2006


It's that time of year again. Halloween costume shops suddenly appear in strip malls, Santa Anas start to blow, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is leaving messages on your answering machine.

“This is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. You will be receiving your ballot for the November election by mail this week,” began a recent message.

Didn't get that call? Well, maybe you heard from Barbara Boxer. Bill Clinton's been leaving messages, too.

The automated call, or “robocall,” has become a staple of political campaigns, if not their most annoying play for your attention. They fill up your answering machine, interrupt your dinner. Some calls are programmed to hang up if a live person answers, leaving you to wonder: Wrong number? Stalker?

“It's distancing and it's not interactive, and everything we know about communications is it's not satisfying,” said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University Sacramento.

For most voters, they are a minor nuisance, like the political pieces that go straight from the mailbox to the trash bin. People hit delete the moment they realize the message is canned.

“I don't mind them, I just don't generally listen to them,” said Dana Levy, 60, a retired plumber who for the past couple of weeks has been receiving about two robocalls a day at his University Heights home.

Yet, political campaigns, exempt from the constraints of the do-not-call registry because their messages are protected free speech, find the automated call hard to resist. Calls can target voters by party affiliation, age, race, gender, how often they voted in the past few elections. They can home in on absentee voters, or voters who haven't yet made it to the polls on Election Day.

- - - - -

The calls caused such a furor that some states have cracked down. Indiana law requires a live voice on the line, not a recording, unless the receiving party previously agreed to receiving a recorded call.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that the state could prohibit a California company from making robocalls against a Democratic congressional candidate. The company,, was hired by the Economic Freedom Fund, which was supporting the candidate's Republican opponent. argued the ban was an unconstitutional restraint on free speech and interstate commerce. The company said it was reviewing the decision, but did not say whether it would appeal on First Amendment grounds.

In Colorado, state legislator Bernie Buescher has made robocalls a campaign issue. Buescher pledged to run a robocall-free campaign.

There's been no move by lawmakers to ban the calls in California.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, finds the calls dehumanizing and exclusionary.

“The campaigns are precisely targeting the message to the voters they find most desirable, so a lot of voters aren't getting those calls,” Alexander said.

She advises voters to call their registrar of voters office and ask that their phone numbers be stricken from records. Few people know that they are not required to provide their telephone number on a registration form, Alexander said. It's not an immediate solution, she said, but something that could help down the road. (full story)

Voters facing new problems in mix-up

By Charles Levin, Ventura County Star, October 31, 2006


Absentee voters in parts of the Conejo and Ojai valleys will have a few more days to request new ballots if they were mailed ones listing the wrong races, the county's election chief said Monday.

Warning letters went out last week explaining the ballot problem to voters in both areas. But 870 Conejo Valley residents who registered as absentee voters got the wrong warning letter, Gene Browning, Ventura County's assistant registrar, said Monday.

The printing company mistakenly sent letters to the Conejo Valley that discussed the Ojai Valley problems, Browning said.

Under state law, officials can start opening absentee ballot envelopes and counting votes today, marking an unofficial deadline for requesting a new absentee ballot.

Now, however, the Elections Division will not open absentee ballots for the two valley areas until later this week, giving people a few more days to get a new ballot. Browning, however, declined to be more specific on a new deadline.

"It's going to depend on how the rest of my workload goes and if I get many more calls" about the problem, Browning said.

Browning seemed confident that the absentee problem, which surfaced last week, had not spread to other parts of the county. "It's just isolated to that handful," Browning said.

Absentee ballots come as two cards. Candidate races and measures are listed on both sides of each card.

- - - - -

County Clerk-Recorder Phil Schmit and a Sequoia official said last week that they don't believe the mix-up will affect the outcome of any races.

Several voting experts contacted last week by The Star were not so sure.

The problem is not out of the ordinary, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. Many counties contract out for their voting services, and "vendors ... are overburdened at this time of year," Alexander said.

Alexander noted that voter participation drops off in low-profile contests such as park districts or water boards.

"So the voters who do vote in those races do have a lot of influence," Alexander said. Such races "can be decided by a relatively small margin."

Schmit vowed last week to ensure that the problem doesn't happen again. A Sequoia official said the company would meet with county officials about the matter.

County Supervisor Linda Parks, who represents the Conejo Valley, said Monday that she wants to make sure that every absentee voter gets a correct ballot.

"If it takes an official knocking on everyone's door, giving everyone a correct ballot, then that's what needs to happen," Parks said. (full story)

Electioneering Goes Digital

By Emily Alpert, Gilroy Dispatch, October 28, 2006


As election day nears, campaign plugs weigh down the mailbox, blare from the radio and the TV, and now, clutter your e-mail.

Years ago, California added e-mail to its voter registration form. It's not a required field, and the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters doesn't use it, but some campaigns are snapping up the data to send campaign information online.

"If you look at the way campaigns are won and lost, it's all about the number of ears you reach," said David Oke, a campaign consultant for district attorney candidate Dolores Carr. "The traditional ways of reaching ears" - television, radio, and direct mail - "have been very expensive. E-mail is being driven by how many people you can reach for how little money."

Oke wasn't sure if Carr's campaign has used e-mails harvested from the county registrar's lists. The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society has used the technique to promote Measure A, noting on its e-mails that the addresses were accessed through the county registrar. The e-mails also give them the option to click on a button and have their addresses removed from the mailing list.

"They say you need to reach out to people seven times for your message to get through, so using different techniques we try to do that," said Peter Drekmeier, spokesman for People for Land and Nature, the environmental consortium that proposed Measure A. "We put signs on sides of buses, ads on television, mailers, e-mail, phone calls and ads in newspapers."

- - - - -

That worries Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a public interest research group based in San Diego. When registrars sell voter data, purchasers promise the data won't be used illegally - to market a product, for example.

"But once it's in a database, it's hard to control who has access to it," said Dixon. "That information can get resold, and used for all kinds of flat-out marketing."

She named, now defunct, as an example. Dixon said the Web site gathered birthdates from voter rolls, then charged for the information on its site. In 2003, a Wired News investigation found that Aristotle International, a voter database firm, was selling its lists online without confirming buyers' identities or intent. A reporter purchased data on 1,700 California voters and 900 South Carolina voters under the names 'Condoleezza Rice' and 'Britney Spears.'

Noel Alonzo, 30, provided his e-mail address to the registrar. He hasn't gotten any campaign e-mail yet, and he says he hopes he doesn't. Privacy doesn't worry him: spam does.

"It's junk mail to me," said Alonzo. "It's just more things for me to delete."

California Voter Foundation's Alexander cautioned against dismissing all political e-mail as spam. E-mail is quick, it's convenient, and in low-budget campaigns, it's useful to drum up grassroots support.

"E-mail has been a pivotal tool for engaging millions of people in this country in the political process," Alexander said. "As much as voters may complain about political e-mail spam, the fact is that campaign speech is protected under the First Amendment, and campaigns have the right to contact voters via e-mail. (full story)

Election Day… or Month?

By Emily Alpert, Gilroy Dispatch, October 27, 2006


For more than 44,000 Santa Clara County voters, the election is over. That's the number of absentee votes already returned to the county Registrar of Voters. If 50 percent of registered voters cast ballots - a high turnout - that means almost 12 percent of votes countywide are already in.

Thirty-five percent of registered voters were mailed absentee ballots this year, according to estimated figures provided by Elma Rosas, the county registrar's media officer. Of the roughly 262,000 absentee ballots mailed in the county, 206,000 were sent to permanent absentee voters, who are automatically mailed their ballots each election.

"We now have a month-long election day," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "People are busy, and a lot of them have a hard time getting to the polls."

Margaret Ryan, a Gilroy Senior Center volunteer, said she signed up as a permanent absentee voter three or four years ago. She's handicapped, and sometimes walking can be painful. Ryan plans to send in her ballot this weekend.

Absentee voting has stretched the timeline for electoral campaigns, once an endgame blitz of advertising and door-to-door pleas. The last few weeks are still crucial, said Mark Zappa, a Republican campaign activist, but "when absentee ballots are first mailed, you have to hit it hard.

"If you don't," he cautions, "you'll be out in the cold." (full story)

Electronic Voting Reliability in Question

By Emily Alpert, Gilroy Dispatch, October 27, 2006


Silicon Valley is ground zero for technological innovation, but some say they still don't trust the county's high-tech voting systems.

The county signed a $19-million contract with Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems in 2003, bringing touch-screen voting machines to polling booths from Palo Alto to Gilroy. This June, the machines were upgraded to include a voter-verified paper audit trial, said Matt Moreles, a Santa Clara County Registrar spokesperson. Each voter makes their selection on the touch screen, then looks at a paper printout to make sure it's correct. The printout is stored inside the printer, where it can be referred to in a manual recount.

"Electronic machines are the most accurate platforms for voting," said Howard Cramer, Sequoia's vice president of sales. "They're generally faster, generally more secure, and as elections get more complex, it's the only tool available for dealing with that increasing complexity."

- - - - -

Sequoia's machines have had fewer problems than those produced by the much-maligned Diebold Election Systems, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, and the voter-verified paper trail is a significant step. But she's still "not a fan of electronic voting."

"Anytime you put high-tech equipment into a polling place, there is likely to be some kind of problem," Alexander said.

She cited a case in 2004 in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, where voters had to correct their votes multiple times before the Sequoia AVC Edge machines registered the correct choice. The problem was reported in the Albuquerque Journal. (full story)

Kim Alexander and Friends Perform the "Proposition Song"

KOVR News, October 26, 2006

(Video clip available online)

Secretary of State's Race not exactly a vote machine

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, October 19, 2006


The secretary of state contest typically attracts sparse media coverage, scant financial resources and little voter interest. This year is no different; nevertheless, it is shaping up to be one of the most competitive statewide races on the November ballot.

Incumbent Bruce McPherson and his challenger, termed-out state Sen. Debra Bowen of Marina del Rey, are in a virtual dead heat among likely voters, recent polls show.

At first blush, they appear similar — two respected politicians with long tenures in the state Legislature, where they showed a keen interest in the state's electoral system. They support many of the same principles, such as making the office nonpartisan and pressing for campaign finance reform. But they disagree sharply on whether the state's elections are run properly, and particularly on the trustworthiness of electronic voting machines.

Voting advocates say that whoever is elected will play a vital role in the future of the state's and the nation's elections.

"California has provided a lot of leadership for the nation in the area of voting-technology reform," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, which does not endorse candidates. "Secretary of State McPherson has provided that leadership; Debra Bowen has provided that leadership in her role on the Senate Elections Committee." (full story)

Song highlights ballot measures

By Chris Riva, KCRA News, October 18, 2006

(Video clip available online)

Some fear California's bulky ballots may intimidate voters

By Rachel Konrad, Associated Press, October 17, 2006


Voter guides are landing with a big thud on doorsteps across California, where residents are confronted with an unusually large number of ballot measures and candidates in next month's election.

Election officials worry that the state's largest guides - 192-page books sent to 12 million homes - will overwhelm and discourage would-be voters.

The array of complicated issues on the ballot could also lead to long lines and delays at polling sites if people haven't done their homework.


Kim Alexander, president of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation, created a jingle to summarize the maze of issues for voters. The catchy tune with banjo accompaniment includes the chorus: "It's the proposition song/because the ballot's too darn long."

"Voting in this state can sometimes feel like doing your taxes," said Alexander, who emphasized that the song isn't meant as a substitute for reading the literature. But she said voters should at least skim the guide - and, if rushed, vote only on issues that are meaningful to them.

"You don't have to have encyclopedic knowledge of a ballot measure to make an informed choice," she said. (full story)

The Buzz: Campaigns Strike Up the Bandwagon

By Steve Wiegand, Sacramento Bee, October 16, 2006


If "music hath charms to soothe a savage breast," as the 17th-century poet William Congreve observed, then California voters should be going to the polls next month with very docile bosoms.

There's been a spate of campaign songs lately, designed to persuade or educate the electorate on behalf of various political causes.


For you folkies, there's "The Proposition Song." Composed by Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. It condenses all 13 ballot measures into a three-minute Pete Seegerish ditty that can be heard at A sample:

"Oh, there once was a proposition, its number was 1A/ The first of 13 measures to decide by Election Day/ Arnold and the lawmakers want the first 5 props to pass/ 1A would mandate road funding from the sales tax on gas." (full story)

Big Money Is Drawn to Issues

By Virginia Ellis and Dan Morain, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2006


In the world of politics, the race for money is as intense as the race for votes because often — not always — the politician or proposition with the most money wins.

In the competition for cash, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides are taking a back seat to two tax measures affecting some of the richest industries in America.

Oil and tobacco interests are investing millions in campaigns opposing Proposition 87's proposed increase in the oil extraction tax and Proposition 86's $2.60-a-pack leap in the cigarette tax. The two battles are the most expensive in this year's election.


In California, the dollars collected for candidates and initiative campaigns occupy a stratosphere of their own, dwarfing amounts raised in any other state. In 2004, the most recent nationwide elections, ballot propositions drew $600 million in contributions across the country, more than half of it — or $304 million — in California, according to a study by the Institute on Money in State Politics in Helena, Mont.

Florida ranked next, with $57.8 million raised for ballot measures.

This year, more than $447 million has been amassed for both proposition and candidate races, with the election still weeks away.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit voter education group, said big money flows into California because it's a bellwether state. Propositions that are successful here are likely to be copied elsewhere.

"A lot of political trends begin in California and take root here through the initiative process," Alexander said. "Stakes are high, and interest groups and corporations are aware the impact California initiatives can have nationally and even internationally."

Stem cell research, term limits and Proposition 13 property tax cuts were California-born initiatives that spread to other states.

"The real tragedy of campaign financing in the initiative process is that hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to 'educate' voters, and yet most of the money is used to buy television ads that confuse, mislead or scare voters and do just about anything but inform them," Alexander said. (full story)

Get Yer Banjos Out -- it's the Proposition Song!

By Lynda Gledhill, San Francisco Chronicle, October 12, 2006


If the weighty voter guide that arrived in your mail has become your dog's favorite chew toy, the California Voter Foundation has musical way to try get across what the 13 ballot propositions on the November ballot are all about: The Proposition Song.
The catchy folksong was written by the foundation's president, Kim Alexander and can be found at their web site.

It's hard to argue with the chorus: "It's the Proposition Song; Cause the ballot is too darn long!"

If you don't have the audio, here are the lyrics:

Oh, there once was a proposition, its number was One-A

The first of thirteen measures to decide by Election Day. (November 7th!) (full story)


Republicans Have Eyes on Keeping Secretary of State Seat

The Sacramento Union, September 20, 2006


The race for secretary of state this fall could be the Republicans’ best hope of retaining a statewide office, and it has left the Democratic challenger struggling to find a weakness she can exploit in her moderate opponent.

Incumbent Secretary of State Bruce McPherson has steered a centrist course since being appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in March 2005 after Democrat Kevin Shelley resigned amid allegations of financial impropriety.

That has helped him win over many Democrats and left-leaning organizations. He has received the endorsement of groups such as the California Teachers Association, an influential player in statewide political campaigns. He is the first Republican the group has supported for statewide office.

A McPherson win would boost the spirits of his fellow Republicans, who haven’t seen significant victories in California statewide races since 1994.

Such an outcome also could have implications for McPherson beyond the next term, said Mark Baldassare, director of research for the Public Policy Institute of California.


Although their methods differ, both Bowen and McPherson use the same language to describe their goals for voting reform _ reliability, transparency and accessibility.

That will be a tall order for whoever wins in November, said Kim Alexander, president of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit group that advances electronic-voting reforms.

“Carrying out that responsibility is increasingly challenging because of competing pressures by groups who want more accuracy and more security and by election officials at the local level who are often reluctant to increase their workload,” she said.

A longtime privacy advocate, Bowen’s other campaign priorities include adding sexual assault victims to the state’s Safe at Home program, which allows abortion clinic workers and victims of domestic violence to keep their addresses confidential and vote by mail.

Both candidates said they would try to engage young voters and further campaign finance reform.

Meanwhile, McPherson and Bowen are trying to persuade undecided voters and drum up enthusiasm for an office that often fails to capture broad public interest.

McPherson enjoys an advantage with heavily stocked campaign coffers. At the end of July, he had $708,000 in remaining funds, compared to Bowen’s $180,000, according to Cal-Access, the state’s online database of candidates’ financial information.(full story)

Political fray includes domain names

The San Jose Mercury News, August 25, 2006


Call it a case of cyberantics with a cause. The dueling camps over Proposition 87, the November initiative that would impose a fee on oil extracted in California, have been duking it out all week over control of Web site domain names.

In what's being acknowledged as a stunt to drum up support for the initiative, campaign backers got control of a number of Web site addresses with names more suited for the opposition. This week, Web users who clicked on or, for example, were led to a site created by backers of Proposition 87. The opposition's own site is

Supporters of the controversial initiative include Silicon Valley venture capitalists, environmentalists and Hollywood liberals. But the cyber prank was no barrel of laughs for opponents that include major oil companies and the powerful California Chamber of Commerce. They sued.

Turns out in California there is a law against such pranks, the California Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act. The legislature passed it in the wake of reports of Web profiteers snapping up politician's names and initiative numbers to create mischief, such as diverting Web surfers to pro-marijuana or white supremacy groups and selling off the sites to the highest bidder.


Several major oil companies contributed most of the more than $30 million raised by opponents, including $25 million from Chevron, Exxon and Shell. Supporters of Proposition 87 include Hollywood producer Steve Bing, who contributed more than $10 million, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. Khosla and other backers have investments in companies that could benefit if the initiative passes.

"It's a good chunk of change,'' said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, who predicted that, despite the substantive policy issues surrounding the initiative," guerrilla tactics by millionaires'' might dissuade voters. Still, backers ended up with a spate of hard-to-get coverage.

"Campaigns engage in this kind of activity online to get people's attention and get their message out through the clutter,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.(full story)

Candidates priced out of ballot pamphlets

The Capitol Weekly, August 24, 2006


With its big cities, the skyrocketing costs of television advertisements and the impracticality of campaigning door-to-door, running for statewide office in California has long been an expensive endeavor.

But this year, for the first time, down-ticket campaigns are getting slapped with one more small expense: Candidates for statewide office must now pay for their ballot statements--at the rate of $20 per word--in the state's
official voter guide.

Some activists and candidates are saying the new fee prices them out of what was once their best shot at communicating with a statewide audience.

"Democracy shouldn't have a price tag. Why don't we start charging voters for the cost of voting in elections?" says a sarcastic Larry Cafiero, the Green Party candidate for insurance commissioner. "I am very dismayed that the state thinks they have to charge candidates for this because it doesn't provide a level playing field, especially for third-party candidates."


"There are very few nonpartisan resources for voters available and the ballot pamphlet is the most important one there is," says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "The ballot pamphlet is the one piece of voter information that goes out to every voter. It's a shame that the policy was changed [to make candidates pay]."

The new fee for ballot statements is a consequence of Proposition 34, the 2000 campaign-finance measure approved by voters. That measure created a voluntary spending cap, $6.69 million for down-ticket races and $11.15 for gubernatorial candidates in 2006, and allows every candidate who promises to abide by those limits a ballot statement--at a cost.

The rate of $20 per word was chosen by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson "to recoup production and distribution costs," according to spokeswoman Nghia Nguyen.

McPherson's Democratic opponent in the fall, Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, declined comment for the story.

Every major-party candidate for office who accepted those spending limits has submitted a statement--except for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is running for insurance commissioner. (full story)

New voting machines questioned

The Sacramento Bee, August 15, 2006


While the November election marks the first time all counties in California will be in compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act, county elections officials are frustrated with the disabled access component of the law.

Even though state and federal officials allocated millions of dollars to reimburse counties for the cost of new voting machines, some county registrars argue they'll be outdated in a few years, leaving local governments with antiquated systems, millions of dollars in maintenance and replacement costs -- and frustrated voters.

"It's a disaster," said Freddie Oakley, Yolo County registrar. "We're sinking millions, nationwide billions, of dollars into technology that is not ready for the marketplace and that will be obsolete even earlier.

"We are all purchasing gold-plated shovels with rope handles. They look great, but they're not going to do the job for long."

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires that counties nationwide replace punch-card systems -- the ones blamed for the problems during the 2000 presidential election -- and that access to voting be improved for disabled voters at every polling location.


Various advocacy groups and private citizens with disabilities filed a complaint Aug. 1 in U.S. District Court against California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, as well as registrars in four counties.

The complaint alleges that use of three of the systems violate the 14th Amendment and the Help America Vote Act because voters with disabilities are unable to "vote privately, independently and without assistance like all other voters."

Kim Alexander, president and founder of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation, said the legislation is troublesome because counties have to rely on the few private companies that make the machinery.

"I'm all for free market, but this is an area where we need more government and oversight," she said.

Alexander said she sees a solution in a hybrid voting approach, one that would have high-tech voting centers where there would be trained poll workers to assist people, and those who wish to vote absentee could mail their ballots in or leave them at ballot drop-off sites.

Placer County Registrar of Voters Jim McCauley said the mandated systems come with many unanswered questions, but that doesn't override the premise of the law.

"I think we're all concerned, but there's just no way around it," he said. "I believe everybody has the right to vote." (full story)

Coalition calls for election recount

San Diego Union-Tribune, June 29, 2006


A coalition of election watchdog organizations is calling on the San Diego County Registrar of Voters to conduct a full manual recount of the June 6 primary election because of alleged security breaches involving touch-screen voting machines.

Specifically, the California Election Protection Network contends the county violated federal and state regulations requiring "secure custody" of voting machines by allowing poll workers to take them home before election day.


Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said she shares the California Election Protection Network's concerns about electronic voting equipment, but not the basis of its complaint against San Diego County.

Alexander said the secretary of state's regulations "did not include prohibiting election officials from allowing machines to go home with poll workers before and after an election."

But she added: "I continue to believe we're not ready for electronic voting systems. The fact is these high-tech voting systems are being used in a primitive process and that is a recipe for disaster." (full story)

California Primary Tests Electronic Voting System

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, June 15, 2006


SPENCER MICHELS: As director of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, she spent Primary Election Day trying to find out how well new touch-screen electronic voting machines were working.

KIM ALEXANDER: And what do you think about using the touch-screen voting machines?

VOTER: I think it's wonderful myself.

SPENCER MICHELS: While some voters told her they liked them, Alexander was dismayed by security problems she found.

KIM ALEXANDER: The other polling place I went to had a little sticker there.

POLLING PLACE WORKER: Yes, one of my workers pulled them off. I had it written it down.

KIM ALEXANDER: Oh, how come they pulled it off?

POLLING PLACE WORKER: They didn't know which one they were talking off. It looks like they got the wrong sticker.

KIM ALEXANDER: Oh, which sticker were they supposed to take off?

At this polling place here this morning, they had trouble getting the machines started, and one poll worker told me that they had an anxiety attack and they started tearing all the seals off all of the machines. And three out of the four machines in this polling place do not have those security seals on them right now.

SPENCER MICHELS: Those security seals are designed to prevent tampering by anyone, and that's a concern now that much of the country has switched to electronic voting machines.

The switch was made in response to problems voters had with punch-card voting systems in the disputed and protracted 2000 Florida presidential election. Two years later, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act and appropriated $3.8 billion to buy new voting machines and to otherwise improve elections.

KIM ALEXANDER: A lot of states rushed out and bought new electronic-voting machines thinking that that would solve all of their problems. What we found is that those systems are not only more expensive than paper-voting systems, they're also less transparent and they're hardly glitch-free. (full story, including transcript and audio)

Barnett takes heat for ballot troubles

The Bakersfield Californian, June 8, 2006


Newly re-elected Kern County Auditor-Controller Ann Barnett was under fire Wednesday after overseeing a bumble-filled election on Tuesday.

"The six-six-six election was one of the worst elections we have had in our county," county Supervisor Michael Rubio said.

Supervisors are calling for control of the Kern County Elections Department to be stripped from Barnett's office.
Barnett said she isn't ready to give up elections, which is tied to separate duties as county clerk, auditor and controller.

"I love every part of my job and I think that, even though we have had bumps along the road, we have done a pretty darn good job," Barnett said.

Elections should be a stand-alone county agency, said Supervisor Don Maben, who was also re-elected Tuesday.

But any attempt to take elections away from Barnett could face serious legal challenges, according to a county memo from February 2005.


Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said Kern County allowed poorly handled technology to short-circuit people's right to vote.

"There's no good reason for anyone to be turned away at the polls. Problems are inevitable," she said, but the scale of the problems in Kern County was very troubling.

Alexander's organization advocates for voter rights and has been critical of uncontrolled implementation of new voting technology.

Maben said that next week, he will ask fellow supervisors to draft a letter asking McPherson to take control of the Kern County Elections Department.

Maben said Barnett has proven she should not have control of the county's elections.

"I was one of the guys that stood by her a couple years ago," he said. "I said 'If it's not broke don't fix it.' Well it's broke."

Rubio and Supervisor Jon McQuiston tried to remove elections from Barnett's control in early 2005.

But Maben and Supervisors Barbara Patrick and Ray Watson voted the idea down.

Rubio said the elections process is too critical to be stuck under the authority of the Auditor-Controller's office, which is already responsible for the critical task of auditing the county's mammoth budget.

Everyone needs to answer for Tuesdays' problems, he said.

"The responsibility lies with the person in charge and last night, that was Ann Barnett," Rubio said. But "where the buck ultimately stops is with the Board of Supervisors and that's myself and my four colleagues."(full story)

Tallying the lessons

The Stockton Record, June 8, 2006


The county's top election official is re-evaluating how democracy is waged in the wake of Tuesday's primary election, which was riddled with voting machine problems and delays.

Before November's general election, in which more voters are expected to decide on more issues, elections officials likely will beef up poll worker training, make sure more tech-support staff is available and could reduce the number of polling locations in order to prevent problems that delayed some polls opening by more than three hours, said Deborah Hench, San Joaquin County's registrar of voters.

"You have to compare it to having the Asparagus Festival in 330 locations," Hench said of the effort to train and deploy poll workers at 333 polling locations spread throughout the county.

Counting the ballots also took longer than in all but six other counties statewide, lasting until 3:28 a.m. Wednesday.

Poll workers complained that the Diebold TSx electronic voting machines used for the first time in two years Tuesday were too difficult to set up and training that the workers received did not adequately explain how to assemble or disassemble the machines.


"Even with the paper trail, those security concerns are in the hands of poll workers who receive limited training and work 15-hour days," Kim Alexander said Tuesday after surveying polling places in Stockton. "And I think it's too much to ask of people."

Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, said she saw "a lot of confusion" among poll workers. At some polling locations, she said, voters were not examining paper records of their ballots because they did not know to lift a privacy screen that covers the printouts.

"I wouldn't say that San Joaquin County was a meltdown today, ... but there are many people in this state and this county who are concerned about the security of electronic voting machines, and nothing I saw today eased my concerns," Alexander said.(full story)

California Adds Paper Trail to Electronic Voting

National Public Radio , June 7, 2006


California's primary election Tuesday was the first serious test for a new kind of electronic voting machine. The devices produce a paper-trail record of every vote cast by touch-screen. The major shift in technology was prompted by concerns that the electronic voting machines the state had been using were vulnerable to fraud.

The reform of California's voting system led it to replace 40,000 paperless voting machines. While resembling the unit it replaced, the new machine has a printer on its side. A voter's choices are printed out, and if they see an anomaly, they can report it, or re-enter their vote.

While the first use of the printer-enabled voting machines reportedly went smoothly, critics of the machine say Tuesday's vote wasn't heavy enough to test the new technology. A key flaw, they said, is that the machine doesn't provide voters with a receipt of their ballot.(full story)

State primary endures minor snags

The Alameda Times-Star, June 7, 2006


California primaries are among the most complicated elections in the nation, and with elections officials rushing to field the latest voting machinery, Tuesday's races were an invitation for snafus big and small.

There were plenty of those, especially in Kern County, where a technical oversight kept workers from opening many polling places for hours, and in San Joaquin County, where several poll workers never showed up.
A Kern County elections official called the delays "a nightmare," and San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters Debbie Hench said, "It was a hell of a morning."

But viewed statewide, California had no election daymeltdowns — only "minor hiccups," as spokeswoman Nghia Nguyn Demovic of the Secretary of State's Office put it — and the concern was less the mechanics of voting than the voters themselves: Where were they?

Gubernatorial primaries traditionally don't bring out lots of voters. But polling place anecdotes and early returns suggested Tuesday's statewide turnout may have dipped to the historic 2002 low of 36 percent. In 1981, it was 61 percent.

"It's like, 'Oh, my God, it's not there,'" said Contra Costa County clerk and elections chief Steve Weir, who usually sees strong voter participation. "I thought I'd have a 47 percent (turnout), and now I'm thinking 40 percent."

"This one may be the same or lower" than in 2002, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "Part of it may be the absence of any hot-button initiatives or candidates on the ballot."

The depressed showing at the polls eased strain on lots of new and experimental voting machinery statewide. In the last two months, elections officials raced to field enormous amounts of new or upgraded voting equipment, mostly to meet changing state and federal laws.(full story)

Diebold machines pressed into service

The Contra-Costa Times, June 6, 2006


Nearly two years after suing Diebold for faulty, uncertified voting equipment, Alameda County may cast its vote with the Ohio-based company yet again.

County supervisors are scheduled to hold a special meeting Thursday to choose a new voting system expected to be in place for this fall's election. County elections officials are recommending the board choose a "blended" voting system -- consisting of paper ballots with optical scanners, plus a touch screen at each polling place -- made by either Diebold or Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems.

Although the new system would be different from the all-touch-screen Diebold system the county embraced five years ago, it could commit the county to contracting with a company that already has left a bad taste in the mouth of voters and county officials alike.

"I am not supportive of Diebold," said Keith Carson, president of the board. "I've said that many times. And at a number of meetings on this topic, the people who speak are in overwhelming opposition to Diebold, too."

The county's relationship with Diebold started in 2001, when the company helped lead a rush to touch-screen voting after the Florida ballot-counting fiasco during the 2000 presidential election.

The county purchased 4,000 Diebold touch-screen machines for $12 million, but the move soon proved troublesome. The equipment had various glitches, including once assigning votes to the wrong candidate.


"There certainly is a rocky history with Diebold and Alameda County," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. "That history certainly factors into voters' confidence and how secure the public feels with these machines."

Concerns about Diebold have not kept others from using the company's equipment. Twenty counties will use Diebold systems as the primary voting system for today's election. That includes Alameda County -- the only Bay Area county using Diebold -- which is borrowing 50 touch-screen machines and 60 optical scanners from another county since its old Diebold system did not produce a paper record and was rendered inadequate by the state at the beginning of this year.

Both Solano and Contra Costa counties use Election Systems & Software's optical scanners, an option Alameda County officials looked into, but did not recommend because of complaints about the company's support of its systems and references.

"Is there a negative reaction from some people to the name Diebold?" asked David MacDonald, the county's acting registrar. "Clearly, but people are going to have a concern no matter who the maker is."

Alameda County is anticipating buying 1,000 scanners to put at polling places in November, along with 1,000 touch-screen machines to be used mainly by the disabled. The Diebold system could cost as much as $17 million, while the Sequoia system could run as high as $13.5 million. However, Diebold will give the county a $6.1 million trade-in allowance -- stemming from the county's 2001 purchase -- if the county chooses its system. If the county goes with Sequoia, Diebold will buy back its old machines for just $3 million.(full story)

For-profit 'voters guides' called misleading

The San Diego Union-Tribune, June 4, 2006


Ronald Bonn doesn't belong to a political party, so it probably came as no surprise when the “Official Nonpartisan Voter Guide of California” turned up in his mailbox last week.

In the days leading up to tomorrow's primary, unofficial slate mailers such as this one have flooded mailboxes in California. But Bonn quickly became irate as he examined the card and even checked out its Web site.

The mailer recommended nothing but Republican candidates and the Web site advertised itself as “your first choice in reaching conservative and independent voters.”

“Right-wing skullduggery,” concluded Bonn, who teaches journalism at the University of San Diego.

“It calls itself the 'Official Nonpartisan Voter Guide of California,' which would lead the unwary recipient to believe it is official, nonpartisan and a voter guide,” he wrote in an angry note to The San Diego Union-Tribune. “In fact, it is none of these.”

Jess Durfee was equally incensed when he received the “Voter Information Guide for Democrats.” It recommended Phil Angelides, Dianne Feinstein and a full slate of Democrats for statewide offices and Congress.

The “Voter Information Guide for Democrats” also recommended the re-election of San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, a Republican.


Kim Alexander is president of the California Voter Foundation, whose Web site contains a compendium of voter information. Like many, Alexander admits to having mixed feelings about commercial slates.

She criticizes slate vendors who engage in mercenary and deceptive practices. But she said slates serve a useful purpose in California, where ballots are jammed with candidates for obscure offices that even the most sophisticated voters know next to nothing about.

“I have 22 people I elect to represent me here in Sacramento and I can't tell you who they are and what they do, in some cases,” Alexander said. “And I'm the California Voter Foundation, for crying out loud.”

Tim Hodson, who directs the Center for California Studies at California State University Sacramento, regards slate mailers as a legitimate campaign tool no more subject to abuse than any other.

“It can be useful to a voter who, rationally, doesn't spend a huge amount of time on politics to get a mailer from a political party or organized group that says surfers believe these candidates will support surfer rights,” Hodson said.

Slates are a huge business in California, so much so that some political professionals believe they are losing their impact because of their sheer numbers.(full story)

More voters skip polls, mail ballots

The Contra Costa Times, May 24, 2006


Contra Costans voting by mail may, for the first time, outnumber those who walk into their polling places June 6.

The trend mirrors a statewide uptick in voting by mail that hits election officials' budgets, alters campaign strategies and inches California closer to a day when it may have to choose between tradition and convenience.

"We're right now in the worst possible combination of both worlds," said Contra Costa County Registrar Steve Weir and incoming president of the California Association of Clerks and Registrars.

"We have to run a full precinct operation, and with the tremendous amount of turnout coming in the mail, I don't have the economy of either scale benefiting us."

Based on absentee ballot return rates thus far, Weir predicted Contra Costa could see mail-in voters overtake Election Day voters for the first time.

If it happens, Weir said, it may foreshadow a tipping point where most Californians vote by mail, and lawmakers may rethink whether it makes sense to deploy a massive and costly Election Day operation.

Like many California counties, the East Bay's vote-by-mail rate has risen steadily since the state's expanded permanent absentee voter program took effect in 2002.


Voting by mail is a convenience for upper- and middle-class voters, Gans said, that hurts the poor and disenfranchises people who may vote before relevant information surfaces about a candidate or an issue. Domineering family members may also exert pressure on spouses to vote their way, he added, which the voting booth privacy precludes.

The more likely outcome, said California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander, is a hybrid network of convenient, high-tech voting centers coupled with mail voting and improved security at the U.S. Post Office.

"I don't see polling places going away," Alexander said.

"For many people, voting on Election Day is one of the last remaining spaces in public life where people convene and participate in democracy."(full story)

Polls on the move?

The San Bernardino Sun , May 23, 2006


If voters can't go to the polls, says county Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil, the polls should go to them.
To that end, the mobile-voting vehicle is part of an $8 million package of election equipment up for a vote by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors at today's meeting.

The board is expected to approve a Help America Vote Act funding agreement with the state, providing the county's Registrar of Voters with funds for upgraded elections equipment, increased voter education and the voting vehicle equipped with touch-screen voting machines.

The county has had plenty of time to think about how to spend the money: It made its request for state funding in 2002.

Verjil said that, assuming the board approves her request, the voting vehicle will likely be rolling through the county before the 2008 state primary.

"We are leaning toward something of a motor-home-type vehicle" similar to the ROVER vehicle that Riverside County operates, Verjil said. The portable-polling places would be dispatched to senior centers, civic events and remote areas of the county during the three weeks of early voting leading up to election day.


San Bernardino County has a mixed record with electronic voting, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a voting-rights watchdog group.

"The county was one of the first in the state to implement a voter-verified paper-trail printer on all of their electronic-voting machines," Alexander said. "That happened even before the law took effect."

But that's not to say the county's Election Day operations haven't hiccupped in the past, she said.

In a March 2004 election, an error by the registrar's office forced the county to start counting the electronic ballots over, delaying the release of results by several hours.

And in 2001, the office announced erroneous results in 13 local races after it failed to adequately test a machine that tabulated paper ballots.

Those problems occurred before her time and before the county had its current safeguards in place, Verjil said.

"I would be confident to vote in San Bernardino County," Verjil said. "From the past elections I've seen, voters are becoming comfortable with the units, and I've had nothing but positive response with the Voter Verification Audit Trail."

That voters take advantage of the opportunity to confirm the accuracy of their vote is crucial, Alexander said.

"In light of the history of corruption at the local level in San Bernardino County, it's important for voters to be vigilant about any voting system the county uses," Alexander said. "Voters everywhere in e-voting counties can help ensure the security of the systems by carefully checking their ballot."(full story)

Enlisting Internet's aid

The Orange County Register, May 22, 2006


Having trouble understanding Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed state budget for 2006-07? Or the whopping public works package Californians will vote on in November? The governor is happy to explain it all – via the Internet.

His administration has launched six taxpayer-funded Web sites in recent months to help people navigate the complexities of his proposals. The sites employ a blend of popular Internet fare, including videos of his speeches and Web logs by his advisers, all at catchphrase Web addresses like

Each site is devoted to a single subject matter and the writing is anything but government-speak. Under "The Bloginator" – a name recycled from last year's special-election campaign Web site – Finance Director Mike Genest compares the $7.5 billion in extra revenues flowing into state coffers over two years to a surprise increase in a California family's tax refund, and asks, "So sitting around the kitchen table, what do you decide to with this unexpected windfall?"

His sites are part of a growing nationwide trend that political experts say was born with the success of Howard Dean, a little known, former Vermont governor who used the Internet to leap onto the national stage as a Democratic presidential contender in 2004.

Dozens of similar official Web pages are used by leaders in other states and often bear the similar, nonofficial Web addresses.

"The fact is that the (Schwarzenegger) staff are using the Internet in creative ways to provide information that is beneficial to the people of California," said Kim Alexander, founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.(full story)

Voting system decision delayed

The Argus, May 18, 2006


Facing a use-it-or-lose-it situation on $9 million in federal money, Alameda County supervisors put off choosing a new voting system Wednesday night under pressure from voting activists.

The county largely has ended its three-year experiment as the first big West Coast jurisdiction to gamble on Diebold and its electronic touch-screen voting machines. The question is what is next, and when?

County executives pressed supervisors Wednesday night to settle on a "blended" voting system supplied by either Diebold or Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems, with primarily paper ballots run through optical scanners, plus a touch-screen at each polling place to guarantee accessibility for disabled voters.

The price tag is $13 million to $17 million, and with a budget deficit already on the horizon, county officials are eager to use federal grants for more than half the purchase. The grants come with conditions and tight deadlines.
"I know this has been a longand painful process," David McDonald, the county's information technology director and interim elections chief, told the supervisors. "One thing I'm positive of is we're running out of time."

But some voting activists say the urgency is manufactured and that they prefer waiting on better, more secure voting systems, even if it means losing federal grant money.

Throughout the nation, counties are in the same boat. By year end, they must weigh cost, accuracy, security and accessibility across a handful of imperfect voting systems or risk forfeiting millions in federal dollars.


Activists point to recent discoveries of security holes in Diebold optical scanning systems and touch-screens, such as one first reported last week by The Argus, which computer scientists have called the worst vulnerability ever found in a voting system.

County officials and their consultants did not weigh the various voting systems for security and transparency, as many activists wished, but primarily for cost and compliance with state and federal laws.

Alameda County officials say they still are countering those security weaknesses by locking up or sealing the voting machines with tamper-evident tape. State law also requires a hand count of ballots in 1 percent of precincts as a check on the machine counts. The county plans on doubling that, for a hand tally of 2 percent.

Jessica Lehman, a representative for the disability group Community Resources for Independent Living, said no voting system offers everything — complete security, full accessibility and transparency.

But, she told county supervisors, "We have decent machines out there. We need to get them out so everyone has a chance to vote."

To buy machines for November, county executives say they need to sign a purchase contract in early June. Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said a small delay could be a good idea and give Alameda County a look at how the various voting systems perform in the June 6 primary.(full story)

In secretary of state primary race it's a Debra vs. a Deborah

The Daily Breeze, May 15, 2006


They hold down the same job, belong to the same political party and even have similar first names.

So it's no surprise that state Sens. Debra Bowen and Deborah Ortiz are working to strike distinct chords with Democrats in a low-key primary campaign to be California's elections chief.

"In many respects, we are alike," said Ortiz, of Sacramento. "What distinguishes us is independence."

Bowen, of Marina del Rey, said it's her experience pushing election reforms that sets her apart.

"These are the issues I've worked on in the Legislature," Bowen said.

There are major divisions, however. The two Democrats part ways on same-day registration and whether voters should cast ballots on weekends. While Bowen has zeroed in on elections and privacy, Ortiz's career is marked more by health issues.

The survivor of the June 6 primary will go up against incumbent Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, a Republican and former state senator appointed by the governor to serve out the term of Democrat Kevin Shelley, who resigned amid scandal 14 months ago.


The secretary of state is primarily responsible for upholding the integrity of the ballot box for nearly 17 million voters in 58 counties.

"The secretary of state decides whether voting systems are safe," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

"It's such an important function that many states don't have it (elections) as part of the secretary of state. They have a separate elections board," she said.

Beyond the elections division, the secretary of state maintains a vast online database of campaign contributions and lobbyist earnings.

The site helps the public track where money is being spent to influence elections as well as legislation and holds a trove of elections data. The office also runs California's domestic partners registry and is the keeper of many corporate filings.

Like many other statewide races, the secretary of state campaign features a pair of entrenched Democrats about to be booted out of the Legislature by term limits. Bowen, 50, and Ortiz, 49, are in their eighth and final year in the Senate.(full story)

Santa Clara Co. Introduces Electronic Voting Paper Audit Trail

CBS 5, San Francisco, May 12, 2006


The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters demonstrated an upgraded version of the Sequoia Electronic Voting System Thursday, which for the first time includes a paper audit trail that allows users to verify the accuracy of their selections in print.

The Direct Recording Electronic voting machines used by the county since 2003 have been modified to include the new VeriVote printers, which store a voter-verified paper audit trail, called VVPAT.

Efforts to reinstate voter confidence in the electronic voting process brought about the now state-mandated requirement that all ballots cast leave a record on paper. The law, passed in 2004, took effect Jan. 1 and will be applied for the first time at the June 6 gubernatorial election.

"The VVPAT will let voters see on paper that their ballot is being recorded correctly, and it will also serve as a back-up record of the vote that can be used to conduct manual recounts," Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Jesse Durazo said.


Election officials are not allowed to interfere with or open the VeriVote printers, which are equipped with a security seal in the back that reads void if tampered with. If a printer malfunctions, an inspector would replace it at the precinct. The votes already cast would remain in the box for storage.

Durazo said that preliminary numbers indicate the printers are capable of storing 300 votes each. In addition to the VeriVote printers, the ballots are also stored in the DRE machines and a computer cartridge, leaving the registrar of voters with three back-up memory locations.

"Even if we lost power, there are redundant votes captured in our memory bank," Durazo said.

The new system is a step in the right direction, according to the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has fought for a paper trail requirement since the electronic voting machines were introduced.

"California's June primary ushers in a new era of accountability and transparency in state elections," Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, said in a statement released last week. "Election officials rely on proprietary software produced by private companies to count the votes. The voter verified paper trail requirement ensures that election officials have a meaningful, independent audit trail to use when they publicly verify the vote."(full story)

Absentee ballots popular as June 6 primary approaches

The Record, May 11, 2006


A growing number of voters are signing up to cast their ballots early in this year's elections as political parties stress the benefits of voting by mail.

With the primary election less than a month away, both major parties are trying to sign up new voters before a May 22 deadline and make sure those already registered get to the polls or send in their absentee ballots, which should be hitting mailboxes over the next few days.

Democrats and Republicans have been pushing for voters to register permanent absentee - meaning they receive ballots in the mail several weeks early and have until the day of the election to return them - believing that will make people more likely to vote and allow them time to study the candidates they're choosing and the issues they're deciding.


The number of permanent absentee voters has increased dramatically since voters could begin registering to vote by mail for any reason in 2002; prior to a new law being passed, voters had to give a reason why they couldn't go to the polls, such as a disability, to register permanent absentee. Leading up to the 2004 primary, there were 42,202 permanent absentee voters, Hench said.

But a statewide study released last year by the California Voter Foundation found more than half of infrequent voters - those who have voted in no more than one of the previous four elections - are not familiar with how to vote absentee.

"I think that indicates that there's a lot of education to be done," said Kim Alexander, president of the foundation. "There's a whole additional universe of voters who could greatly benefit from absentee voting."(full story)

Immigrant activists focus on political participation

The Daily Bulletin, May 8, 2006


Even as Latinos in recent weeks have pushed for immigration reform on the streets and over the airwaves, another goal has emerged among a broader immigrant community: Translating street activism into political participation.

Latino and Asian civic groups last week reignited voter-registration drives by calling upon the thousands who participated in protests to take their enthusiasm to the ballot box in November.

But experts said that if history serves as any guide, short-term gains are likely to be few, while long-term gains will be significant.

‘‘If the next step and what we are seeing in the streets moves toward citizenship, voter turnout and registration, if that has any kind of legs beyond this year it will make California the darkest shade of blue possible and give rise to more Latino candidates at all levels,'' said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles.

Such is the case in California where, since January 1, nearly 25 percent of voter registration forms submitted for verification have been rejected by the statewide database. In Los Angeles County, 43 percent of voter registrations have been rejected.


‘‘This will have an effect on turnout on registration if there is a convincing case that there is threatening legislation against the community,'' said Karthick Ramakrishnan, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside, and author of ‘‘Democracy in Immigrant America.''

But although register rolls could spike, turning voters out may prove difficult in upcoming state elections where new voters, both Latino and Asians, cannot clearly see their issues spelled out as they did in 1994, he said.

And organizers will continue to face challenges registering immigrants, which proportionally vote less than their white counterparts, partly because of what a 2005 California Voter Foundation survey suggests is a lack of ‘‘a pro-voting culture.''

Statewide, only 30 percent of Latinos eligible to vote are registered, according to the William C. Velasquez Institute, a think tank examining Latino voting trends. That compares to 72 percent of all whites and 68 percent all blacks.

Latino and Asian populations are heavily dominated by immigrants. Nationally, about 64 percent of Asians are foreign born as are 40 percent of Latinos, compared to just 3 percent of whites, according to a 1994 study by the Urban Institute on Latino and Asian Voters.

‘‘The population of the state is growing young and more diverse but the electorate has been stagnate, it continues to be those that are older, white and better educated that are voting. Those trends can be turned around and they need to be turned around,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the foundation, a non-profit group that tracks voting trends.

Even in areas like Los Angeles where Latinos played a pivotal role last year in electing Villaraigosa to the city's helm, they turned out in far lower numbers than the general voting population.(full story)

Changes behind scenes in voting

The Argus, May 5, 2006


Most voters in California will not see much of a difference, but behind the scenes many counties are fielding new or upgraded voting machinery for the 2006 elections.

Gone is the punch-card ballot that, until 2000, was a mainstay of California polling places. For voters with disabilities, local elections officials are trying new blends of voting machinery to meet federal law on accessibility.
But in the biggest change, every county for the first time will have a paper ballot or backup record of votes as insurance against inaccuracy, fraud or breakdown of computerized voting systems. That means voters will see printers and paper, and lots of them.

This year, California will become the first entire state to have such a backup record, said Kim Alexander, a paper-trail proponent and president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation.

"Election officials rely on proprietary software produced by private companies to count the votes," Alexander said in a statement. "The voter verified paper trail requirement ensures that election officials have a meaningful, independent audit trail to use when they publicly verify the vote."

According to data collected by the foundation and released Thursday, 18 counties are putting new voting systems before voters in the primary this June. Most are swapping optically scanned paper ballots or punch cards for electronic, touch-screen voting machines that meet state and federal laws requiring paper trails and unassisted voting for people with disabilities.


Yolo County planned on buying ES&S' accessible ballot-marking devices, known as AutoMarks and selling for about $5,000 each. But contract negotiations soured, and Yolo officials instead are using VotePad, a series of plastic ballot-marking booklets that come with an audiocassette guide for the voter.

State elections officials question the legality of the idea, since the VotePad has not formally been certified for use in California.

"I think it's a clever work-around," said Alexander of the California Voter Foundation. "I think a lot of counties are just trying to get through one election at a time. They're using this election to try out a system without making a long-term commitment to one system or vendor."

In many counties, manufacturers now are racing to deliver new software, new or rebuilt machines or new parts such as the printers that will supply paper trails for touch-screen voting machines. Warehouses where voting machines are stored are hives of activity these days, testing the newly arrived equipment and getting it programmed for the June 6 election.

"It truly is chaos out there," said Tom Stanionis, director of technology for the Yolo County clerk/recorder's office.
But two-thirds of the counties, including most of the large ones, are sticking with or returning to optical scanners, upgraded to the latest version.

"They are trying to play it safe. They don't want to be the guinea pigs," said Alexander. "There are some who are willing to experiment with the accessibility requirements, but they're mostly sticking with the systems they're familiar with."

Many elections officials also are eyeing the rise in absentee voting, already close to 50 percent in the Bay Area, and all of those votes are optically scanned.(full story)

Database Troubles Arise in California, Elsewhere, April 13, 2006


While much of the recent election hand-wringing has focused on documented and potential problems with voting systems, recent troubles in several states have shifted some of the focus to another major election change – newly implemented statewide voter registration databases.

The voter lists, mandated by the Help America Vote Act with the aim to eliminate voter registration problems related to inaccurate or haphazard rolls, have raised concerns that list problems in some states could potentially disenfranchise large numbers of voters.

Thousands of registration applications rejected in California

Such is the case in California where, since January 1, nearly 25 percent of voter registration forms submitted for verification have been rejected by the statewide database. In Los Angeles County, 43 percent of voter registrations have been rejected.

In a letter to Secretary of State Bruce McPherson (R), Conny McCormack, L.A. County registrar-recorder/county clerk cited several examples of some of the thousands of applications rejected by the “CalVoter” system. They included some forms being rejected because of spaces in last names, such as "De Leon," or a last name that is two words with no hyphen, such as "Weaver Cardona." Some new residents had applications rejected because the DMV records CalVoter uses for verification can be up to six months old.

“The challenge of setting up a statewide voter registration database that complies with HAVA requirements has been well-known to election administrators and activists for years,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. “This particular problem that California is experiencing is a result of the terms of an agreement made between the Secretary of State and the Department of Justice that is unique to California and a handful of other states. This form rejection problem itself is a surprise that I don’t think anyone anticipated.”(full story)

State working to address rejected voters

The San Jose Mercury News, April 4, 2006


Elections officials around the state say thousands of voters may not receive ballots before the June 6 election because they have incorrectly filled out or omitted information from their registration forms.

In January, a new federal law took effect to combat fraud, requiring voters to provide their driver's license or state ID numbers or, absent those, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.

Eligible voters who have had their forms rejected can still go to the polls with identification, but will receive a provisional ballot -- often counted weeks after the election.

About one-quarter of those who registered or re-registered this year have been rejected statewide, the Associated Press reported. When a state database kicks back the registration form, local election offices have the extra burden of contacting voters to get the information.

Under pressure from election officials and voter advocates, California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said last week he would push for a compromise that would eliminate that step by matching voters' names with records from the Department of Motor Vehicles.


Voting groups hope lawmakers can push through the emergency legislation in time for the June primary.

``It's the kind of issue that can bring legislators together in a bipartisan way,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. ``It's in their best interest to resolve it quickly.''

The move to strengthen identity verification is another phase of the federal 2002 Help America Vote Act. Congress passed the law in response to the Florida recount debacle during the 2000 presidential election.

It's ironic that a law to improve voter integrity could actually discourage some people from going to the polls, Alexander said.

The law ``was intended to ensure voters would not be unfairly disenfranchised. Here's an unintended consequence,'' she said. ``It's a fine line to walk. You want to make sure that as many people as possible can vote and you want to make sure there is integrity in the process.''(full story)

Ventura County Plugs Hole in Voting System With Ink

Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2006


Ventura County election officials are replacing their decades-old punch-card voting system in time for the June 6 primary election.

After more than 30 years of voting with punch cards, most county voters will now mark their choices with ink. Those who have trouble seeing the ballots or using the pens will be able to vote on computer touch screens.

County officials say their new systems will serve Spanish-speaking voters better and ensure that those who are disabled can cast secret ballots.

The county has used punch-card technology for more than three decades, but officials agreed in 2004 to replace the system under a federal consent decree.

The U.S. Department of Justice had accused the county of discriminating against Latinos, who make up about a third of the population, by failing to employ sufficient numbers of bilingual poll workers or to provide adequate Spanish-language voting materials.


California passed a law in 2004 requiring electronic ballot machines to also use some form of paper verification. Counties have until June 2006 to comply.

To meet the deadline, Riverside County in January agreed to spend $14.2 million to replace its 6-year-old touch-screen voting machines with newer models that provide paper confirmation.

By never abandoning paper-based voting, Ventura County showed its fiscal prudence, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

"Counties that go all electronic typically spend three times more to purchase new equipment," Alexander said.(full story)

New CA Lawsuit Against Diebold's Electronic Voting Machines

Government Technology, March 24, 2006

Reprinted from Kim Alexander's Weblog.

On Tuesday, the nonprofit group Voter Action filed a lawsuit against California's Secretary of State Bruce McPherson as well as eighteen counties for certifying and using voting equipment made by Diebold. The lead attorney on the lawsuit is Lowell Finley, who previously brought a successful case against Diebold on behalf of Bev Harris and Jim March of Black Box Voting. That case was joined by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Alameda County, and settled out of court for $2.6 million. (See my November 11, 2004 blog entry for details on the settlement).

Given Mr. Finley's track record, it's worthwhile to pay attention to his claims, which include that the equipment in question, the Diebold TSX electronic voting machine (with voter-verified paper audit trail printer) does not adequately meet the needs of disabled voters, nor does it meet the current, 2002 federal voting system standards, which prohibit the use of interpreted code in voting equipment software.

Other compelling claims include one that the voter-verified paper record produced by the the TSx cannot fulfill the demands of California's one percent manual count law, which is designed to publicly verify the accuracy of software vote counts, and another that counties are circumventing the one percent rule by omitting absentee and early-voting ballots in the manual count. Voter Action has provided the legal documents filed today on its web site. See this AP story by David Kravets for more details.

County tries to develop voting plan

The Argus, March 15, 2006


Four years after buying new Diebold voting machines for $12 million, Alameda County is headed back into the market to negotiate for as much as $17.8 million of new voting machinery.

With an impassioned debate spanning two days, county supervisors anguished over sagging public confidence in voting and uncertainty in the technology, then found themselves divided about how to handle elections for coming years.

"This is not the purchasing of a new vehicle fleet," said board President Keith Carson, "this is fundamental to all the rights of every citizen in the county."

"There's too many unknown things," said Supervisor Gail Steele. "This $17 million is a huge amount of money with the uncertainty that we have."

But when the county's elections chief warned that delays could trigger new federal requirements and force the county to fill its polling places with more electronic-voting equipment, Alice Lai-Bitker joined Supervisors Nate Miley and Scott Haggerty in pressing ahead with purchase negotiations.

"There's a consequence to waiting," said acting Registrar of Voters Elaine Ginnold. "If we're going to change voting systems, we have to change now, so we can train voters and workers."

County elections and contracts officials say they will negotiate with Allen, Texas-based Diebold Election Systems Inc. and Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems, the two voting-machine makers rated highest by a panel of voting advocates, residents and county officials. The winning company would provide a system that principally handles paper ballots with optical ballot scanners plus two, ATM-like touch-screen voting machines in each polling place such as those the county uses now, the latter to meet federal mandates for handicapped-accessible voting equipment. The touch screens would print a backup record of the electronic ballot for voters to check and elections workers to use in recounts.


Others said any voting system using commercial, proprietary software to count ballots is unacceptable, and only paper ballots, counted by hand, would be trustworthy.

"How could you even consider Diebold? Diebold is well-known (to be) partisan." said activist Phoebe Sorgen. "It's a $17.8 million scam. Please say no to the machines that count our ballots in secret."

Ginnold, the elections chief, said if the county failed to buy its planned "hybrid" system of mostly optical scanners by January 2007, the federal Help America Vote Act would require any new system be fully accessible to disabled voters. In general, that would mean every machine in every polling place would have to be a touch screen, she said.

Negotiating for a new system "essentially leaves us more options," said Haggerty. "We need to advance into the future."

What the law actually says is that after January 2007, no federal funds may be used to purchase new voting systems that are not fully accessible to disabled voters.

"That statement took some options off the table that several supervisors wanted to consider," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "This board in Alameda has put more into trying to understand this issue than any other board in the state. They asked good questions, and I'm not convinced they got good answers."(full story)

Incumbents depend on gerrymandering to save their jobs

Capitol Hill Blue, February 26, 2006


While technically all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for grabs in November, handicappers expect a mere 33 to be competitive, in part because many incumbents already have picked the voters they hope will return them to office.
Across the country, lawmakers will run for re-election in bizarrely shaped congressional districts carefully drawn to include voters who support them and exclude those who don't.

In Chicago, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez will face voters in several Hispanic neighborhoods but not the predominantly black neighborhood that sits between them.

South of the city, Republican Rep. Jerry Weller's parents will get a chance to vote for their son, whose district was redrawn five years ago to encompass their house.

Critics of the practice known as gerrymandering -- named for Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, a master of tortuous redistricting two centuries ago -- say it produces a legislative body that doesn't accurately represent the country.

"We now have a system where too often our representatives are selecting their voters rather than voters selecting their representatives," Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama said at a recent conference on election reform.


In most cases, the party that controls the state legislature runs the show. Democrats in Maryland gained two congressional seats in 2002 after they drew the state's political boundaries to their advantage. In Michigan, Republicans who redrew their state map picked up three seats that year.

In states where neither party has a clear advantage, such as Illinois, leaders often work out a compromise that protects as many incumbents as possible.

"Every legislator knows where their political strengths are, where the greatest number of votes comes from, and with the ability to draw the maps themselves they can carve out districts that are very precisely drawn to favor their future political interests," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundatiion.(full story)

Campaign disclosure forms trickling onto the Internet

Charleston Post Courier, January 11, 2006


A quick click on "Sanford, Marshall" on the new State Ethics Commission Web site brings up the campaign disclosures for the governor's race listed by itemized contributions of cash and services, expenses and loans.

Candidates are required to file the forms every quarter, and until the online system was unveiled Tuesday, most of them filed hand-written forms.


Ethics Commission Director Herb Hayden said the online system is in the first of two phases of development.

In this first phase, visitors to the Web site can view filings for 21 candidates for statewide offices, including attorney general, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and treasurer.

By early next year, phase two of the project will make the records available for every candidate at the county and municipal level.

According to Hayden, the system is being run by South Carolina Interactive, the same company that builds systems for paying taxes or renewing driver's licenses online.

Since 2003, The California Voter Foundation's Campaign Disclosure Project has given South Carolina an "F" for the lack of online availability for even the most basic state campaign disclosure information.

This was enough to garner a 2005 ranking of 49th out of 50 states, above only Wyoming.

After an initial look, Saskia Mills, executive director of the foundation, said she was impressed.

She wanted more searchable data, but Mills doubted her group would give the state an "F" next year.(full story)

Paper trail law for e-voting has fans, foes

San Francisco Chronicle, January 10, 2006


California will require all electronic voting machines to produce a printed record of votes in the June election, but there are still concerns that the expensive overhaul may cause more problems than it solves.

The Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank, has called the paper trail requirement one of the state's top 10 policy blunders of 2005. The new law "may force California to relive the mistakes of America's punch-card voting past,'' the group said, and will make voting "increasingly difficult and negate the original virtues of e-voting: speed, cost-savings and efficiency.''

"We're moving in the wrong direction,'' said Sonia Arrison, director of technology studies for the institute. "The whole point of e-voting is to move away from paper.''

In a briefing paper written last year, Arrison and Vince Vasquez, a fellow at the institute, argued that a system of printouts that allows voters to verify their choices and election officials to do a physical recount to confirm the results is not the perfect solution its supporters proclaim.

"Passing sweeping laws ... to require voter-verified paper trails for touch-screen machines, though well-intentioned, could bankrupt cash-strapped counties and may erode the efficiency of electronic voting management,'' they said in the paper.

Arrison and the institute are swimming against the tide. Growing concerns about the vulnerability of the complex electronic voting systems to hacking, electronic glitches and simple errors by local election officials have persuaded an increasing number of states to require paper backups for election results.


"We've created a system where the oversight of elections is by private companies, and that's not acceptable in a democracy,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. Without a paper verification system, "you're at the mercy of the vendor to tell you who won and who lost.''

Despite concerns about the power of the voting machine manufacturers, there's been no evidence that an electronic voting machine was ever hacked or election results purposely changed.

"These same people worried about electronic voting machines are perfectly fine using an ATM machine or being in an airplane that uses computers for everything,'' Arrison said. "Experts know how (voting machines) can be hacked, but they also know it's not as dire as it's made out to be.''

The paper backup systems come with problems of their own, Arrison said. In a special test of electronic voting machines in Stockton in July, officials from the California secretary of state's office ran 10,000 ballots through 96 printer-equipped machines from Diebold Election Systems. The results weren't encouraging.

More than 20 percent of the machines had problems, including 10 with paper jams or other printer problems. The results convinced Secretary of State Bruce McPherson to deny certification of the voting system.

While McPherson has been a longtime supporter of paper verification, he has listened to concerns about the program and is keeping a close watch on the performance of the printing systems, said Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

"The secretary has a duty to uphold the law that requires a paper trail for voting and helps counties enforce that requirement,'' she said. "But he's heard media reports on both sides of the issue. ... He's in the position of being the referee.''(full story)

Del. unveils online campaign finance filing

The News Journal, January 9, 2006


Election officials hope an improved electronic filing system will lead to more online filings of campaign contribution reports from candidates and political action committees this year.

State Election Commissioner Frank Calio said the new system will be available for candidates and PACs, starting with the filing of 2005 annual reports, which are due by Jan. 23.

The system is designed around campaign finance rules, and Calio said it should be more user-friendly, on par with home bookkeeping systems. He hopes it will encourage more candidates and PACs to file by computer, which would cut down on staff time needed to handle paper forms.


Calio said he wanted to improve Delaware's system after 2004, when the state got bad marks from the Campaign Disclosure Project -- a nationwide study of state laws and public access to finance reports.

The study gave Delaware a D-minus rating for its financial disclosure system, and F's for its electronic filing program and content accessibility.

The project is a joint effort of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and UCLA's law school.

"We got an [overall] F in 2002 and in 2004 we were only able to bump up to a D-minus," Calio said. "So we hired a consultant and a company to do the programming and developed this new program."

The new system, he said, was developed with grant money provided through the federal Help America Vote Act.

Saskia Mills, the California Voter Foundation's executive director, said Delaware's new system is a good first step, but she'd like to see the state develop searchable finance databases that would allow better tracking of who's giving money and where it's going.(full story)

Voting act puts counties in bind

The Sacramento Bee, January 2, 2006


Mikel Haas is running out of time and patience, but he says he'll give it one more month before he really starts to panic.

With an April 11 special election fast approaching, the San Diego County registrar of voters still doesn't have any California-certified machines to meet the requirements of the 2002 U.S. Help America Vote Act.

Most counties in California - and many across the country - officially fell out of compliance Sunday with rules mandating that election systems be accessible to voters with disabilities. But the San Diego County special election puts Haas at the head of the line when it comes to compliance.

While the legal deadline has passed, Secretary of State Bruce McPherson has tried to assure county officials and voters that California will resolve its Help America Vote Act issues by the June primary, the first statewide election with federal races.

But McPherson has not certified any new accessible voting machines since August, making some registrars nervous and others downright angry.

"He says we'll be ready by June, but I think there's a lack of understanding that June is here now," said Conny McCormack, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. "It takes months to prepare for an election. We don't have equipment in our offices because it hasn't been ordered or can't be ordered."

For his part, McPherson said at a conference last month that he does not want to sacrifice testing of elections equipment for the sake of meeting a deadline.

McPherson's spokeswoman, Jennifer Kerns, said that at least six election systems are "in the pipeline" and that McPherson is confident multiple options will be available for the June primary.

But registrars like Haas are torn. They say they respect McPherson's need to put controversial equipment through a battery of tests. But they also face the practical need of having to run an election in a matter of months.

"It's a squeeze," said Haas, who is preparing for a special election to replace U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who resigned in November after he was convicted of accepting bribes from defense contractors. "Registrars and county clerks are in a squeeze because we're going to be held accountable for an election. We're dying for the tools."


As McPherson reviews Diebold, he faces mounting criticism from electronic-voting opponents and one potential Democratic opponent in his own 2006 race, state Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey.

Some registrars suggest that the criticism has led to McPherson's protracted review process of Diebold.

But McPherson aides insist they are only trying to ensure new voting equipment is as secure and accurate as possible.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, praised McPherson for delaying certification, because she said he has uncovered serious concerns with Diebold.

California is not alone in missing the Help America Vote Act accessibility deadline. Some 21 states will be out of compliance, according to Dan Seligson, editor of, a nonpartisan organization tracking election reform.

"We think the next step will be that states will provide their various explanations to the (U.S.) Department of Justice for why they're missing the deadline," he said. "Those explanations in California will be fairly straightforward, and we're assuming the Department of Justice will acknowledge a best effort given and then nothing will happen."

McPherson recently has pointed to a November agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to establish a statewide voter database as an example of California's strong relationship with federal officials. The database is another Jan. 1 Help America Vote Act requirement.

If accessible equipment is not in place by the next federal election in California, Seligson said the Justice Department or private groups representing voters with disabilities could sue McPherson or counties.

That's one of the biggest fears for registrars such as William Schultz of El Dorado County, which still has to replace its outdated punch-card machines.

"It puts every county in this state in an untenable position," Schultz said. "What we'll do, we don't know."(full story)

S.J. voting machines' fate up in air

The Record, December 12, 2005


A statewide test in which a Finnish computer expert will attempt to hack electronic voting software would have little impact on San Joaquin County, state and county officials said last week.

California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson invited hacker Harri Hursti earlier this month to test the security of a memory card produced by elections equipment manufacturer Diebold. The test, which will be in Sacramento but has yet to be scheduled, is a response to criticism the cards contain a security flaw that allows outsiders to access and manipulate ballots. Hursti has performed similar tests on elections equipment in other parts of the country.

But those cards aren't used in the ATM-like touchscreen machines San Joaquin County bought from Diebold three years ago, said Deborah Hench, the county's registrar of voters. The county agreed to buy 1,625 TSx machines for $5.7 million in 2002, a fact Hench believes is an advantage over other counties rushing to meet a Jan. 1 federal deadline to have voting equipment accessible to people with disabilities.


The problem is that TSx and several other electronic systems still haven't been certified by the state, said Kim Alexander of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation. Counties are left in a situation where they either own or need to purchase equipment to meet federal standards but aren't guaranteed the ability to use it for elections.

"This is a classic example of the federal government putting the cart before the horse," Alexander said last week.

McPherson told The Record in November that a decision on TSx certification would likely be made by mid-December. Nghia Ngyuen Demovic, a spokeswoman for McPherson's office, said last week officials are still reviewing the equipment. She couldn't say whether such a decision would be made by the new year.

McPherson "would rather do it right the first time than compromise the integrity and security of a vote," Ngyuen Demovic said. "He takes these testing and certification processes very seriously, and he's taking his due diligence to ensure the security of the voting machines."

The U.S. Department of Justice has threatened to sue if the disability requirements aren't met by the deadline, Hench said. It's not clear, however, whether states or counties would be targeted.

San Joaquin County voters used the TSx system in the March 2003 primary, but it was decertified soon after when other counties experienced problems. Its recertification isn't guaranteed: More than 50 people spoke against the equipment during a Nov. 21 hearing in Sacramento, calling it undependable and vulnerable to voter fraud.

Disability rights activists also said during the hearing the equipment is difficult to use for quadriplegic and blind people as well as those with limited reach. Alexander believes such criticism hurts the TSx's chances for certification but cautions it is difficult to accommodate all disabilities in one system.

"There is no voting machine that can provide for totally independent voting for every disability that exists," Alexander said. (full story)

Voting-machine deadline at risk

The Sacramento Bee, November 29, 2005


Secretary of State Bruce McPherson conceded Monday that he might not certify any more electronic voting machines this year, leaving many of the state's 58 counties at risk of missing a Jan. 1 federal deadline requiring upgrades for voters with disabilities.
But McPherson promised that the state would work with federal officials to comply with the Help America Vote Act by the next statewide election in June. He spoke to reporters during a two-day summit on voting systems tests in Sacramento attended by 100 elections officials and experts from throughout the country.

"Jan. 1 might be a difficult date to hit," McPherson said. "But the Department of Justice and others have said you're moving in the right direction ... . We think we are going to be right on target. We hope to be there certainly by June."

HAVA requires by Jan. 1 that voters with disabilities be able to vote independently and privately with at least one accessible machine per polling place. Voting systems also must allow users to review selections before they cast their ballot and inform them if they mistakenly mark off more than one candidate.

The state has certified only one elections system for use by voters with disabilities in the 2006 primary: an optical-scan technology made by Election Systems & Software. Sacramento County is one of at least eight counties planning to meet federal requirements by using the ES&S machines, according to a July secretary of state report.

At least 15 counties not using the ES&S technology have urged McPherson to approve another system made by Diebold Election Systems. Many of those counties have either purchased or negotiated to buy Diebold's touch-screen technology to comply with the federal mandate.

State elections officials this month recommended that the Diebold system be certified after a recent round of volume testing in San Diego County.

But Diebold has become a lightning rod for electronic-voting critics who say any computer-based system is vulnerable to hackers and others who consider the company too partisan because some of its officials have backed Republicans.

In response, McPherson announced last week that he invited Finnish expert Harri Hursti to attempt to hack into the Diebold system. McPherson said Monday that if the Diebold system does not pass the as yet unscheduled test, "then we'll have to go back to square one."

While he hopes it will occur before the end of the year, he said it could happen as late as January. That would mean counties that want to purchase the Diebold systems would fall out of compliance once Jan. 1 passes.


U.S. Election Assistance Commission Vice Chairman Paul DeGregorio called the Jan. 1 date "a firm deadline."

"States have been on notice for three years that this deadline is coming up," he said. "If they don't (comply), we fully expect the Justice Department to get involved, to look at this issue."

DeGregorio added that DOJ could file a lawsuit or use a consent decree to get states and counties to update their voting systems. He also said he would not be surprised if voters with disabilities pursue private lawsuits.

Kim Alexander of the California Voting Foundation said federal testing procedures are flawed - and that California should use more rigorous standards to ensure that elections are safe in California. She said California at the very least would have a paper trail next June after a law passed in 2004.

"That's the saving grace, right there," she said. "Because there will be a paper record of every ballot cast and because the voter has the right to inspect it, and because the county elections officials have to use that record to audit the results, I think California voters can have a reasonable degree of confidence."(full story)

Campaigns to file online

The San Jose Mercury-News, November 28, 2005


With the fundraising season for San Jose elections fast approaching, the city is on the verge of finally casting aside paper documents in favor of using the Internet to report who contributes how much to which candidates.

Electronic filing combined with online disclosure is ``digital sunlight,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, whose mission is to advance the responsible use of technology in the democratic process.

In San Jose, candidates running for office may start raising money Dec. 8.

The city's new campaign Web site is being established and maintained by NetFile of Mariposa. City Clerk Lee Price and NetFile Vice President Tom Diebert expect it to be up and running by Jan. 31, the first of five reporting deadlines before the June 6 primary election.

After each deadline, opposing candidates, watchdogs and the merely curious will be able to view and analyze financial disclosure statements. With the computer doing the searching and sorting, questions like these should be easy to answer:

Who gave to the ``San Jose's Next Great Mayor'' campaign?

Did Joe Developer contribute to the campaign?

How much did Maria Attorney give to all candidates in San Jose?

How much in total have employees of Mega-Corporation given?

Still, Terry Christensen, professor of political science at San Jose State University, suspects that the general public won't be the most avid users of the Web site.

``The people who are going to use it most are the candidates themselves, who will look up to see who's giving the other candidates money,'' he said.

Uncovering that information now requires a trip to the clerk's office to pore over paper records.

San Jose trails Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and the California Secretary of State's Office by five years in offering online access to reports in a format that enables sophisticated searching. Old records will not be entered into the database.(full story)

Voting machine deadline nears

The Sacramento Bee, November 27, 2005


William Schultz has to replace a county's worth of outdated punch-card voting machines, but he's unsure how to proceed. The El Dorado County registrar of voters faces a Jan. 1 federal deadline to retool more than 110 polling places. Yet Secretary of State Bruce McPherson has not certified some of the controversial machines Schultz plans to buy from Diebold Elections Systems.

"We can't do anything until the system is certified," Schultz said. "We're just waiting to see what the secretary of state is going to do, and we're rapidly running out of time."

McPherson's staff earlier this month recommended that the Diebold TSx machines be conditionally certified, but critics raised security and accessibility concerns last week at a public hearing in Sacramento.

McPherson is still reviewing public comments and plans to allow a Finnish expert to try to hack into the Diebold system soon, said Nghia Nguyen Demovic, a secretary of state spokeswoman. McPherson has given no indication as to when he will decide on certification.

Electronic voting critics say the federal Help America Vote Act deadline requiring local officials to replace outdated and inaccessible voting machines should be extended. They suggest that electronic voting machines approved by federal officials are flawed.

And they insist that deadline fears raised by county registrars should not trump the need for secure elections.

"The next election is not until June, so the real goal should be to have it conducted with equipment that meets the standards of California and federal law," said Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey. "There is no requirement that every polling place be filled with electronic voting equipment. The requirement is to make the polls accessible to disabled voters and there's more than one way to do that."

County registrars are uncertain what will happen if they do not have new voting machines in place by the Jan. 1 deadline. They say they could face lawsuits or lose federal funding.


But advocates last week criticized the Diebold electronic voting machine for a lack of accessibility.

Dan Kysor of California Council of the Blind said the Diebold machines are incapable of reading printed text to visually impaired voters who want to verify their selections. While sighted voters can read the paper trail, he said, visually impaired voters don't have the same protection.

Kysor said that blind and visually impaired voters in the past have sought help from a sighted person. But he believes HAVA allows all voters to vote independently with the same rights.

Teresa Favuzzi, executive director of California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, also criticized the Diebold machine for lacking a sip-and-puff mechanism for people who have impaired dexterity. She added that it is not portable enough for use in curbside voting at polling places that are inaccessible.

Kim Alexander of the California Voting Foundation said legitimate concerns by voters with disabilities could delay certification of the Diebold system because the HAVA standards are meant to make voting systems accessible.

McPherson rejected Diebold certification this summer when a volume test of 96 TSx machines in San Joaquin County resulted in screen freezes and paper jams. A subsequent test this fall in San Diego had few problems - leading to recommended certification by secretary of state staff.

But electronic voting critics last week said all machines - Diebold's included - are vulnerable to computer hackers. Jim March, an electronic voting investigator with nonprofit Black Box Voting, said that an errant elections official or company official could tamper with results.

Such concerns prompted McPherson to allow for a hacking test in the near future.

Diebold spokesman David Bear denied that the voting machines could be hacked.(full story)

State official to seek full term

The San Jose Mercury-News, November 17, 2005


Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, who was appointed after Kevin Shelley resigned the post earlier this year, announced Wednesday he will run for a full term next year.

McPherson, 61, a former newspaper editor and state senator from Santa Cruz, was unanimously confirmed after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him in February.

But next year, he will face a challenge from one of two Democrats who have filed to run for the job: state senators Debra Bowen, of Redondo Beach, and Deborah Ortiz, of Sacramento.

As secretary of state, McPherson has helped the office climb out of the hole it was in following Shelley's resignation. Shortly after taking office, he convinced officials in Washington to release $169 million in federal funds they had frozen because of Shelley's mismanagement.

Since then, California has become the first state to meet the stricter standards enacted by the Help America Vote Act, the federal law passed after the 2000 Florida presidential election debacle. That included creating a statewide voter database to prevent fraud.

``On those issues I think he's made some good progress,'' said Kim Alexander, founder of the non-partisan California Voter Foundation.

However, she faulted him for opposing a new law, sponsored by Bowen, that requires public auditing of vote counts from electronic voting machines. County registrars of voters opposed it, but Schwarzenegger signed it.

After last week's special election, in which voters turned down all eight measures on the ballot, McPherson said he had called a meeting to review the initiative process with the Legislative Analyst's office and the Attorney General's office. (full story)

Paperless e-voting era ends

The Argus, November 9, 2005


Elaine Ginnold awoke in a darkened home with no electricity a harrowing way for the Alameda County elections chief to launch Tuesday's special election with fully electronic voting machines.
No power, no votes.

Ginnold muttered an epithet but relaxed later when driving past her local polling place, a fire station with its lights blazing. Her Election Day opened with the usual headaches: no-shows of poll workers, polling places still locked and a smattering of technical problems such as inoperable electronic voter cards and a few inoperable e-voting machines. The days of those last glitches, and worrying about power outages, are on their way out. The era of paperless, fully computerized voting machinery ended Tuesday in California.

Ginnold for one isn't sorry to see a return to paper balloting.

“I'm looking forward to it,” she said. “I don't see that we're going backwards at all.

Soon after voters in Piedmont tried their hand at paperless, touch-screen voting in 1999, electronic voting soared in popularity. It was easy as an ATM. The curses of paper balloting multiple languages, multiple districts, multiple parties, paper jams would vanish, along with the hanging and pregnant chad so reviled from the 2000 elections.

E-voting had none of these ambiguities: The memory either stored a vote for, a vote against or none at all.


In California, voters wary of politics and government latched onto the controversy and to one solution proposed by computer scientists: Add printers to the electronic voting machines and provide a printed record of the ballot for voters to check and elections officials to recount.

In six months, the state became the first to require a voter-verified paper trail for all e- voting machines. Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill requiring elections officials to use the paper trail in recounts.

“It's been a long road to get where we are now, where the use of paperless electronic machines is on the decline,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation and a leading advocate of paper trails. “I say goodbye to e-voting, and good riddance.

On Tuesday, the governor confronted his own voting glitch.

When he appeared at his polling place in Brentwood, poll workers looked up his name and reported that he already had voted, according to the Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles County elections officials said that a worker testing touch screens for early voting in Pasadena apparently had cast a test ballot in the governor's name.

Schwarzenegger was told that he would have to cast a provisional ballot, meaning that his votes might not be counted for weeks. He objected and was allowed to cast a regular ballot.

It was unclear whether the governor and his alter ego in Pasadena ended up voting twice or canceling each other's votes.

Starting Jan. 1, all electronic voting machines must produce a paper trail that will be used in automatic recounts of 1 percent of precincts, as a check of computerized vote tallies, and in full recounts in the event of an election challenge.

Alfie Charles, an executive with Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems and a former state elections official, said he thinks paperless e-voting is gone for good.

“It worked well and served its purpose but unfortunately was not trusted, for either perceived or valid reasons,” he said. “And in elections, perception is critical.”(full story)

A measure of anxiety for new voters

The Sacramento Bee, November 2, 2005


Claudia Balderas has never voted before, but she's done her homework.
The 19-year-old has flipped through the 78-page official voter information guide. She's seen political ads with nurses, firefighters and teachers, and a couple of others on prescription drugs.

She even attended a student debate Thursday at Sacramento City College on Proposition 73, which would require minors' parents to be notified before they have an abortion.

But Balderas still has questions. Like, if she isn't sure how she feels about a certain initiative, what should she do?

"I'm for parental consent," Balderas said. "The other propositions, I'm not too sure. Can you skip some of the questions? I'd probably do that."

The Nov. 8 special election is daunting enough for even the most sophisticated of voters. But first-timers feel particularly anxious as they slog through an initiative-only ballot pamphlet that reads like your worst textbook nightmare.

Overall turnout is expected to be relatively low this election - a rare instance where no statewide candidates will appear on the ballot and voters will decide on only eight issue-based questions and a handful of local races.

In the last two initiative-only elections in 1993 and 1979, turnout sank below 38 percent of registered voters, according to the secretary of state's office.

If history holds true, turnout could be even worse for the youngest voters, considering that they head to the polls at a lower rate than their elders.

This election in particular doesn't lend itself to inviting new voters into the electoral process. There is no national frenzy over red states and blue states or George W. Bush and John Kerry. Few young people have as much fervor over drug-discount programs or redistricting as they do over the Iraq war.

At Natomas High School, government teacher Janet Mann said the campus in 2004 held a mock presidential election in which 75 students voluntarily cast votes. But the school won't have one this year.

"It is much more exciting for them when there is a Bush and a Kerry," Mann said. "This year we're not having an election because, honestly, kids don't know as much about the propositions."

While campaigns are spending record amounts of money this year, little will be directed at new voters. Most get-out-the-vote efforts are spent on reaching voters with track records, not those learning how to fill out their ballots.

"One of the big problems for young people is that they're not courted by campaigns," said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation. "It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Campaigns don't want to spend money on people not likely to vote."

But despite the confusing nature of this election - and the lack of controversial candidates - plenty of newly minted voters are getting their first real taste of democracy this year. (full story)

Capitol Notebook: Times Sacramento Bureau

The Contra Costa Times, October 30, 2005


Alternative To Electronic Voting Machines: The California Voter Foundation is urging voters in Santa Clara and Alameda counties -- and seven other counties that use paperless, electronic voting machines -- to opt for absentee ballots instead.

"Studies continue to find that electronic voting machines are prone to error," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation (CVF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is pushing paper backups and public auditing of computerized vote counts.

"Many voters do not trust electronic voting equipment," Alexander said. "We want them to know that they have a choice. They can request an absentee ballot and vote on paper."

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Tuesday. Voters can then mail in their completed absentee ballots any time prior to the election or return them to their polling places on Election Day.

For more information, about California voting systems, see the California Voter Foundation's Web site, (full story)

Both sides in all-out effort to reach voters

San Francisco Chronicle, October 30, 2005


"California Military Voters Join Me in My Fight to Reform California!'' read a mailer sent from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign that featured a photo of the governor shaking hands with soldiers.

The glossy brochure was part of a unique global get-out-the-vote effort. Schwarzenegger shipped more than 50,000 mailers to eligible voters abroad, including those in the military serving in the most remote corners of Iraq and Afghanistan, asking them to cast absentee ballots in favor of the governor's propositions.

In a special election in which voter turnout is both critical and unpredictable, Schwarzenegger and his foes in organized labor are mounting massive voter outreach campaigns to tip election day in their favor. A ballot with no candidates and eight initiatives has rallied bases on both sides but left political experts unsure about whether the less-partisan majority will show up and how they will vote.

"Both sides have pitched this as a do-or-die situation for their team,'' said Kareem Crayton, an assistant professor of law at USC who studies election law and voting patterns. "The people in the middle, who don't really have a team, might just be frustrated.''

Schwarzenegger won his job because of support from the middle. But after a year in which he has been portrayed as a power-hungry right-winger by Democrats and labor interests, the unanswerable question is whether he can win enough of those voters back.

Turnout is a major question mark and therefore a major key to both campaigns.


Most political experts don't expect a recall-type turnout, which could help Schwarzenegger: Conventional wisdom in California politics suggests a lower turnout typically helps Republicans, who are outnumbered but have a hardcore group of supporters who always vote.

And other factors away from the main debate over Schwarzenegger's four propositions could also help the governor. Prop. 73, which would require teenage girls to get parental permission for abortions, is likely to attract conservative voters to the polls, which would seem to favor Schwarzenegger. A mayoral race on the San Diego ballot might also help, as turnout could be higher in that city, which leans Republican.

And Democrats and unions opposing Schwarzenegger's agenda have a somewhat difficult challenge, in that they are essentially urging voters to take the time to cast a negative vote.

"A lot of would-be voters don't vote if there's nothing to vote for. People want to vote for something,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

But because Schwarzenegger called the election, and after a year's worth of union attacks, Nov. 8 isn't just about ballot measures. It's a referendum on the governor, which Democrats and labor hope will boost turnout in their favor.

"Animosity can drive turnout,'' noted Michael Alvarez, a professor of political science at the California Institute of Technology. (full story)

TV ad blitz costly, but to what effect?

The San Diego Union-Tribune, October 30, 2005


California's television airwaves are being devoured in a multi-sided political advertising war of unprecedented proportions leading up to the Nov. 8 statewide special election.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent for and against various combinations of the eight ballot propositions being promoted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, organized labor and the pharmaceutical industry.

Whether that spending frenzy is swaying significant numbers of voters is highly questionable.

A statewide poll released Friday by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California showed a spike in public interest in the special election, but little change in voter sentiment about three of the four Schwarzenegger-backed propositions despite weeks of nonstop ads.

"It's a tragic waste of resources because we could probably be feeding a small country with all this money," Democratic political consultant Darry Sragow said.

Campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office show that more than $200 million had been spent as of Oct. 22 on the eight ballot measures.

"We are going to break all previous spending and fundraising records," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, which monitors campaign financing. "It will break the record for the single initiative, and it will break the record for overall spending."

Who benefits from this spending orgy? Television stations that can charge whatever the traffic will bear in a seller's market plainly do. Political consultants who take a 15 percent cut on ad placements aren't complaining either. But what about the intended audience? (full story)

Shell Games Hide Sources of Donations

Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2005


When Californians vote Nov. 8 after what may turn out to be the costliest initiative battles in state history, they won't fully know who was behind the campaigns: Politicians and their backers are using holes in state law that help hide the source of donations.

Despite restrictions implemented in California in recent years, political money is being raised and spent with scant public disclosure by the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars.

In this high-priced fight over the eight initiatives on the special election ballot, advocates on all sides can transfer money from one campaign committee to another, use committees that do not have to report their donors right away and route money through nonprofit corporations that are not required to reveal donors' names at all.

There won't be full accountings for some campaigns until January, long after the votes are counted. Contributors to others won't be disclosed until a few days before the election — after many early voters have cast ballots.

Even experts at tracking political money are stumped this year. Kim Alexander, director of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, has spent 15 years following donations in Sacramento. But the volume and the speed with which money is moving from one account to another this year has made the task harder than ever, she said.

"Political players get better and better at playing the money shell game," said Alexander, whose group provides information about campaign measures, including the largest donors.

Elizabeth Garrett, director of the USC-Caltech Center for the Study of Law and Politics, said that because voters take cues from groups they trust when deciding issues, timely disclosure of donations is crucial.

"If the information is not available at the moment the voter is making her decision," Garrett said, "then disclosure is irrelevant."

"Only when you know who is behind an initiative and how much they're spending can you competently vote," she said.

In some ways, political donations have never been more transparent in California. Anyone with Internet access can track most of the $200 million-plus being raised in this year's campaign. (See (full story)

Federal analysts: E-voting holds promise, problems

The Argus, October 22, 2005


In a report Friday, the investigative arm of Congress found that completely electronic-voting machines are full of promise for U.S. elections but still have security and reliability problems.

E-voting failures in elections have been a problem in California, and the state's experiences are mentioned several times in the latest report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Analysts for the GAO found that crucial vote-recording and tallying files could be altered, that voting software often had weak or nonexistent password protections and that manufacturers had installed unapproved software in several places, including California.

Yet fixing those problems could be years away.

The GAO called on e-voting manufacturers to design these instruments of democracy with security in mind, and to devise better paper trails so the public and elections officials can verify accuracy of their machines without sacrificing voter privacy. All levels of government, the GAO concluded, need stronger rules and testing for electronic-voting systems.

But few of those things are likely to happen until after the 2006 elections and some not until after most states have held the 2008 presidential primary.


"It's the first report to come out and say this job isn't happening the way it should be," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "It lays bare the inadequacies of federal oversight of our voting systems."

The GAO's report also marks the strongest federal statements to date favoring the use of multiple ballot records, such as paper trails, to make sure electronic-voting systems work properly and vote tallies are accurate.

"That's really neat. It's sort of a burden on election administrators, but if you really want to cross your T's, it needs to be done," said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, a University of California, Berkeley, graduate student researching voting technologies as part of ACCURATE, a federally funded project involving several U.S. universities.

Hall wishes federal analysts had seen the need for more transparency in voting-system testing and purchases. At present, testing labs don't share their methods or findings with state and local elections officials, and vendors insist that much information about their machines and software are trade secrets that can't be revealed to the public.

Still, Hall said, "It's great to see these things on paper and recommended that we take this more seriously, that we do auditing and incident reporting that a lot of us feel should be part of the process anyway. (full story)

Some counties testing electronic vote machines

San Francisco Chronicle , October 19, 2005


California voters may notice changes at their polling places during this year's special election as several counties test electronic voting equipment that will be required in 2006 to verify ballot choices and allow the disabled to vote unassisted.

Seven counties, including Monterey County, are using new technology that lets voters double-check their selections before casting a ballot electronically.

State law requires all counties using touch-screen voting systems -- 14 of the state's 58 -- to offer voters this option starting with the June 2006 primary.

"This is the perfect opportunity for us to introduce these printers to voters. It gives us an opportunity to find out if there are any problems with the units and start to make voters familiar with how they work," said Kari Verjil, registrar of voters for San Bernardino County. "And if we have the units, why wait for the June primary? Let's roll them out."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said the counties are doing the right thing.

"Many counties are wisely choosing to implement this new equipment sooner rather than later so they and their voters and their poll workers can gain experience with it," Alexander said.


Also beginning next year is a requirement established by the Help America Vote Act in 2002 that every county have at least one voting machine in each polling place equipped to allow disabled voters to cast their ballot without assistance.

Touch-screen systems like those used in Santa Clara, Alameda and Napa counties satisfy the accessibility requirement because they are designed for use by the disabled and offer an audio ballot for the blind.

Sacramento and Contra Costa counties are introducing a device which marks optical scan ballots for disabled voters using a variety of methods, including Braille keyboard, foot pedal or oral prompts. The machine reads back the choices the voter has made before the ballot is cast.

Sacramento County is introducing the device countywide, Contra Costa County only in 20 percent of its precincts.

"The (manufacturers) were not prepared to roll this out in a lot of counties," said Stephen Weir, Contra Costa County's registrar. "We had to kick, scream, yell, fight, cajole to get our system up and running in time to do just this limited rollout."

San Mateo County is also using technology to help absentee voters, an increasingly larger bloc of the electorate, find out if their ballot arrived safely.

A bar code system already placed on ballots to compare signatures to those on absentee ballots now will also let a voter know the ballot was received if they log onto the county's Web page,, and click on "track and confirm." (full story)

All voters will benefit from one woman's crusade

The Desert Sun, October 13, 2005


Susan Marie Weber did what she always does. She raised her hand and asked a question. Why couldn't she have paper proof that she had voted and for whom?

She could get a receipt at the bank or the hamburger stand, she reasoned, why not at the ballot box?

Good questions, and ones that would land the Palm Desert accountant in the center of the debate on electronic voting.

After the dangling chads and court fights and Supreme Court hearings that were the 2000 presidential election, electronic touch-screen voting was the future and Riverside County - the nation's first county to use electronic touch screen voting machines - was its vanguard.

Paperless, easy, efficient and cheaper, elections officials hailed the benefits for voters and themselves alike.

Now, voting was as easy as pushing a button. What was wrong with that?

We're the government, they said. Trust us.


Today, the changes stretch across the e-voting landscape.

Twenty-five states now require a voter-verified paper audit trail on electronic voting machines, according to the California Voter Foundation. Two years ago, none did.

One year ago, California was one of only four states with laws requiring public auditing of election results, according to the foundation. Today there are 12.

"She's passionate about the issue. She has such sincere conviction," said Kim Alexander, executive director of the California Voter Foundation. "She got the ball rolling. It takes a lot of strength and character to challenge the powers that be. She got a lot of people inspired on the issue."

For Weber, it was common sense, she says now. Computers develop glitches and crash and can be hacked, data manipulated. Computers are fallible. So are the humans who operate them.

It's pretty simple, Weber said. The only, best way to preserve the integrity of voters' choices, Weber said, is a ballot voters can hold, a count voters can see.

"Voting is so precious," Weber said. "If you don't have confidence in voting, you don't have confidence in anything."(full story)

Touchscreen optimism grows

Stockton Record , October 13, 2005


San Joaquin County's top elections official hopes a recent test of touchscreen voting machines in San Diego will lead to the equipment's certification for June's primary election.

State elections officials in late September tested 100 Diebold TSx machines to monitor how they'd hold up in an actual election, county Registrar of Voters Deborah Hench said. It was the second large-scale examination in three months of the ATM-like machines, which haven't been cleared for use since the March 2004 primary.

More than 1,600 of the TSx machines have sat in a Stockton warehouse awaiting certification since that election. The county agreed to buy the equipment for $5.7 million three years ago, although only $858,000 has actually changed hands, Hench said.

California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson refused to certify the machines after a similar test in Stockton in July exposed paper jams and screen freezing problems. In the most recent exam, however, no freezes and only three jams were reported out of more than 11,000 votes cast, Hench said Wednesday.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Hench said, adding that "there's a good chance" the machines will be certified.


The action will have little effect on San Joaquin County and its touchscreen equipment, since all of the requirements have already been met, said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation. The new set of rules ensures that companies have all the bugs worked out before they market equipment to California counties, she said.

McPherson "wants to make sure that counties aren't stuck with a lemon," Alexander said.

San Joaquin, San Diego and Kern counties are the only state jurisdictions to hold onto the TSx machines. Alameda County used the equipment in 2004 but has since switched to another provider.(full story)

County voters say they'd prefer to mail it in

The Oakland Tribune, October 12, 2005


In an Alameda County opinion poll on voting and voting technologies, 45 percent of people preferred mailing their vote from the comfort of home, underscoring a state and national trend away from the tradition of heading to the polls on Election Day.

Thirty-five percent of voters enjoy the ease and speed of voting on ATM-like touch-screen voting machines, particularly in cities in the south and east, while 20 percent prefer having paper ballots in the polling place.

The preference for paper surprised county elections chief Elaine Ginnold.

"Twenty percent is significant," she said.

Taken together, the poll's findings of high public interest in voting by mail and on paper ballots support the move by Alameda County away from full electronic voting.

By mid-December, county supervisors will vote on buying a so-called blended system — mostly optical scanning machines for paper ballots, plus a couple of electronic touch-screens — to put in each of its 700 polling places.

Five vendors are vying for the contract, and local voters will get to test drive their voting machines in mid-November.

Voting advocates applauded the county for sampling voter opinion before buying new voting machinery, the first such survey of its kind in California.

"I think it's terrific," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, based in Davis. "I think the county's going to make better equipment purchases because of it.


The California Voter Foundation and others have made similar findings in surveys of voters and non-voters. Almost one in three Californians eligible to vote doubt their vote will be counted accurately, according to a foundation survey in the spring.

"A lot of voters are unregistered because they don't have faith that their votes are counted accurately," said the foundation's Alexander.

The federal Elections Assistance Commission found in a recent study that voter turnout in counties using electronic voting was slightly lower than in places using other voting technologies.(full story)

Campaign fundraising surges in special election

San Jose Mercury News, October 12, 2005


A spokesman for the political committee supporting the governor's slate of ballot proposals predicted that public employee unions and other opponents of Schwarzenegger's initiatives would spend far more money in the campaign.

Schwarzenegger's campaign set a $50 million fundraising goal. But spokesman Todd Harris on Tuesday said unions and other opponents had raised twice that amount, with the Nov. 8 election still about a month away.

"We are being significantly outspent," Harris said.

Campaign finance reports show that unions have raised more than $80 million to fight Schwarzenegger's initiatives, according to a report in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times.

State legislators and California's congressional delegation have raised an additional $8.6 million to defeat Proposition 77, which would strip lawmakers of the power to draw legislative boundaries.

The governor's campaign also is counting $9.4 million that unions have spent on lobbying.

Schwarzenegger has raised $34 million to promote his initiatives, and separate campaigns for the initiatives have raised about $8 million more, according to the Times report.

Experts have said they believe the campaign will set spending records.

"This is going to be most expensive ballot in California history," said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, a Davis-based nonprofit that provides nonpartisan information about elections.(full story)

California to put e -voting to the test

The Oakland Tribune, October 8, 2005


California is putting the tools of democracy to perhaps the most rigorous testing of any state, ordering voting-machine makers to surrender their proprietary software for security reviews and supply dozens of their machines for mass, mock-election tests.

In memos this week to voting-machine makers and local elections officials, Secretary of State Bruce McPherson laid out the new requirements and ordered the creation of a new office, led by a savvy computer technician, devoted to putting voting machines through their paces before California voters use them.

"We can do it, and I think we should do it," McPherson said Friday.

The move comes as huge sums of federal and state money are feeding voting-system purchases nationwide, and manufacturers increasingly are supplying high-tech computers to record and count the vote.


Vendors, voting advocates and other states watched this summer as McPherson ordered Diebold Election Systems to offer its latest touch screen, the AccuVote TSx, up for mass testing in a San Joaquin County warehouse. For nearly a full day, local elections officials and consultants tapped votes into 96 machines. They found numerous instances of paper jams in the touch screens' paper-trail printer and software crashes of the sort reported by voters nationwide in the last presidential election.

Kim Alexander, president of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation, called the episode "an eye-opener for state regulators."

"To see those screen freezes firsthand is important for understanding how vulnerable these systems are to error and fraud," she said.(full story)

Ballot official calls for tough machine test

Sacramento Bee, October 6, 2005


Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said Wednesday he will create a new office to test voting technology and will require future machines to undergo an Election Day simulation comparable to one failed by a leading manufacturer this summer.

The changes should have little effect on the Nov. 8 special election but could put new equipment under more stringent tests before they can be used in elections as soon as the June 2006 statewide primary.

While most of McPherson's 10 certification requirements for new voting machines were in place before his tenure, the most notable addition is "volume testing," a simulation involving dozens of machines to mirror Election Day circumstances.

The state ran such a test this summer on a San Joaquin County system using 96 voting machines manufactured by Diebold Inc. McPherson rejected the machines when multiple paper jams and screen freezes occurred.

The Diebold machines faced another volume test last week in San Diego County, but the secretary of state's office has not yet released the results. Diebold officials would not comment Wednesday.


A Field Poll last year found that more than one-third of California voters lack confidence in electronic systems. Touch-screen voting technology has emerged in recent years as an alternative to paper ballots, such as the controversial chad-based system used in Florida in 2000.

McPherson, a former Republican state senator from Santa Cruz, became the state's top elections official in March. He replaced Democrat Kevin Shelley, who resigned amid allegations that he misused his office for political purposes.

McPherson's plan comes as the state works with counties and manufacturers to meet a requirement that by next year all electronic voting machines have a paper trail voters can use to double-check their ballots.

An estimated one-third of California voters will use electronic voting this fall, but only a fraction of those will use a machine that creates a paper stamp for each vote, said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation.(full story)

California must retain election transparency

Alameda Times-Star, September 24, 2005


OUR elections are held to transfer political power between the voters and the government, not for the convenience of local election officials.

That's the belief of Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. Her comments came after members of the California Association and Clerks and Elections Officials wrote to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger claiming that computerized touch-screen voting has made the state's manual recount law obsolete.

The clerks don't want to resort to recounts, as they have for 40 years, if the accuracy of the vote comes into question.

State Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, chairwoman of the Senate Elections and Apportionment Committee, said that doing away with protections and vote recounts that check accuracy is "an enormous mistake."


Computer scientists voiced concerns as early as 2003 about relying entirely on computers for voting, as it opens the door to new problems with programming error and fraud. Their solution was the voter-verified paper trail.

But the election officials, whose responsibility it is to check and make sure that the votes are recorded and tabulated correctly, say that is what makes their job "onerous." They would prefer to do parallel monitoring.

Instead, we suggest local election officials use their insider's knowledge and insight to recommend how vendors can make such machines more accurate and verifiable. We must find ways of checking the accuracy of individual votes, the results and whether or not the process has been tampered with. If we can't, we need a simpler system of voting that can be checked for accuracy.

We need more — not fewer — checks on the accuracy of votes and tabulations. In this new era, we must preserve California's manual recount law.(full story)

Federal panel looks to Congress for e-voting paper trail

Oakland Tribune, September 20, 2005


For American voters to regain faith in their elections, voters should be given a unique identification card, and electronic voting machines need a paper record that voters can check and elections officials can recount, a prestigious federal panel reported Monday.

The Commission on Federal Voting Reform's call for Congress to require a voter-verified paper trail for recounts nationwide comes as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger considers signing a similar bill for California.

Election officials from Secretary of State Bruce McPherson to local registrars of voters are opposing the measure because the paper printouts don't fit the state legal definition of a ballot and because recounting them would be "onerous and time consuming."

The federal panel, chaired by former President Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, concluded that e-voting machines need to produce paper trails for recounts "to instill greater confidence" and ensure transparency in U.S. elections.


Paper trails are now mandatory in 25 states, and legislation is under consideration in an additional 14 states.

"If we fail to require that electronic voting machines be subject to the same audit requirements as other voting machines, then California voters' confidence in our elections is likely to continue to erode," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

Civil rights advocates were less impressed with the Carter-Baker report, saying the panel didn't go far enough in encouraging voter participation.(full story)

Drug companies fight ballot measure

North County Times, September 7, 2005


Voters will face two competing initiatives to regulate the price of prescription drugs on the Nov. 8 special election ballot: one supported by the pharmaceutical industry, the other backed by a coalition of labor organizations and a consumer advocacy group.

If voters approve both initiatives, the one with the most "yes" votes would become law; the other would die.

Prescription drug manufacturers have anted up $72 million to get Proposition 79 defeated and the measure they support, Proposition 78, passed, according to news reports. And, as of June 30, reports filed with the California secretary of state show that a coalition of labor organizations have raised $10.2 million to get Prop. 79 passed.


Both measures propose reducing the cost of prescription medications to many low- and moderate-income Californians by allowing the state to negotiate discounts on the price of prescription drugs. Of the two, however, Prop. 79 stands to cost drug companies much more as it gives the state more clout in negotiating those price reductions.

One of Prop. 79's most important features would allow the state to punish those companies that do not discount their drug prices to its satisfaction, by removing their drugs from a list of medications that allows doctors to prescribe Medi-Cal patients without prior state approval. The state already uses that same buying-power leverage to negotiate deep discounts on medications for Medi-Cal patients.

A spokeswoman for "Yes on 79" said the amount of money the pharmaceutical industry has raised to defeat Prop. 79 is unprecedented.

"(It) has raised more money for this campaign than for any other ballot initiative in the history of the country," said "Yes on 79" spokeswoman Sarah Leonard.

A spokeswoman for the nonprofit California Voter Foundation said last week that $72 million would in fact be a California record for one side investing in an initiative campaign, and it probably would be a record for the country, as well, she added.

To date, the record amount spent to campaign for an initiative was the $68.6 million spent by the gaming industry in 1998 to secure passage of the Indian Gaming initiative, Proposition 5, California Voter Foundation Executive Director Saskia Mills said last week.

A spokeswoman for "Yes on 78" said the reason the industry is investing so much money is because there are two measures involved ---- both on a very complex issue ---- and it's expensive to educate voters. (full story)

San Joaquin keeps its touch-screen voting

Oakland Tribune, August 31, 2005


San Joaquin County is going to stay with the Diebold Inc. touch-screen voting system and let the company iron out its problems, said the county's registrar of voters, Deborah Hench.

"The state is willing to retest them at any time," she said.

During a test in July, the secretary of state determined there were problems with the Diebold system.

Hench said the problems — paper jams and screens freezing up during the voting tests — weren't as bad as reported.

During the July test, about nine of 96 machines had paper jams, and 21 screens froze, she said.

Kim Alexander, president of California Voter Foundation in Davis, said Hench is using the same math that Diebold is using.

"The secretary of state was looking at the performance of all 96 machines," she said. "The truth is that none of them worked flawlessly."

The problems with Diebold's machines have forced Alameda County to look elsewhere, Alexander said.

In fact, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote today on finding another vendor for electronic voting.

Solano County already has scrapped its Diebold machines, she said. (full story)

Paper trail may clog e-voting advances

Oakland Tribune, August 16, 2005


California's secretary of state, a proponent of backup paper records for electronic-voting machines, is nonetheless opposing their use in vote recounts as legally problematic and impractical, an opinion that could influence national voting reforms.

After months of collecting public opinion, Secretary of State Bruce McPherson recently urged rejection of a new bill that would mandate counting of paper-trail records on e-voting machines.

That, according to voting activists, would render paper trails useless as an independent check on voting computers and software.

"We're at risk of losing the one form of independent verification that we have when counting electronic votes," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "Unless it's used in a recount, there's no reason for voters to be confident in the accuracy of software vote counts."


For 40 years, elections officials have been required to recount 1 percent of the ballots cast in an election, selected at random. With the emergence of touch-screen machines, officials are having the machines print out images of the electronic ballots, and they are recounting those.

University of California, Berkeley, law professor Deirdre Mulligan said it is hardly surprising that paper trails do not meet the legal definition of a ballot. "It's true," said Mulligan, who teaches law at Boalt Hall and directs the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic. "We have these laws that haven't kept pace with technology."

But if the governor agrees with McPherson's opposition based on a "technicality," she said, "you're kind of left with a poor choice. The electronic ballot images that they're talking about counting are less likely to provide a check on the machine."

McPherson proposes pooling federal voting-reform money for several states and devoting it to research on the best way to verify electronic voting.

The paper trail still would have value, he argued, "just to give any voter who might go into the booth a double-check: 'This is how I voted.' It's just to give voters more assurance." (full story)

California tightens rules for e-voting vendors

San Francisco Chronicle, August 5, 2005


Makers of electronic voting machines will have to certify that their systems meet federal guidelines to ensure that voters don't get "stuck with a lemon" as technology and regulations evolve, the state's top election official said.

The new rule, announced this week by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, will clarify for counties which systems are approved for use in the June 2006 presidential primary election.

Manufacturers of e-voting machines will have to sign contracts stating that their equipment meets the requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act.

The guidelines for HAVA won't be finalized until October, McPherson said in an interview Friday. The new rule will protect counties financially if they buy a system touted as HAVA-compliant, only to learn it doesn't meet the final regulations.


In addition, California requires e-voting machines to have a paper trail.

It can be difficult for counties to stay up-to-date on the status of e-voting machines, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

"It's a very fast-paced, technical and detailed process," she said. "It's hard to keep up with what's going on and it's very easy for vendors to mislead officials on qualifications."

With the HAVA guidelines expected in October, that puts a lot of pressure on counties to chose a compliant system by the Jan. 1 deadline, McPherson said.

California counties will have $350 million in HAVA funds to spend on voting machines, he said. "It can be spent only one time and we want the voting machines compliant from the get-go." (full story)

E-voting machines rejected

Oakland Tribune, July 29, 2005


After possibly the most extensive testing ever on a voting system, California has rejected Diebold's flagship electronic voting machine because of printer jams and screen freezes, sending local elections officials scrambling for other means of voting.

"There was a failure rate of about 10 percent, and that's not good enough for the voters of California and not good enough for me," Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said.

If the machines had been used in an election, the result could have been frustration for poll workers and long lines for thousands of voters, elections officials and voter advocates said Thursday.

"We certainly can't take any kind of risk like that with this kind of device on California voters," McPherson said.

Rejection of the TSx by California, the nation's largest voting-system market, could influence local elections officials from Utah, Mississippi and Ohio, home of Diebold corporate headquarters, where dozens of counties are poised to purchase the latest Diebold touch screens. State elections officials in Ohio say they still have confidence in the machines.

But McPherson's decision did send California counties from San Diego to Alameda to Humboldt hunting for potential alternatives to their plans to use the TSx.


Elections officials and voting activists said they had never heard of more extensive testing for a single voting system, outside of an actual election. Kim Alexander, president of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation, said McPherson deserves credit for ordering rigorous testing.

"It's the first ever conducted in the state and, to my knowledge, in the country that simulated a real-world experience with these machines in a voting booth," she said.

Ordinarily, states and the National Association of State Elections Directors approve voting systems after labs hired by the manufacturers perform tests on a handful of machines. The Diebold TSx managed to get through those tests — twice. But none of the testing standards addresses printers on electronic voting machines, even though more than 20 states either require a so-called paper trail or are debating such a requirement. (full story)

When a governor shouldn't moonlight

Time, July 18, 2005


Nobody can buy me," California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger boasted last week at Yahoo!'s headquarters in Silicon Valley.

Just two days later, the wealthy Republican -- who campaigned on his self-proclaimed independence from special interests, and forgoes his $175,000 state salary -- was trying hard to prove it after the Sacramento Bee reported that he had accepted a mondo free-lance gig from a muscle-magazine publisher.

According to documents filed with the SEC, just days before taking office in 2003, Schwarzenegger signed a five-year consulting deal, worth at least $1 million annually, with a subsidiary of American Media Inc., publisher of Muscle & Fitness and Flex.


But after a couple of days of attacks, he announced he would sever ties with the magazines.

"I don't want there to be any question or doubt that the people have my full devotion," he said in a statement.

It remains to be seen whether the people of California harbor such doubts; his approval ratings have already plummeted to 37%, down from 57% a year ago.

"A lot of voters were looking to him to be their hero," says Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. Now he's looking dangerously like a politician. (full story)

California's Never-Ending Election Cycle Takes Toll On Voters News, July 9, 2005


Is there such a thing as too much democracy?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's determination to get a tighter grip on the state budget and reshape a Legislature known for its political extremes will send California voters to the polls for the fourth statewide election in two years.

The collateral damage might be voters themselves.

The cavalcade of candidates and ballot propositions -- dating to the October 2003 election that put Schwarzenegger in office -- has left many weary of all that goes with them.

In short, "People are tired," said Trudy Schafer, a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters of California.

To many voters, "There is a never-ending campaign," said Democratic consultant Kam Kuwata, who has advised Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn. "People scratch their heads and say, 'Why are we doing this?"'

Polls have revealed as much. Voters are in a cranky mood, with most viewing Schwarzenegger's special election as unnecessary, according to a May survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.


"Confusion about issues on the ballot is a considerable barrier for voters in the state," said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, an advocacy group. "My fear is people who are burned out may choose to sit home." Californians have long prized their system of direct democracy, in which any group that collects enough signatures can place a proposal on the ballot. At least 86 initiatives were proposed this year -- a record -- although most never qualify for the ballot.

But at times it can seem like too much.

What have voters been through? Schwarzenegger barely finished the oath of office in November 2003 before the presidential election kicked into gear. There was a spring 2004 primary, followed by the November election, in which voters had to wade through a list of candidates for president, U.S. Senate, the state Legislature and 16 ballot questions that touched on issues ranging from slot machines to DNA databases.

Then there were local elections. Los Angeles residents, for example, had a primary and runoff election for mayor this year. That means a voter could have been to the polls five times since October 2003, or an average of about once every four months.

Beyond possible voter fatigue, the state's perpetual election cycle has led to resentment about the expense -- the November special election is projected to cost taxpayers more than $50 million.(full story)

Activists rip Diebold voting units

San Diego Union-Tribune, June 17, 2005


Scores of activists urged a state advisory panel yesterday to reject a bid by Diebold Elections Systems Inc. to win approval for use of voting machines that were decertified last year.

Diebold is the maker of a $31 million touch screen voting system that malfunctioned in San Diego County during the March 2004 primary, causing more than one-third of polling places to open late.

"Diebold has a checkered past in this state, and that alarms many activists," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "That's why this room is packed today."

Activists testified yesterday at an informational meeting of the Voting Systems and Procedures Panel at the Secretary of State's headquarters office, frequently booing, clapping and cheering various speakers.

Many of them had the same message: Diebold lacks credibility.


Last year, then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned San Diego and three other counties from using the Diebold machines for the fall general election. He gave counties using electronic voting technology until November 2006 to develop a system that produces a paper trail.

Since then, the company has worked on improvements and submitted the new system for state and federal tests.

This month, a staff report released by the Secretary of State's office recommended approval of the system, saying that it had performed accurately.(full story)

State likely to overlook Diebold flaws

Alameda Newspaper Group, June 10, 2005


In less than a week, state officials are poised to approve a new Diebold electronic-voting system that several large counties, including Alameda, want to use.

But the system showed problems in security, protection of voter privacy and printing of a paper trail during testing this spring.

State elections authorities have obscured the full nature of those problems by blacking out parts of test reports that have been released under the state Public Records Act and declaring other documents too full of Diebold "trade secrets" for public release.

During tests in late April and early May, a chief feature of Diebold's new computerized voting machine — the ability to print out voters' electronic choices so they could be verified and, if needed, recounted — performed so poorly that the state's testing consultant concluded "this version is not ready for use in an election."

Assistant Secretary of State Brad Clark, a former Alameda County registrar, said Thursday that those problems have been fixed, and the Diebold system desired by county elections officials is ready for state consideration.

A panel advising Secretary of State Bruce McPherson is to vote on approval of the new Diebold touch-screen voting system next week.


Before applying to California for approval, voting-system makers are required by state election rules to get their machines through lab tests and federal approval, then draw up procedural and training manuals for using them. None of this was done in October 2003, and none of it was done before Diebold applied for approval again in March.

"We're going through the same kind of scenario, not only from Diebold but from the (Secretary of State's) elections division," said Jody Holder, a voting activist who unearthed reports on state tests of the new Diebold machines and e-mails between the state and Diebold through a public-records request. "You can see from the e-mails between them that they're bending over backwards."

"There's a sense of deja vu in this rush," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Davis. (full story)

Smoothing the Way to the Polls

Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2005


Voter apathy? It's just not that simple. For nearly a year now, I've been overseeing a nonpartisan voter education and mobilization program in low income L.A. communities where voter turnout is lowest. I've learned that what some people call "voter apathy" is a misnomer that masks a whole range of problems and discontents.

As the director of LibertyVote!, I work with about a dozen community organizations in Pico-Union, downtown Los Angeles, South L.A., Boyle Heights and Pacoima. A recent survey of California voters by the California Voter Foundation reinforces much of what I've learned from working with these groups. The survey found that the main reason why infrequent voters don't go to the polls is because they're "too busy." More than half of infrequent voters and nonvoters in California work more than 40 hours a week; 16% of infrequent voters work more than 50 hours a week.

What I saw in the November elections and again this past March made clear to me that many prospective but infrequent voters don't know that their employers are obliged to give them time off to vote or they don't exercise this right for fear it would jeopardize their jobs. Nor do most of them know about absentee ballots or how to get one, according to the survey.(full story)

State to join ballot probe

Los Angeles Daily News, March 17, 2005


The California Secretary of State's Office announced Wednesday that it will investigate why City Clerk Frank Martinez changed the software on the voting system used in Los Angeles' mayoral primary without state approval -- one of several steps he took that slowed the count and raised questions about the integrity of the process.

Martinez said he ordered a change in computer code in the scanner that "reads" InkaVote ballots in order to reduce uncertainty in what was anticipated to be an extremely close race. And on election night, he ordered workers to hand-sort the ballots and re-ink thousands of votes that might be too faint to scan.

But the change was made without getting the required approval of state officials, said Secretary of State's Office spokeswoman Caren Daniels-Meade.

"I'm really surprised to hear this," she said. "We were not alerted to any changes. We did not approve any changes.

"There is a provision in the elections code that says no change or modification to a voting system that has been previously certified can happen without written notification to the Secretary of State. We'll obviously be contacting (election officials) to determine if there indeed was a modification without our knowledge."

Martinez, who has been criticized for not telling the candidates or allowing independent observers to watch the over-writing of ballots, said his office tested the new InkaVote system about a month before the March 8 primary and required a change in computer software telling the system to proceed to the next ballot. He thought the change was so minor it did not need to be approved by the state.


Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said the fact that the city clerk made a change in the software before the election isn't evidence that "someone tried to cheat."

"Whether it's illegal to do that depends on whether the city has to follow state law that only certified election equipment be used."(full story)

Apathy wins!

Los Angeles Daily News, March 10, 2005


Nearly three-fourths of Los Angeles' 1.47 million registered voters sat out Tuesday's mayoral election, allowing Antonio Villaraigosa to make the runoff with the backing of 8 percent of those eligible to vote and James Hahn with just 6 percent.

The dismal turnout - 100,000 fewer voters than in 2001 - allowed Hahn to come in second with less than 90,000 votes and left pundits and politicians grappling Wednesday with this question: Did the Hahn campaign successfully suppress the vote with its negative attack ads and other tactics, or are the city's voters so apathetic that they just don't care?

"In a sense, we get the democracy we deserve," said Tom Hollihan, a professor and associate dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.

"It's a real tragedy citizens don't get engaged. We proclaim we're building democracy in the Middle East and show so little regard for it here."


Academics, voter organizations and political observers said voters across the nation are becoming passive and making excuses for not voting - a form of civic victimization winning out over civic responsibility.

The California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in Davis, just concluded a survey of statewide voter behavior that confirmed Los Angeles County leading the way in voters giving self-interested reasons for not going to the polls.

The No. 1 reason: "Too busy."

Kim Alexander, the foundation's president, said those who don't vote at all or infrequently say they've grown cynical that special interests control local politics even as they often might express shame for not casting a ballot.

"Two-thirds (of those surveyed) said one reason they don't vote in every election is because they believe politics is controlled by special interests. That is a widely held perception across the state," she said. "More and more voters are responding to that perception not with outrage, but with apathy.

"I think people feel powerless in the political process. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - if you tell people over and over again they're powerless, they believe it and use it as an excuse for apathy."(full story)

Schwarzenegger and Common Cause: Strange bedfellows?

San Jose Mercury News, February 20, 2005


When California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nabbed an endorsement from Common Cause for his plan to redraw political district lines, some Democrats and open-government activists were dismayed.

How could the respected good government group sign on with a governor who's been criticized for his supercharged fund-raising? Why was Common Cause embracing a plan that's picked up little or no backing from other nonprofit groups?

"Common Cause is star-struck and so they're lending the governor their brand," said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica-based consumer group that's among Schwarzenegger's chief critics. "They've given him more credibility than he deserves for a plan that is clearly a power grab."


"The tricky thing for groups that have long worked on redistricting is that, in principle, many of the groups agree with the governor's objectives," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "But the particular plan that he's outlined for how he wants to meet those objectives is problematic for some of those folks."

Common Cause officials said they had no problem joining with Schwarzenegger, even though not everything he does is to their liking. The group's California chapter is even considering submitting a friend of the court brief to support the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, which is being sued by allies of the governor who want him to be able to raise unlimited amounts of money for ballot initiatives.(full story)

Campaign limits may be doing harm, some say

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 13, 2005


JEFFERSON CITY - Ten years after state voters imposed strict limits on campaign contributions, some elected officials say the system is doing more harm than good.

Instead of stemming the influence of special interests, they say, it has prompted rich donors to find creative ways to give. Millions of dollars are funneled through business subsidiaries and political party committees, making it nearly impossible to trace a contribution's origin.


Bills filed so far don't address the poor quality of Missouri's campaign finance database, run by the Missouri Ethics Commission. A national study last fall gave Missouri an F for the data's usability.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that legislators can still file paper reports. Their reports are scanned into a computer and the images can be called up, one page at a time, on the commission's Web site, if it isn't on the blink.

The national study said that process "doesn't work well for all site visitors." Overall, Missouri got a C-minus for campaign disclosure, up from D last year. The grade improved because the ethics commission added a search engine that allows some limited searches of records in statewide races.

The national study was conducted by the Campaign Disclosure Project, a collaboration of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law.(full story)

Key task for appointee will be voting machines

San Francisco Chronicle, February 12, 2005


Sacramento -- If Bruce McPherson is confirmed to replace Kevin Shelley as secretary of state, one of his first and most urgent tasks will be to carry out voting machine reforms championed by his predecessor.

Under state law, California has until January 2006 to ensure its electronic voting systems can produce a paper record of voters' ballot box choices, which voters can review and confirm. Shelley was an early and aggressive champion of the idea, saying it would create a transparent and certifiable system giving voters confidence that their choices were accurately recorded.

Yet while some counties, such as San Francisco, already use paper systems that comply with the standard, and others have secured electronic systems that will do so eventually, others lag behind. And some local elections officials continue to resist the mandate.

Another impending deadline will require every polling place in the state to have at least one booth that disabled people can use without needing assistance, so they can vote in private.


But the money has yet to be disbursed to local officials, and the work is expected to take some time, registrars and election experts said Friday. If the deadline is not met, then the state could face lawsuits from voter interest groups.

"It's not a lot of time, and we have a lot of work to do," said Kim Alexander, the president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

What is more, county and state election officials say there is no system currently certified and available that will comply with both the paper trail requirement and all other state laws to accommodate independent voters and non- English speakers. The one system currently certified by the secretary of state, county registrars say, does not have technology qualified by the federal government to handle decline-to-state voters who are allowed to vote in partisan primaries and does not print in languages other than English and Spanish.(full story)


Allegations Lead to Rising Star's Fall

Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2005


SACRAMENTO — Though his wide grin belied a furious temper, Kevin Shelley — son of a congressman and protege of a political legend — had been the darling of San Francisco Democrats until his future swerved out of control.

In a year, accolades that Shelley earned for smoothly steering the first election to recall a California governor were overtaken by accusations that he broke laws, berated employees and ran a sloppy office as secretary of state.

The allegations pushed Shelley to step down Friday while continuing to deny any intentional wrongdoing.

In the end, despite his political lineage and the initial support of his party, Shelley stood largely alone. His well-known volatility had driven away colleagues who might have otherwise backed him. And fellow Democrats sent a clear message when they shook hands with Republicans over ground rules for a pending legislative inquiry: No pains would be taken to protect Shelley from tough questions under oath.


He jumped into the national debate over the nation's next generation of voting equipment. He banned California's counties from buying touch-screen voting computers unless they included paper receipts so voters could check the accuracy of their ballots. Other states soon followed his lead.

"I think the debate has shifted quite a bit, and I think Kevin Shelley is in large part responsible for that," said Kim Alexander, founder of the California Voter Foundation. "He was the first secretary of state in the nation where electronic voting has been introduced to say we need to have a voter-verified paper record."(full story)

Kevin Shelley resigns

San Jose Mercury News, February 4, 2005


SACRAMENTO - With a his voice cracking, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley announced late Friday that he will resign March 1, amid allegations that he mishandled federal voting funds, ran his office as a spoils system and verbally abused employees.

Standing in front of his family's San Francisco home, Democrat Shelley, 49, said he could no longer function effectively after six months of controversy. By stepping down, he clears the way for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to appoint a caretaker for the $131,250-a-year post .

Shelley personally apologized to people he has hurt with his explosive temper, but insisted that various investigations would ultimately conclude he has not broken the law.

``While I have made errors that I deeply regret, I have never, ever done so with the intent of subverting the law or benefiting myself,'' Shelley said. ``Throughout my life I have always tried to do what's right. That is what my father taught me, and what I try to teach my sons. ... I know I have done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law.''


After serving in the state Assembly, where he championed nursing home reform and other liberal causes, Shelley was elected Secretary of State in 2002. He won praise for his handling of the 2003 recall elections and his crusade to ensure the security of electronic voting.

``While serious questions remain about his management practices, there is no question that Kevin Shelley provided much-needed leadership to reform California's voting systems at a crucial point in the modernization process,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.(full story)

State OKs e-vote printer

The Press-Enterprise, January 22, 2005


Secretary of State Kevin Shelley approved a voting-system printer Friday that will allow San Bernardino County residents to view a paper record of their ballot while casting their votes electronically on a touch-screen machine.

The decision to certify the devices will make San Bernardino County one of the first counties in the state to attach printers to touch-screen machines that Shelley argued last year were vulnerable to fraud. The same company, Sequoia Voting Systems, hopes to get a similar device approved in a few months for Riverside County, which uses slightly older touch-screen machines.

The paper will be on a reel-to-reel printer behind glass next to the touch screen - allowing voters to see but not touch their ballot. Proponents of the printers have argued the machines will strengthen the security of the systems and boost voters' confidence in electronic voting. Opponents have criticized the machines as costly and redundant.


Riverside County's Board of Supervisors also might ask the Legislature to repeal the law or modify it to allow counties to install printers on some but not all machines, Dunmore said.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said the printers are a step in the right direction, and Riverside County is unlikely to get the law changed.

"Riverside is in a tough position, because they were the first county in California to go all touch-screen," said Alexander, who has questioned the integrity of electronic voting. "Making changes may be more difficult, but they need to come along with what the rest of the state is doing in implementing reforms."(full story)

Scene Set for Ballot Battles

Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2005


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to call a special election has produced a potent side effect: Scores of groups are preparing for bitter ideological fights over abortion, illegal immigration, prescription drugs and a host of other contentious subjects.

This normally would be a dormant year for electoral politics. But Schwarzenegger said he wanted voters to decide quickly on his government reforms, meaning an election this fall.

That has sent political consultants, lawyers, fundraisers and lawmakers scurrying to put their own issues before the voters — only months after voters swallowed a near-record number of initiatives.

"It could be an ugly ballot all over again, when everyone thought they were going to catch their breath," said Fred Main, a prominent business lobbyist in Sacramento.

Social conservatives say they already have collected more than a third of the signatures needed for an initiative requiring parents to be notified when their teenage daughter seeks an abortion. Another initiative being circulated would ban services such as driver's licenses and college tuition grants to illegal immigrants.

Liberals have their own agenda for the ballot. Initiatives are being prepared on securing cheaper prescription drugs, raising the minimum wage and protecting used car buyers from unscrupulous dealers — all born out of legislation that Schwarzenegger vetoed last year.


At some point, political analysts said, the system begins to strain and voter attention gets diluted at the very moment when they should be paying attention.

"The more frequently you ask people to vote, the more likely it is people will lose their incentive to vote," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "That said, I also think our governor has shown himself to be very effective in motivating people to care about issues that typically voters wouldn't care about."

The governor's office is not particularly worried about a crowded ballot. Voters, after all, agreed with Schwarzenegger on 11 out of 14 propositions that he took stands on last November.(full story)

Electronic Voting 1.0, and No Time to Upgrade

New York Times, November 28, 2004


I trust computers. When I first used A.T.M.'s, nearly 30 years ago, I carefully saved receipts in a folder and matched them with the bank's monthly statement. Now I sometimes stuff the receipts in my wallet, but I almost never look at them again. The only banking error I've encountered in all those years was when a human teller left a final zero off a deposit I had made.

I still pore over credit card statements, but mainly to see whether some person, not some machine, has issued the proper refund credit or made an improper charge. I've sent e-mail messages to the wrong people by mistyping an address or hitting the oh-so-dangerous "Reply All" button, but never because the system routes it where it shouldn't go. When I travel, I assume that the e-ticket I booked through my computer will be valid and that frequent-flier miles will show up in my account.

Yet when I went to my polling place in Washington on Election Day, I waited an extra half-hour in line to cast a paper ballot, instead of using the computerized touch-screen voting machine. Am I irrational? Perhaps, but this would not be the evidence.

A columnist in The Washington Post recently suggested that nostalgia for paper ballots, in today's reliably computerized world, must reflect a Luddite disdain for technology in general or an Oliver Stone-style paranoia about the schemings of the political world.

Not at all. It can also arise from a clear understanding of how computers work - and don't. The more you know about the operations of today's widely trusted commercial computer networks, the more concerned you become about most electronic-voting systems.


An inherently untrustworthy voting system might not be the worst distortion in modern politics. My nominee for that honor would be the structure of the United States Senate, where each state has two votes. When it was set up, there was a nine-to-one imbalance in voting population between the largest state, Virginia, and the smallest, Delaware. (Counting slaves, Virginia's edge increased to 12 to 1.) Now it's nearly 70 to 1 (California versus Wyoming), making the Senate our own equivalent of the United Nations General Assembly as a forum for overrepresented small states.

But the spread of voting systems that further erode Americans' faith in their democracy is serious enough. And while the Senate isn't going to change anytime soon, electronic systems can change - and, for the sake of credible democracy, must change - before we choose another president. Extensive discussions are under way at sites like,, and the "news for nerds" forum about inexpensive, practical ways to make automated voting as reliable as, say, buying books online. Their recommendations make sense. But you don't have to trust my opinion. Read them and see.(full story)

Skepticism spawns broad effort to push voting reform

San Francisco Chronicle, November 28, 2004


The 2004 election -- arguably the most scrutinized ever held in the United States -- has spotlighted problems with the voting process that are decades old and long overlooked.

Voter intimidation, disenfranchisement, fairness, partisanship of election officials and several other issues are getting the most attention in Ohio, where two lawsuits were filed Friday contesting the counting of provisional ballots and the overall results. But it is citizen groups and individual voters rather than political candidates or parties that are demanding that the problems be addressed.

This lack of trust in the voting system, experts say, has spawned a dynamic voting reform movement with citizens inspecting the election process at nearly every level.


"Florida (in 2000) was a wakeup call to the nation on voting problems. The vote counting fiasco highlighted inaccuracies in counting procedures," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Project.

While those problems had existed previously and drawn the focus of voting rights group, they did not rise to the critical level where the general public might get interested until a presidential election was affected, she said.(full story)

State lauded for its campaign finance reporting

Tri-City Herald, November 28, 2004


Washington once again is being hailed for the sunshine it sheds on the money used to influence its political process.

Political watchdog groups in recent years have ranked Washington at or near the top of a series of lists judging states' disclosure requirements for reporting lobbyist activity and candidates' financial interests, while making both readily available to the public.

They've also lauded the state specifically for its reporting requirements for political parties and ballot measure campaigns.

Now Washington is being ranked first in a broad study of states' systems for tracking money received and spent by political campaigns.


"Washington is setting the standard for the rest of the country," said Saskia Mills, the project's executive director. "A lot of it has to do with the strength of the state's disclosure law. That's a big part of it."


The study noted Washington still has room for improvement, suggesting ways the commission could make its Web site more user-friendly.

And rather than wait until the next reporting deadline, Mills said state law could be changed to require all large contributions to be disclosed immediately upon receipt.

But otherwise, "They really are on the cutting edge when it comes to campaign disclosure," she said.(full story)

Group cites electronic voting problems, urges reforms

San Jose Mercury News, November 18, 2004


The record use of electronic voting machines on Nov. 2 led to hundreds of voting irregularities and shows the need for higher standards, a voting rights group said Thursday.

The companies that make the electronic machines said their equipment was reliable and had relatively few problems considering the millions who cast their ballots.

The Election Verification Project reviewed nearly 900 reports of electronic voting problems on Election Day, ranging from lost votes in North Carolina to miscounted votes in Ohio and breakdowns in New Orleans that caused long lines and shut down polling places.

``The documented problems with touch screen machines, vote-counting irregularities and the fact that votes cannot be verified or recounted show us how vulnerable our democracy will be in the future when there are disputed or unclear results,'' said Kim Alexander, a project member and president of the California Voter Foundation.

The members of the verification project said they hadn't seen evidence that the problems would change the election results -- President Bush captured 60.5 million votes to Sen. John Kerry's 57.1 million. But they said the problems raised the specter of that possibility in a closer race.(full story)

Registrar accepts blame for 207,000 uncounted ballots

San Jose Mercury News, November 5, 2004


Santa Clara County Registrar Jesse Durazo on Thursday said he misjudged the resources it would take to tally ballots from the avalanche of voters in Tuesday's election and accepted responsibility for the more than 200,000 votes that remain uncounted.

He said his office was overwhelmed by high voter interest, a large number of absentee ballots and a change in law that made it easier for people to register late in the election season. With nearly a third of the county's total votes uncounted, many close contests hang in the balance, including an Assembly race and several school tax issues.


One observer attributed some of the delays to the high number of people in the county who requested paper ballots at the polls.

"Voters in Santa Clara County are more aware of computer risks than voters in other parts of the state," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which has warned of security problems with touch-screen voting.

Alexander said Santa Clara County, unlike most others with electronic systems, said it would advertise at the polls that voters had the option of using paper ballots.(full story)


Feds Issue Test Copies of E-voting Software

ComputerWorld, November 1, 2004


Federal officials last week released a set of software files submitted by five vendors of e-voting systems and voting verification tools, saying that election officials can use the code and related digital signatures to check whether the software they have bought has been modified without their knowledge.

But the so-called reference data set issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology will likely be of little use to state officials for verifying the integrity of e-voting systems being used in tomorrow's election. And the future value of the files could be limited for states that have customized their e-voting software.


But Avi Rubin, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who has criticized e-voting security controls, called the NSRL "smoke and mirrors." Rubin said that if e-voting software "is already rigged, storing the [digital signature] hashes only guarantees that the malicious code will be there if the hashes match."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, called the vendor submissions good news, but only if there are no last-minute changes to the software. "If there are technical problems with software vote counts on election night, it's possible that vendors will, as they have in the past, install patches or upgrades to get the vote count started again," she said.

Election officials will have to keep a public audit log of all software testing and installations to ensure that there's no appearance of impropriety, Alexander added.(full story)

E-voting rules likely to lead to confusion in 10 counties

San Jose Mercury News, October 28, 2004


They were supposed to make life at the ballot box easier. But with less than a week to go until Election Day, new electronic voting machines are sparking confusion and uneven sets of rules that await millions of Californians when they show up at the polls Tuesday.

If you don't want to use the new technology in Santa Clara County, poll workers will offer paper ballots as an e-voting alternative only if asked. In Napa County, you will be bumped from line and asked to wait. Until Wednesday, Merced County had planned to essentially treat voters who ask for paper ballots as suspect and subject them to a higher level of scrutiny.

The last-minute interpretations of new state rules have e-voting critics worried that Californians who have concerns about the accuracy of the machines will face unfair hurdles.

"I don't think people who want to cast paper ballots should be treated as second-class voters,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

In an effort to iron out the differences, state elections officials held a conference call Wednesday with the 10 California counties using e-voting machines and issued a new directive this week: Voters should be treated the same regardless of whether they choose electronic voting or paper ballots.(full story)

Paper Ballot Option an Unofficial Secret

LA Times, October 25, 2004


Santa Clara County poll worker Ed Cherlin thought his job was to help voters, which is why he was so offended when he was ordered not to tell people coming to the polls that they could have traditional paper ballots if they didn't trust computerized voting machines.

"I object to having the government tell me I'm not allowed to tell people about their rights," said the Cupertino resident. "It's obviously unconstitutional and nonsensical."

Like Cherlin, poll workers throughout Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties also plan to keep mum about the paper option and hand out such ballots only if voters ask for them. Critics of computerized voting machines say it shows how reluctant counties are to adhere to a state policy requiring all polling places with computerized voting booths to give voters the option of casting paper ballots.


"How we train our poll workers is that people who come into the polls are assumed to be there to vote electronically, and if they would like to vote [with paper ballots], they are required to ask," said Barbara Dunmore, Riverside County's registrar.

Bret Rowley, spokesman for the Orange County registrar, agreed.

"They're there if people ask for them," he said. "It's their choice. They need to ask for paper if they want it, or vote on the electronic system."

E-voting critics say these counties are meeting the letter of Shelley's mandate but not the spirit.

"When voters show up at a polling place, they should be given the option of voting either by paper ballot or touch screen," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which advocates voting safeguards. "I can understand why counties would want to limit the burden on poll workers. There could just simply be a sign on the polling place saying you have a right to cast a paper ballot."(full story)

America mails it in

Oakland Tribune, October 24, 2004


A growing chorus is suggesting American voters don't necessarily need to go to the polls Nov. 2 but rather elect the leader of the free world from the comfort of their own homes.

Like politics, the act of voting makes for strange bedfellows. Democrats and Republicans, every branch of the U.S. military, critics of electronic voting and elections officials who are its fiercest defenders all have found common cause in the commonest tool of democratic choice: the mail-in ballot.

Most Americans apparently don't need telling: Nationwide, elections officials are seeing a remarkable surge in voters signing up to vote by mail.


In California alone, the number of voters demanding a mail-in, absentee ballot has skyrocketed 10-fold since the 2000 election to more than 3 million, or 17.3 percent of registered voters as of late September. And the pace is accelerating. Just since the March primary, mail-in voters have doubled in Alameda and San Mateo counties. More than half of Sonoma's voters asked for absentee ballots. Thousands more are pouring in as the Oct. 26 absentee signup deadline approaches.


The nonprofit California Voter Foundation, based in Davis, urged voters in e-voting counties to cast absentee ballots or request and fill out a paper provisional ballot at the polling place.

"For myself and I hope a lot of voters in California, I would want to get my ballot on paper rather than subject my vote to secret software that can't be verified,'' said foundation president Kim Alexander.(full story)

Updated voting system concerns state officials

San Diego Union-Tribune, October 23, 2004


California may be the cradle of the modern computing industry, but its state government has a long history of computer failures, and now some worry that a new voting system will be the latest costly fiasco.

A $550 million drive to replace the punch-card voting that led to Florida's infamous "hanging chad" problem in the presidential election four years ago is off to a glitch-ridden start.


For the Nov. 2 election, 10 counties with nearly one-third of the state's registered voters will use new, paperless touch-screen voting machines that critics say create more uncertainty than security. San Diego County had such problems with its new touch-screen system in the March primary that Shelley has prohibited the county from using it in November.

The California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit group that monitors new voting technology, is urging voters in those counties to request paper ballots that can be audited if a recount is needed.

"Voters who do not want to entrust their ballots to risky, inauditable technology have a choice," said Kim Alexander, president of the Davis-based foundation.

A state law enacted this year will require a paper record or printout of all electronic votes in the future, beginning with the next primary election in June 2006.(full story)

Amid Shelley controversy, officials scramble to prepare for election

San Francisco Chronicle, October 22, 2004


Secretary of State Kevin Shelley guided California through a surprisingly trouble-free recall election last year and became a national champion to voting rights activists when he sounded the alarm about the potential for fraud and other problems using electronic voting machines.

But on the eve of this year's general election, he's been mired in scandal, accused of taking questionable campaign contributions and misusing federal election funds. The deepening controversy has paralyzed his office, leading the chairman of the nation's election oversight commission to warn that California could lose $170 million in federal election funds.


Compounding the problem is the record high number of voter registrations that have flooded the counties this year. With no money to hire additional staff and an unusually late registration deadline -- Oct. 18, just 15 days before the election -- registrars' offices are working overtime to process the documents and prepare for an election involving large numbers of people who have never voted before.

"When people are facing something they never faced before, the errors are going to go up. Why isn't he thinking of these things?" McCormack said.

While Shelley's political future may be in doubt, voting rights advocates say his crusade against faulty electronic voting machines has set a model for other secretaries of state across the country, many of whom are now moving to impose the same requirements.

"We've had challenging elections before in California, and I'm sure we will get through this challenging election," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "But whatever happens to this secretary of state, his leadership on electronic voting issues will always be part of his legacy.(full story)

Florida, Ohio Try to Avoid Vote-Count `Fiasco,' Revamp Machines

Bloomberg , October 22, 2004


Florida legislators were so determined to avoid a repeat of the disputed 2000 presidential election that they outlawed punch-card ballots the following May and had new voting machines installed throughout the state.

The first test came in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Poll workers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties shut some voting sites for five hours to start the machines and failed to retrieve hundreds of votes. It took a week to get the results.

``It was a fiasco,'' says Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, chairwoman of the nonpartisan Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition.

Similar episodes may recur across the U.S. when voters go to the polls Nov. 2 to either re-elect George W. Bush or pick Democrat John Kerry for president. Election observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, say this vote may be even harder to resolve than the 2000 presidential race, when the Supreme Court halted a Florida recount after 36 days, handing the election to Bush over Democrat Al Gore.


"Electronic voting has hardly been glitch-free,'' says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a Davis, California-based nonpartisan group that promotes the use of the Internet and other technology to strengthen the electoral system. ``It will take years, not one election cycle, to reform computerized voting and vote-counting in the U.S.''

Machines already broke down during tests in Palm Beach County, Florida. Georgia is among the states using touch-screen voting equipment that lacks printers to produce a paper trail in case a recount is needed, according to, a Washington-based voting-research group. Seventy-two percent of voters in Ohio will still use antiquated punch cards, says, which issued a report this week.

A shortage of poll workers is so acute that earlier this month the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, established by Congress with the 2002 election law, plans to spend more than $1 million to recruit people nationwide to staff sites.(full story)

Study determines why Californians don't vote

San Jose Business Journal, October 15, 2004


Too busy. That's the biggest reason millions of Californians vote infrequently or not at all, according to a first-of-its-kind study released Friday by the California Voter Foundation.

Its survey found that 28 percent of infrequent voters and 23 percent of those unregistered said they do not vote or do not register to vote because they are too busy

"This tells us that many Californians may benefit from more information about the time-saving advantages of early voting and voting by absentee ballot," says Kim Alexander, foundation president, in a written statement. "There are still a couple of days left to register to vote prior to the Oct. 18 deadline and to request an absentee ballot."(full story)

Critics: State’s e-voting touch and go

The Desert Sun , October 7, 2004


Voting rights activists are urging voters in Riverside and San Bernardino counties to cast absentee ballots in the Nov. 2 election, bypassing touch-screen voting machines they say are risky and unreliable.

The California Voter Foundation targeted Riverside, San Bernardino and eight other counties that use the electronic voting machines.

They say voters should not risk their ballots on machines that cannot be audited, have no verifiable paper record of their vote and could be susceptible to security breaches.

"Voters who do not want to entrust their ballots to risky, inauditable technology have a choice," Kim Alexander of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation said in a prepared statement. "They can reject the paperless touch- screen system and instead vote absentee using a paper ballot.".(full story)

E-voting doubts surface

San Jose Mercury News, October 5, 2004


Citing a lack of confidence in electronic voting systems, a non-partisan voting group is urging voters in Santa Clara, Alameda and eight other California counties to use absentee ballots to cast their votes next month.

"Our advice is to cast your ballots on paper,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "Every voting system needs to be protected against manipulation and error, and with an electronic system the voter has to depend 100 percent on secret software produced by private companies that can't be verified.''

The foundation said that people who want to ensure their votes are counted on Nov. 2 should vote by mail or drop off their absentee ballots at the polls on Election Day

About 30 percent of California voters live in counties that will use electronic voting systems. Santa Clara, Alameda, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino are the largest. Merced, Napa, Plumas, Shasta and Tehama also will use electronic systems."(full story)

Diebold Rep Now Runs Elections

Wired News, September 30, 2004


An influential employee of voting machine maker Diebold Election Systems left the company recently to take a job as elections manager for a California county.

Deborah Seiler, a sales representative for the beleaguered voting company, was hired a week ago and started Monday in Solano County, northeast of San Francisco in California's wine country. The position puts her second in command of elections in the county, under the registrar of voters.

The move raises eyebrows because Seiler played a role in a recent scandal involving Diebold and the county. As the Diebold sales rep, Seiler sold Solano County nearly 1,200 touch-screen machines that were not federally tested or state certified. When the state banned the machines because of Diebold's business practices, the county had to find a replacement for the machines and pay Diebold more than $400,000 to get out of its contract.


Kim Alexander, founder and president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said, "There's no doubt that Deborah Seiler is one of the most experienced in California elections. But I find it confusing that the county would hire someone who played a role in their acquisition of uncertified equipment.".(full story)

More federal lawmakers want paper records of electronic ballots

San Francisco Chronicle, September 28, 2004


Just five weeks before election day, federal legislators are increasingly casting doubt on electronic voting terminals and demanding that touchscreen computers produce paper records.

But it's unlikely that their concerns will result in reforms before Nov. 2. Many are pushing for national regulations requiring a "voter verifiable paper trail" starting in 2006 or later.

On Monday, a federal appeals court revived a lawsuit filed by Florida Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler, who is demanding that all touchscreen voting machines in Florida produce a paper record of every vote cast.

A three-judge panel in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale to reopen the case, which could affect 15 Florida counties whose electronic voting terminals do not issue paper records.


Critics say such systems expose elections to hackers, software bugs and hardware failures and cannot be accurately recounted. They are urging election officials to ban paperless machines -- and provide stacks of paper ballots instead.

"You can't go into an election without clear procedures at the outset describing how recounts will be conducted," said e-voting critic Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "The only truly meaningful recount is to recount the voter's paper record."(full story)

State's E-Vote Trust Builds Slowly

Los Angeles Times, September 27, 2004


Counties across California are preparing for another election day, as determined as ever to convert from paper to electronic voting. But because of a series of blunders in the March primary, fewer Californians will cast their ballots on touch-screen voting machines in November.

About 30% of the state's voters — 4.5 million people in 10 counties, including Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino — are expected to use electronic voting machines in November, down from about 40% in the spring.


Voter-rights advocates say they are encouraging voters in counties with electronic voting to cast absentee ballots or request paper ballots at polling places because of concerns over the new technology.

"People are totally freaked out, and for good reason," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which promotes the responsible use of voting technology. "When people vote, they want their votes to count. That's why we're going to make sure California voters know they have a right to vote on paper."

Indeed, most California voters in November will still cast ballots by filling in circles on paper ballots that will be counted by optical scanning machines.(full story)

Shelley Fires 15 Voter Consultants

Los Angeles Times, September 25, 2004


Threatened with a federal audit of California's election spending, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said Friday that he was firing 15 voter-outreach consultants to prevent the use of federal money for partisan political purposes.


Shelley said he was firing the consultants and taking other steps to assure Soaries that he would properly handle $350 million in federal Help America Vote Act funds, designed to prevent problems like those that occurred in Florida in the 2000 presidential election.


"Activity reports" from contractors released this week showed that contractors spent many hours at events with no apparent connection to voter participation.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, faulted both the state and federal governments for not exercising enough oversight of the Help America Vote Act funds.

"The way to deal with voter outreach and education is doing it in a way that is not only nonpartisan in appearance but in fact," she said.(full story)

Voting machine manufacturers answer to activists, politicians

Contra Costa Times, September 20, 2004


American voters have historically cast ballots without paying much attention to who created the contraptions that count them. As levers gave way to punch cards and optical scanners, there were intermittent outcries, but the 2000 election debacle and today's sharply polarized political climate have put voting machines under intense scrutiny.

Critics, including prominent computer scientists, have raised concerns about the vulnerability of touch-screen ballots to malfunctions and hacking. Voting-machine makers have largely been in the middle as activists and election officials wrangle over reforms, although in at least one case, that of Diebold Election Systems, a company has become a political lightning rod.


Kim Alexander, head of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation and a member of the state's touch-screen task force, is pleased by the move toward paper verification but worried by the power that machine makers wield.

"In my view, we have outsourced elections," she said. "We've placed much more responsibility onto the vendors, not only in terms of turning over our elections to 100 percent proprietary source code, but also to (handling) problems that come up" on election night. (full story)

Counties need people at the polls -- to work

Contra Costa Times, September 18, 2004


Elections officials are happy to accept the help. With six weeks to go until Election Day, Contra Costa and Alameda counties need hundreds more workers to help voters.

Contra Costa County must sign up about 675 more workers to reach the minimum 3,000 it needs, and Alameda County has about 500 fewer than its 3,100 goal, officials said.


Contra Costa's poll workers will earn between $37.50 and $125 depending on the duties and shifts. Some jobs involve navigating California's dense and ever-changing elections laws, such as new ID requirements for first-time voters.

Attendants are trained to handle "decline to state" voters, process provisional ballots, accommodate disabled voters and distribute the correct materials in consolidated precincts.

"We have heaped on layer and layer of complexity that these quasi-volunteers are expected to administer," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "Sometimes it feels like the whole system is held together by strings and duct tape." (full story)

Welcome to the Age of Consumer Politics

Mother Jones, September 9, 2004


You know the candidates. And they know a lot more about you than you might expect. This year, the Democratic and Republican parties, together with outside groups, are digging through voter rolls, census records, and consumer data for every possible scrap of information on American voters. The goal is simple: find out what people are like –- especially what they care about –- and pitch them your candidate accordingly. If it sounds like commercial marketing, that's because, for better or worse, it is like commercial marketing.


Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, who has spent the last four years researching voter privacy in the digital age, has her doubts as well. "This area of public policy has been very much hidden from the public's understanding," she says. "I know the precinct walker standing at my door knows who else lives in my household, when we were born, what party we're affiliated with, how many elections we've voted in –- I know that because I've worked in elections and campaigns. But most voters don't realize that the stranger standing at your door has a lot of personal information about them. When voters do discover how much data the campaigns have access to about them, there is often a sense of betrayal."


"It's really tricky [to control]," says Alexander, "because the people who are the biggest users [of these databases] and get the most benefit from the data, are the very politicians who regulate the use of the data." So far, she notes, state and local governments have not tried to "ensure that the data is not being re-used and abused as it makes its way down the campaign food-chain." Abuse could range from selling information contained in the database to a third party, to allowing it to influence federal hiring decisions – thus far there have been no documented cases of either.

Aside from privacy concerns, critics of the new techniques point to a broader risk to our democratic system. As Alexander and Keith Mills point out in their report Voter Privacy in the Digital Age, the idea of targeting political messages to specific groups of voters –and hence not to others – "exclusionary and inappropriate."

"The expectation is that the campaigns will inform the voters," says Alexander. "But as campaigns have become more sophisticated in their technology, they've also become better and better at targeting those who they want to reach and target out those that they do not want to reach." In other words, people who aren't voting now –- people who tend to be younger, less wealthy, less educated and more transient according to Alexander -– won't be inspired to do so in the future, thus contributing to the decline in voter turnout. (full story)

Nevada conducts smooth election on computers that keep paper records

San Francisco Chronicle, September 7, 2004


Nevada residents became the first in the nation to vote on computers that printed paper records of their electronic ballots in Tuesday's primary, which was generally free of problems that have cast doubt upon electronic voting systems in other states.


Voter advocates praised Nevada's system, which requires county registrars to randomly select a small percentage of machines -- from 1 percent to 3 percent of a county's total -- and compare printed records with the vote totals taken from computers' memory cartridges after polls close. The paper records -- which voters can see through a plastic window but cannot touch or take home -- will be kept in county election offices for 22 months and used in case of a recount.

"It's no panacea, but it's a huge improvement over paperless systems because there will be a paper record of every electronic ballot," said Kim Alexander, president of Davis, Calif.-based California Voter Foundation. (full story)

Lost E-Votes Could Flip Napa Race

Wired News, March 12, 2004

Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit voter education organization, said the county was lucky that the problem occurred on a system with a paper trail.

"If the problem had occurred with their electronic ballots or with the tabulation software (that sits on the county server) they would have been hard pressed to reconstruct their election," she said. "Or they might not have ever known there was a problem at all. If they were doing the manual count on the electronic ballots there would be no record to look at to determine what the accurate vote count should be."

She added California is "one of a few if not the only state" that requires a hand count.

"The reason we have the manual-count verification is precisely because technology is not always reliable. There have been many instances like this where the manual count has been instrumental in flagging a vote counting problem," she said. (full story)

7,000 Orange County Voters Were Given Bad Ballots

Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2004

“Elections system analyst Kim Alexander said Orange County's experience is alarming. 'We shouldn't end every election praying for wide margins,' said Alexander, whose organization, California Voter Foundation, encouraged voters in the days before the March 2 election to vote by absentee ballot rather than use the new electronic systems used by 17 California counties. 'Certainly this kind of problem that's occurred in Orange County doesn't do anything to contribute to greater confidence in electronic voting systems.'” (full story)

E-voting not living up to campaign promises

The Argus, March 7, 2004

“'Certification is the last line of defense,' Alexander said. The tests and approvals are especially valuable when electronic voting systems offer no paper backup records to assure voters and elections officials of accurate vote recording. 'It's not enough even if it were all happening, and it's not,' Alexander said.” (full story)

Dispute Veers to Absentee Approach

Riverside Press Enterprise, February 20, 2004

“Escalating a dispute over the reliability of touch-screen voting machines, a non-partisan election group Thursday urged voters in Riverside, San Bernardino and several other counties to obtain absentee ballots for the March 2 election.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said counties have done too little to ensure the accuracy of electronic voting, though more counties than ever will use the technology next month. Thursday's warning was the first by the decade-old organization, which works to increase voter participation. 'If people are not confident that an election is secure, they will no longer be confident of the results,' Alexander said, calling the current system 'faith-based voting.'” (full story)

E-Voting Activists: Vote Absentee

Wired News, February 20, 2004

“Activists in two states launched campaigns to urge voters to cast paper absentee ballots in their March primaries, warning that the electronic, paperless voting machines used in those states are open to fraud and may not count votes accurately. The California Voter Foundation , a nonprofit, nonpartisan voter education organization, and the Campaign for Verifiable Voting , a Maryland citizens group, cited concerns about insecurities of the electronic voting systems and the lack of paper audit trails to assure voters that their ballots are cast and counted.” (full story)

November 23, 2003 -- Michigan Democrats get to vote online in caucus
Nedra Pickler, Associated Press

The Michigan Democratic Party's plan to allow Internet voting in its presidential caucus won approval Saturday from national Democrats. Foes of the plan said online balloting is not secure and discriminates against poor and minority voters who are less likely to own a computer...

For the first time, the Michigan party will allow those participating in the Feb. 7 caucus to have the option of selecting their favorite presidential candidate over the Internet, in addition to voting by mail or in person. (continued)

November 22, 2003 -- A vote for integrity
Editorial, San Jose Mercury News

A victory for voters, at last. After months of thinking through the matter, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley single-handedly advanced the integrity of the nation's electronic voting technology.

On Friday, Shelley mandated that all touch-screen voting machines in California must produce a paper version of the ballots, so that voters can verify the choices they make and election officials can have printouts for recounts in close elections. (continued)

November 21, 2003 -- E-votes must leave a paper trail
Kim Zetter, Wired News

California will become the first state requiring all electronic voting machines produce a voter-verifiable paper receipt.

The requirement, announced Friday by California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, applies to all electronic voting systems already in use as well as those currently being purchased. The machines must be retrofitted with printers to produce a receipt by 2006. (continued)

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November 21, 2003 -- California to require paper trail on e-votes
Ian Hoffman, Oakland Tribune

In a move sure to influence other states, California is headed toward letting voters double-check their electronic votes with paper records. Secretary of State Kevin Shelley is expected to announce today a timetable for California counties to offer a voter-verified paper trail as a backup to computerized voting.

Advocates called Shelley's decision "historic." They said e-voting is so vulnerable to software flaws and digital vote tampering that voters need reassurance their votes are recorded accurately. (continued)

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November 5, 2003 -- Touch-screen voting debuts
Maya Suryaraman, San Jose Mercury News

Punch-card ballots became history in Santa Clara County on Tuesday when it joined most of the rest of the state in using electronic voting machines.

While some voter advocacy groups and others worry the county's new touch-screen system could be susceptible to fraud and software bugs, voters around the county gave it a thumbs-up. (continued)

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November 5, 2003 -- E-voting runs into bumps in East Bay
Ian Hoffman, Oakland Tribune

Thousands of Alameda County voters cast ballots Tuesday on computer software that state and county elections officials say was never certified for a California election.

The same problem existed for last month's recall election. (continued)

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November 4, 2003 -- California voting machine called into question
Paul Festa, CNET

As voters in California go to the polls, the state is launching an investigation into alleged illegal tampering with electronic voting machines in a San Francisco Bay Area county.

The voting machine fracas involves Diebold Election Systems , a North Canton, Ohio-based company whose machines are in use by four of California's 58 counties--Alameda, Plumas, Riverside and Shasta--and will be used by three more next year: Kern, San Joaquin and Solano. (continued)

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October 11, 2003 -- Campaigning tab hit $80 million
Christian Berthelsen, San Francisco Chronicle

Business groups, labor unions, Indian gaming tribes and other donors spent more than $80 million in the final tally of the recall race, nearly as much as the amount spent during the entire 2002 gubernatorial general election.

The amount is all the more remarkable because it occurred during a truncated 75-day campaign. At the outset, many campaign finance experts believed the race would cost much less because there was so little time to campaign or buy television advertising. (continued)

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October 10, 2003 -- Election Workers Wrongly Evicted Journalist
Matthew Artz, Berkeley Daily Planet

Volunteer poll workers mistakenly barred a Daily Planet reporter from watching them handle data chips embedded with thousands of electronic votes shortly after the polls closed on election night.

Jesse Taylor was reporting on the election at the polling station at City Hall, but when the time came for poll workers to remove memory cards from the station’s seven electronic touch screen voting machines, the head poll worker—against state law—ordered Taylor out of the building. (continued)

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October 10, 2003 -- Despite reform talk, interest groups largely funded recall
Don Thompson, San Francisco Chronicle

Despite candidates' pledges to shake up Sacramento's power structure, California's $80 million recall election was paid for largely by the same interest groups that have contributed the bulk of campaign contributions for years, records show.

More unusual were the groups that sat out the unique election -- and that the rich candidate who spent the most personal money won after spectacular previous losses by Michael Huffington, Al Checchi, Jane Harman and others who spent millions of their personal wealth on failing campaigns. (continued)

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October 8, 2003 -- CALIFORNIA RECALL -- Voting in the 21st century
San Francisco Chronicle

California counties are replacing antiquated punch-card voting systems with newer systems. Under Proposition 41, approved in 2002, $200 million in bonds will pay for the upgrade. The older systems use a precut card that can leave "hanging chad" after a voter casts a ballot. This can result in improper vote counts. Below are systems currently used in California. (continued)

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October 8, 2003 -- Vote lawsuit continues
Darrell Smith, The Desert Sun
Susan Marie Weber will face a federal appeals panel today in Pasadena.

It’s the latest chapter in the Palm Desert woman’s three-year battle challenging the constitutionality of paperless touch-screen voting systems. (continued)

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October 7, 2003 -- Vote today ends recall chaos in California
Bob Keefe, Austin American Statesman

Only 948 new voters registered in California's San Bernardino County in June, which was not surprising because this was not supposed to be a major election year in the state. But the next month, when California's historic gubernatorial recall election had become a political reality, the number of new voters swelled by 12,323.

In August, in Santa Clara County, 6,487 more people registered to vote than had registered in August 2002, shortly before the November election in which Gov. Gray Davis (D) was reelected to a second term. (continued)

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October 7, 2003 -- High Bay Area Voter Turnout

At the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that tracks voter participation and advocates for improved voting technology, President Kim Alexander said as the polls closed Tuesday night, "No matter how the recall turns out, this election certainly has given a new bounce to the California electorate."

Alexander identified four key ingredients to voter participation: the amount of information they have about the issues; a clear idea of why they should care about what is on the ballot; confidence that their votes will make a difference; and whether they have time to vote. (continued)

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October 7, 2003 -- All eyes are on touch screens
Cory Golden, The Davis Enterprise

More important than who wins or loses today's election is citizens' confidence that their votes will be accurately counted.

That's the position of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation, which has been a leading voice in a chorus of critics of electronic voting systems that do not leave a paper trail. (continued)

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October 6, 2003 -- Tonight might not be the end of election
Troy Anderson, Los Angeles Daily News

With absentee ballots flooding into Los Angeles County and state election offices, experts said Monday that, if the recall vote is close, it may take several days before the outcome is clear.

The large number of absentee ballots also could complicate recount efforts. And some are warning a recount could be virtually impossible because of the widespread use of touch-screen voting machines that don't offer paper receipts. (continued)

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October 6, 2003 -- New Voters Are Calif. Recall's Great Unknown
Edward Walsh, Washington Post

Only 948 new voters registered in California's San Bernardino County in June, which was not surprising because this was not supposed to be a major election year in the state. But the next month, when California's historic gubernatorial recall election had become a political reality, the number of new voters swelled by 12,323.

In August, in Santa Clara County, 6,487 more people registered to vote than had registered in August 2002, shortly before the November election in which Gov. Gray Davis (D) was reelected to a second term. (continued)

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October 5, 2003 -- A 'simple ballot'. .. or 'incredibly complex'?
Patrick McMahon, USA Today

California voters are being asked only four questions in Tuesday's election, but in some counties they'll have to wade through a ballot eight pages long in order to vote. In other counties, the ballot is only one page, but it's as long as a face towel.

The lengthy ballot has two questions about the recall. First is yes or no on whether to recall Gov. Gray Davis. No matter how a person votes on that question, he or she can then select one of the 135 candidates listed as potential replacements for Davis. (continued)

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October 3, 2003 -- Recount procedures questioned in California election
Rachel Konrad, Associated Press

Political activists are planning to scrutinize punch-card ballot results in California's historic recall election, raising the likelihood of a recount if the outcome is close.

But some computer scientists fear more trouble with electronic ballots. With almost one in 10 registered voters using touch-screen machines that don't automatically produce paper printouts, they say a legitimate recount would prove impossible. (continued)

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September 29, 2003 -- Recall, ready or not
Troy Anderson, U.S. Los Angeles Daily News

With heavy turnout projected and a record 135 candidates on the jumbled Oct. 7 recall ballot, Los Angeles County officials are taking unprecedented steps to ensure the success of this historic election.

Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack plans to post a "greeter" at each polling location, double the normal staffing at each site and triple the number of troubleshooters out in the field. (continued)

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September 29, 2003 -- Will computers fix the vote?
Kenneth Terrell, U.S. News & World Report

Counting a vote just doesn't sound that hard. But ever since the 2000 Florida recount with its disputes over hanging chads, voting technology has been the focus of fierce debate. It resurged last week when a federal court panel delayed the California recall election, fearing that punch-card ballots could disenfranchise as many as 40,000 voters. The panel, whose decision is being appealed, wants to wait until computerized voting machines are in place statewide. (continued)

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September 27, 2003 -- Report critical of Diebold system
John Russell and Erika D. Smith, The Beacon Journal

Diebold Inc.'s touch-screen voting system carries a ``high risk of compromise'' by computer hackers and untrained poll workers who could damage the accuracy of election results, an independent report prepared for Maryland has found.

But state officials said the weaknesses can be corrected before its March 2004 primary election, and Maryland is going ahead with statewide installation of the machines. (continued)

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September 26, 2003 -- Yolo deluged with absentee ballots
Elisabeth Sherwin, Davis Enterprise

Freddie Oakley, Yolo County clerk, said the results of absentee voting -- which could represent 40 percent of the votes cast locally in the Oct. 7 election -- could be displayed 10 minutes after the polls close.

Oakley said 25 percent of all Yolo County voters are permanent absentee voters, people who vote by mail. (continued)

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September 24, 2003 -- The Past and Future Fraud
Matt Smith, SF Weekly

Civil rights advocates, partisan Democrats, and liberal academics are pleased with the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that delayed the Oct. 7 recall. They concur with the panel's ruling that the punch-card balloting system used by 44 percent of California voters is so outdated and unfair that it would disenfranchise an important number of voters if used next month. Right-wing radio talk show hosts, pro-recall zealots, and partisan Republicans are furious with the court's decision. They criticize its political overtones and believe postponing the election would cheat Californians wishing to vote on the recall. (continued)

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September 24, 2003 -- Court reinstates Oct. 7 recall vote
Jim Sams and Darrell Smith, The Desert Sun

In a stunning double reverse, a federal appeals court Tuesday unanimously put California’s recall election back on track for Oct. 7.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which had sought a postponement due to the error rates associated with punch-card voting, said it would not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ACLU’s decision removed the final legal roadblock to the recall and set up a 14-day sprint among the candidates in the historic election to remove Gov. Gray Davis. (continued)

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September 24, 2003 -- Quiet Cash Playing Large Role
Dan Morain and Jeffrey L. Rabin, Los Angeles Times

As candidates stump for votes in the recall race, moneyed interests are waging freewheeling parallel campaigns largely beyond public scrutiny.

Unfettered by caps on contributions or spending that apply to candidates, Indian tribes, labor unions, conservative Christians and Planned Parenthood have infused independent expenditure committees with $5 million and used $3.7 million of it in support of their preferred candidates and causes. (continued)

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September 21, 2003 -- New voting technology is questioned
Finn Bullers, The Kansas City Star

A growing national debate threatens to undermine efforts to replace older voting technology, such as the punch card system that is at the heart of California's current election standoff.

In California, a panel of federal appellate judges has ruled that there are “inherent defects” in the older voting systems and that they could be overwhelmed by the large number of candidates on the state's recall ballot. Last week the court agreed to reconsider the case. Arguments are scheduled for Monday. (continued)

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September 21, 2003 -- Sun, Quakes - and Ballot Initiatives
Bobby Caina Calvan, Globe Correspondent

For nearly a century, California's ballot initiative process has been a part of public life, producing jolts on the political landscape as big as any fabled earthquake.

From tax revolts to school funding, from term limits to three-strikes sentencing, and from smoking bans to legalized marijuana, the ballot box has been a potent tool for direct-democracy advocates seeking to shape public policy. The historic recall initiative against Governor Gray Davis is only the latest jolt to shake things up in a state accustomed to topsy-turvy politics. "Whether you love it or hate it, the initiative process is a part of life in California," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. "There have been a lot of initiatives that have fundamentally altered the political landscape in California and the way we live as Californians." (continued)

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September 17, 2003 -- Authorities on voting dispute punch-card issue
Charles Burress, San Francisco Chronicle

Punch-card voting may cause more errors on California ballots than other systems, but experts clashed Tuesday over just how serious the problem is.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Monday that the punch cards used by nearly half the state's voters made it impossible to hold a fair election and called for a delay in the Oct. 7 recall balloting. (continued)

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September 17, 2003 -- California revisits US election nightmare
The Sydney Morning Herald

It was once the very symbol of modern, efficient, impersonal technology. But in the past three years the punch card has become synonymous with something else - electoral mischief.

In a ruling on Monday to postpone California's recall election, a United States Federal Appeals Court revisited some of the same concerns about punch-card ballots that threw the 2000 presidential election into chaos. (continued)

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September 17, 2003 -- Critics fear electronic systems are no better than punch cards
David Whelan, Contra Costa Times

A day after a federal appeals court ruled that the California recall election must be postponed, some critics assailed the judges' assumption that newer digital voting machines are more fair or effective than older punch-card ones.

While punch-card machines may allow "overvoting" errors, in which extra broken chads void a ballot, their electronic counterparts can be prone to other problems, including hacking, electronic malfunctions, and the fact that they leave no paper trail that can be used during a recount. (continued)

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September 16, 2003 -- Counties pushing punch cards into extinction
Alan Gathright, John Wildermuth, Chronicle Political Writers

The handful of California counties still using two controversial punch- card voting systems will have no trouble converting to a new balloting method by next March, satisfying a federal court's concern about the state's recall election.

A 2002 court decision already required nine counties, including Santa Clara, Solano, Sacramento and Los Angeles, to dump their Votomatic and Pollstar systems and find another way to count ballots by next year. While six counties aren't there yet, they're close, local election officials said Monday. (continued)

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September 15, 2003 -- Transcript of CNN interview

Stanford computer science professor David Dill and CVF President Kim Alexander both appeared on the CNN program, "Next @ CNN". (transcript)

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September 15, 2003 -- High-Tech Voting
Spencer Michels, PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

In the California recall case, the American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued that the state's voting machines are prone to error. Spencer Michels reports on the computer system that will replace punch cards during the next election. (continued)

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September 15, 2003 -- California -- Another Florida?
William Welsh, Washington Technology

California's monumental task of staging a short-notice, special recall election has some experts using the dreaded "F" word: Florida.

The effort to recall California Gov. Gray Davis before his term expires has caught many of the state's 58 counties off balance. They're in the midst of trying to replace outdated punch-card voting methods with more modern equipment, such as touch-screen systems. (continued)

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September 12, 2003 -- Legality of faxing ballots adds to confusion
Sandy Kleffman and Dogen Hannah, Contra Costa Times

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley scrambled Thursday to determine the legality of overseas troops casting recall ballots by fax -- even as some counties allowed the unusual practice.

Registrars from three counties confirmed to the Times that some of their colleagues said during a conference call Wednesday they were permitting such voting. (continued)

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September 10, 2003 -- E-Voting Blunder Creates a Stir
Associated Press

The strange case of an election tally that appears to have popped up on the Internet hours before polls closed is casting new doubts about the trustworthiness of electronic voting machines.

During San Luis Obispo County's March 2002 primary, absentee vote tallies were apparently sent to an Internet site operated by Diebold Election Systems, the maker of the voting machines used in the election. (continued)

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September 7, 2003 -- Voting devices' security at issue
Clint Swett, The Sacramento Bee

As election officials rush to prep new electronic voting machines for the Oct. 7 recall, some computer security experts are raising alarms over what they see as the devices' potential for permitting electoral fraud.

At issue are touch-screen computers that will be used next month in Shasta, Alameda, Plumas and Riverside counties, which account for about 9 percent of all votes cast in the state. (continued)

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August 26, 2003 -- Recall Update: Counties Prepare for Deluge of Ballots
Scott Shafer, The California Report

With the recall election just six weeks away, county elections officials around the state are rushing to get ready. Just a few months ago, few would have predicted an October special election, and now many counties are caught in the middle of a transition from older voting systems to new voting technologies.

Listen (Realpayer required)

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August 13, 2003 -- Think Fla. in Calif. gov vote
Helen Kennedy, New York Daily News

California is going to make Florida 2000 look sane.

Some 247 people - actors, golf pros, porn stars, random flakes and a couple of pols who couldn't make it in a real election - filed to be on the gubernatorial recall ballot, ensuring monster headaches and widespread chaos on Election Day. {BT}The result won't be known for days after the Oct. 7 voting, as election officials will have to count stacks of ballots by hand. And if the race is close? Almost certainly there will be lawsuits, delays and even a recount. (continued)

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August 12, 2003 -- Lottery decides order of candidates on ballot
Lynda Gledhill, San Francisco Chronicle

California's Secretary of State redefined the alphabet Monday in a standard drawing designed to give candidates in the recall election an equal shot at top placement on the Oct. 7 ballot.

The first letter to be drawn was "R." Candidates whose last names begin with that letter will appear at the top of the ballot in the first state Assembly district in northwest California. (continued)

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August 12, 2003 -- Recall ballot: A mess in the making?
Mike Zapler, San Jose Mercury News

With California's historic recall just eight weeks away and as many as 195 candidates on the ballot, officials are warning that voters may face exceptionally long lines at the polls and that the election results may not be known Oct. 7.

Already, Orange County -- which has 1.3 million registered voters, the third highest number in the state -- doesn't expect results until the following day. Because of the long candidate list, workers there will have to hand-feed paper ballots into just three or four scanners. (continued)

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August 10, 2003 -- Election software defended
Troy Anderson, Los Angeles Daily News

Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack says she is confident that software in touch-screen voting machines being used at a few polling places in the Oct. 7 recall election isn't prone to fraud or abuse.

"The software has been rigorously tested and certified by both the state and federal government," McCormack said. (continued)

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August 4, 2003 -- Unusual ballot, flock of potential candidates baffling
Lori Aratani and Mary Anne Ostrom, San Jose Mercury News

Deotis Saunders knows the state's governor is in trouble. He's not so sure, though, how this fall's recall election is supposed to work.

"I don't listen to too much of that stuff," he said, referring to news reports on the partisan bickering over whether Democratic Gov. Gray Davis deserves to be removed. "But I will vote once I figure out what's going on."(continued)

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August 4, 2003 -- Report critical of security in vote machines
Jeff McDonald, San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego County is pushing ahead with plans to invest tens of millions of dollars in an electronic voting system despite dire warnings from experts that the technology may not be safe from ballot-rigging.

Critics say government agencies nationwide are ignoring the warnings, in part because of close relationships between elections officials and the handful of companies that manufacture voting equipment. (continued)

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August 3, 2003 -- Security disputed in touch-screen voting
Troy Anderson, L.A. Daily News

Touch-screen voting systems being installed in Los Angeles County and much of the nation are prone to tampering and fraud and pose a grave danger to democratic elections, according to computer scientists at Johns Hopkins and Rice universities.

The professors say in a report that Diebold Election Systems' software is rife with glitches that would allow unscrupulous people to cast multiple votes and tamper with election results. (continued)

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July 20, 2003 -- U.S. Expands Overseas Online Voting Experiment
Brian Faler, Washington Post

Tens of thousands of Americans across the globe will be able to vote in next year's election with just a few taps on a keyboard. But not everyone says that's a good thing.

The federal government has dramatically expanded a pilot program, inaugurated in the 2000 election, that will allow approximately 100,000 Americans overseas to cast ballots over the Internet. The program, touted as the nation's largest-ever experiment in online voting, will enable military personnel, along with some civilians, to vote on any computer equipped with a few basic components, such as Microsoft Windows software. (continued)

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July 15, 2003 -- New Voting Technology
KQED Forum with Michael Krasny

Forum looks at the growing popularity of electronic "touch screen" voting machines and debates plans to expand their use in California elections.

Host: Michael Krasny
Guests: Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
Dan Tokaji, professor of law at Ohio State University and immediate past chair of California Common Cause.

Listen to the archived program. (realplayer link)

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June 9, 2003 -- Electronic Rigging?
Kim Alexander, for

As election officials scramble to replace old, Florida-style voting systems with new, modern ones, many people are beginning to question the wisdom of entrusting our precious ballots to an entirely computerized process. These concerns are well-founded. (continued)

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June 5, 2003 -- County leaders postpone a bid for digital democracy amid fears of vote tampering
Cosmo Garvin, Sacramento News and Review

Last week, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors walked to the edge of the abyss, took a long look and then took a giant step back.

Well, that may be overly dramatizing it a bit. But the supervisors did consider a proposition many find genuinely scary--tossing out our old punch-card voting machines and replacing them with a fancy new computerized system--and decided, for now, not to go there. (continued)

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June 4, 2003 -- Touchy Subject: Ditching voting system
Jonah D. King, The Almanac

As chief elections officer in San Mateo County, Warren Slocum has been described as "an innovative leader" by a prominent voter's rights advocate and lauded by members of the county Board of Supervisors for his efforts to expose the public to alternative voting methods.

His own Web site glowingly depicts the current voting system in San Mateo County as "modern" and "state of the art," with "the fastest election results in California."

So why would Mr. Slocum want to spend $1.5 million of county taxpayer money to completely replace the existing system with one that critics have called "a threat to democracy" because they say it might be error-prone and could be manipulated to give false results? (continued)

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June 3, 2003 -- Is it safe yet?
Loren Stein, Metro News

When Santa Clara County voters head to their voting places this November, they'll be greeted by a bank of gleaming new electronic voting machines--a high-tech voting video arcade. The old punch-card system--with hanging and dimpled chads and butterfly ballots, the disastrous scenario of the 2000 presidential election--is history. (continued)

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May 22, 2003 -- Letter to the Editor
CVF President Kim Alexander, New York Times

"To Register Doubts, Press Here'' (May 15) mentioned a poll to determine the level of voter confidence in Georgia's new paperless touchscreen voting system. While it is true that Georgia voters over all expressed confidence in the new machines, there was a significant disparity. (continued)

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May 21, 2003 -- County blazes trail on new voting system
The Ukiah Daily Journal

Mendocino County will set a precedent when it replaces its old punch hole voting machines under court order along with nine other California counties and many other counties nationwide.

That's according to advocates for fair and open voting, who say the county is making history by ensuring its system will include a paper trail, something many new computerized systems lack, making voter fraud easier. (continued)

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May 6, 2003 -- Tom Elias: Back up new voting machines with paper trails
Tom Elias, Daily Breeze

So you think Florida had an election fiasco in 2000, producing a president whose legitimacy is still questioned by millions? Something far worse will almost surely strike California — and mostly likely sooner rather than later — unless counties equip the tens of thousands of new voting machines they’ll be buying within the next few months to create a paper trail backing up their digital results.

For the possibilities of corruption and fraud are mind-boggling if touch-screen voting without countable paper records becomes standard all over the state, as it already is in Riverside, Alameda and Plumas counties. (continued)

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March 6, 2003 -- Director's Note: Certainty Is Overrated
Doug Chapin, electionline Weekly

Last week's electionline Weekly described the efforts of a small but growing band of skeptics in the policy and academic community, led by Stanford computer science professor David Dill, to persuade Santa Clara County, Calif., to purchase voting equipment that produces paper receipts as a public check on their integrity.
The Santa Clara decision is seen as a test case nationally given that the county is looking to purchase touch-screen voting machines like those already in place in many other states and localities across the country. Consequently, the county's decision to pursue a middle course -- refusing to seek paper receipts in all voting machines unless the State imposes such a requirement, but authorizing a pilot receipt project on a limited basis -- was national news. (continued)

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March 3, 2003 -- Scientists question electronic voting
Henry Norr, San Francisco Chronicle

Oddly enough, Silicon Valley has been a laggard when it comes to applying the technology it's famous for to the election process. Now it's finally beginning to catch up, and it has suddenly become the locus of an overdue -- and profoundly important -- debate about the mechanics of democracy in the 21st century.

The crux of the discussion is whether Santa Clara County, the heart of the valley, should follow the lead of other jurisdictions that are moving to all- electronic voting or instead choose systems that combine the convenience of digital balloting with the auditability afforded by paper ballots.

The county supervisors last week came up with a compromise that left everyone involved a little confused but at least opened the door to future requirements for a tangible audit trail -- a major, if only partial, victory for critics of the all-electronic approach. (continued)

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February 28, 2003 --
Supervisors fail to stand against election fraud on their own
Editorial, San Jose Mercury News

Santa Clara County supervisors this week took a half-step to buying a fully trustworthy voting system when they could have taken a whole step.

In approving $20 million for touch-screen voting machines, the supervisors deferred to the secretary of state the decision of whether that system must produce a paper copy of the electronic ballots cast. The supervisors could have become the first county in California to demand it on its own. (continued)

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February 9, 2003 --
Absentee Voters Make Their Mark
By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

More than two-thirds of those who voted in the Jan. 28 special election to fill a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors did so by absentee ballot, setting a state record and offering what officials believe is a glimpse into the future.

Propelled by a new state law that makes it easier to vote without going to the polls, the campaign focused on locking up the support of absentee voters. The winner, former Assemblyman Bill Campbell, mailed absentee registration forms to 30,000 registered voters whom his research suggested would be likely to vote for him. (continued)

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(Articles appearing February, 1996 to December, 2002)

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This page was first published on August 6, 1996 | Last updated on September 19, 2015
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