FROM:   Kim Alexander
DATE:   October 3, 2003
RE:   Recall election "primer" for voters and journalists

Hi Folks,

This edition of CVF-NEWS provides a "primer" on Tuesday's historic recall election, featuring information and links on topics that voters and journalists alike will find useful.

Topics include:

* What's on the Ballot
* California Voter Registration & Turnout
* About California's Counties
* Voting Systems by County
* Where California's Voting Technology is Headed
* Big Questions as Election Day approaches

* * * * * * * * * *
* What's on the Ballot

On Tuesday, October 7 California will hold an historic recall election. Voters will have four decisions to make: 1) whether or not to recall Governor Gray Davis; 2) who should replace Davis if he is recalled; 3) whether to vote yes or no on Prop. 53, a measure that would set aside up to three percent of the state's annual budget for infrastructure spending; and 4) whether to vote yes or no on Prop 54, a measure that would limit the collection and use of information on race by state and local governments.

* * * * * * * * * *
* California Voter Registration & Turnout

California is home to 35 million people, with nearly 22 million eligible voters and 15 million registered voters.

Turnout in California elections has varied widely in recent years, anywhere from 11 million voters participating in the March 2000 Presidential Primary election, to 7.7 million participating in last November's gubernatorial election. Many are predicting a healthy turnout next Tuesday. If 75 percent of registered voters participate, expect 10-11 million people voting next week. Historic voter registration statistics are available online in the Official Statement of Vote published by the Secretary of State,

The most recent report on voter registration statistics available on line was published August 8, 2003, This report shows that 69 percent of eligible Californians are registered to vote, and of those, 44 percent are registered as Democrats, 35 percent as Republicans, nearly 16 percent are "decline-to-state" independents, and the remaining 5 percent are registered with minor political parties. The registration report also shows voter registration statistics county-by-county.

* * * * * * * * * *
* About California's Counties

Elections in California are administered at the county level, and California's 58 counties are as diverse as the state. Counties that are home to the largest numbers of voters are:

Northern California: Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma Central Valley: Fresno, Kern, Sacramento, and San Joaquin Southern California: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura.

Maps of California counties as well as a regional map of the state are available at A roster of the county election offices with links to their web sites is at

* * * * * * * * * *
* Voting Systems by County

California's counties will use four different kinds voting systems for the Recall election:

1. Optical scan - 34 counties
2. Datavote - 12 counties
3. Punch card - 7 counties
4. Electronic ballot/touchscreen - 4 counties

One small county, Alpine, will count ballots by hand.

California's voting systems have been a central issue of this recall election, due to the lawsuit brought by the ACLU and others challenging the reliability of the punch card voting system. Touchscreen voting has also been controversial, due to various independent reports recently published that are critical of those systems.

There is some confusion about the Datavote system: while it is technically a punch card voting system, this system does not use pre-cut, prescored ballot cards. Prescored punch card voting systems, such as Votomatic and Pollstar, will be phased out of use in California after March 2004 due to a federal court order issued in response to an earlier ACLU lawsuit. However, the Datavote system is not decertified and will continue to be used in many California counties after March 2004.

For more information about voting systems used in California, see CVF's directory of voting systems,, as well as our Voting System Map, For images of each voting system and instructions for how to use them, go to

* * * * * * * * * *
* Where California Voting Technology is Headed

Although computerized voting systems will be used in only four of California's 58 counties for the Recall election, usage will spread widely by March 2004, when at least six more counties plan to use such systems. Because these include some of the larger counties in the state, the percentage of the electorate voting in touchscreen counties will expand from nine percent now to 32 percent in March.

To help the public understand these trends, CVF has created another Voting Systems Map that shows what systems are currently planned for use in March 2004. See to view the Recall map and the March 2004 map side-by-side.

Of the nine counties that will phase out use of prescored punch cards after March 2004, five have moved or are moving to computerized voting systems; three are moving to paper-based optical scan system;, and one, San Diego, is planning to move to computerized voting but is waiting for their preferred vendor, Diebold, to get their new TSX machine certified before the county agrees to buy it.

The Thursday following the Recall election, on October 9, the Secretary of State's office will hold a meeting of its Voting Systems Panel. One topic on the agenda is certification procedures. At this meeting the question of whether the state will require a voter verified paper trail to back up digital ballots will possibly be discussed, as well as other security concerns about voting systems that have arisen in recent months. For more information about this meeting see

* * * * * * * * * *
* Big Questions as Election Day approaches

While I have no predictions to make about the outcome of Tuesday's election, there are two other big questions on people's minds as we approach Election Day:

1. Is California going to have a "Florida-style" meltdown?

The ACLU lawsuit raised serious questions about the reliability of punch card voting in California, as well as concerns that a reduction in the number of polling places open to voters will negatively impact voter turnout.

It remains to be seen to what extent, if any, these factors cause problems for voters. Voters who are concerned about these issues should take comfort in knowing that California's election procedures are superior to Florida's in several ways. Our punch card machines are better maintained between elections and throughout Election Day, and our counties follow uniform procedures for dealing with problem ballots. We also give our counties 28 days to certify election results, so that they have ample time to deal with problem ballots as well as provisional ballots and report an accurate, final count.

If there is a high turnout on Tuesday, that turnout will likely include many inexperienced voters. Many California counties are using new voting systems for this election, so there will be a learning curve for all voters in those counties. Fortunately, California voters receive sample ballots in the mail from their county election offices that provide voting instructions and give voters a preview of what their ballots will look like.

Voters who aren't registered at their polling place can still cast a provisional ballot and each of those ballots will need to be carefully checked to make sure the voter is eligible to vote and voted only once. There have also been a high number of absentee ballots requested for this election, and many have yet to be returned. Many of those absentee ballots will be delivered to polling places and, like provisional ballots, will need to be carefully verified before being counted.

Regardless of whether a county is using punch cards, optical scan, Datavote or touchscreens, polling place ballots will likely be tabulated and results released on election night. Absentee ballots returned by Election Day will also be counted early, as soon as the polls close. Whether we know the results of the election on election night will depend on how many late absentee and provisional ballots are cast and how close the margins are in the contests.

2. How much money will be raised and spent on this election?

According to Recall Watch, a nonpartisan "follow the money" site set up by a Sacramento education lobbyist, candidates in the Recall election have raised $30.6 million as of October 3. Pro-recall committees have raised $6.7 million; and anti-recall committees have raised $17.8 million. In addition, committees making independent expenditures supporting or opposing the recall and recall candidates have reported spending $11.3 million so far. These contributions and independent expenditures combined bring the total campaign resources committed to the recall election and candidates to $66.4 million as of October 3.

To follow the money in upcoming days, visit Recall Watch at Another great site for following the money is California Common Cause's site, For official disclosure reports and 24 hour online disclosure of all contributions of $1,000 or more, visit the Secretary of State's disclosure site,

And for those of you who are watching from a distance and think this recall election is nothing but a circus, remember: circuses do travel.

Have a great weekend,

-- Kim Alexander, President, California Voter Foundation

Back to CVF-NEWS index
Subscribe to CVF-NEWS
Contact Kim Alexander

Main Page

What's New




Contact Us

Support CVF

This page was first published on October 3, 2003 | Last updated on October 3, 2003
copyright 1994 - 2003, California Voter Foundation. All rights reserved .