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Election reform reports and Pete Seeger letter

February 3, 2014

Hi Folks,

This edition of CVF-NEWS covers new reports from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and the Public Policy Institute of California, and shares the personal story of a letter I received in the mail last week from Pete Seeger.

On another personal note, this past weekend marked the 20-year anniversary of my time with CVF and its re-founding on Feb. 1, 1994. It has been an honor to work for democracy and better elections for so many years and I greatly appreciate all the colleagues, academics, funders and journalists I've worked with who have made it so rewarding and productive!

-- Kim Alexander, President & Founder
California Voter Foundation

Presidential commission report urges early voting expansion and other improvements

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) released its report and recommendations on January 22nd. This commission grew out President Obama's 2012 election-night observation that when it comes to people waiting in lines for hours to vote, "We have to fix that."

It's worth noting that the report is unanimous; unlike many other bipartisan commissions, there was no "minority" report submitted, rather all commission members, Republican and Democratic alike, were in unison in their recommendations, which include:

Another key recommendation is that no U.S. voter should have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote and that this goal can be achieve through better planning and efficient allocation of resources. This is the first time a bar has been set for polling place efficiency and performance, which in and of itself is a valuable contribution.

Through the Future of California Elections (FOCE) collaborative, CVF submitted testimony urging to Commission to focus on ways to improve the vote-by-mail process to minimize voter disenfranchisement due to signature errors and late mail delivery. The commission report calls out FOCE in particular as an excellent collaborative model for improving elections. PCEA commission member Tammy Patrick is expected to speak at the upcoming FOCE conference on March 3, 2014 inLos Angeles. A full copy of the PCEA report and toolkit is online at

PPIC report examines effect of recent and potential California election reforms

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) recently issued a new report, authored by Eric McGhee, examining the recent and potential impact of three reforms to the California election process: online voter registration, same day registration, and allowing vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted.

Although only two of these three reforms have yet been implemented, the report draws conclusions about the effectiveness of each based on, in the case of online voter registration, activity reported by the Secretary of State during the first six weeks of its availability in the Fall of 2012. The effectiveness of same day registration is analyzed by looking at trends in other states where it already is in effect.

The impact of allowing ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted (a reform proposed in Senate Bill 29, authored by Sen. Lou Correa and currently stalled in the Assembly's Appropriations Committee) is based on actual data collected by 31 counties and analyzed by Political Data, Inc. According to PPIC, late ballots account for one in five of every vote-by-mail ballot not counted. And it is worth noting that California's uncounted vote-by-mail ballot rate is among the highest and worst in the nation, according to Pew's Election Performance Index. PPIC concludes that changing the law to allow postmarks to count may not change the overall turnout rate significantly but would significantly reduce the number of California's disenfranchised voters.

McGhee concludes by recommending California consider implementing automatic registration, working to ensure agencies such as the DMV and Covered California fulfill their responsibility of providing voter registration assistance (as required under federal and state laws), and that "the state will have to do more than remove administrative barriers if it wants to expand the size of its electorate. It will need to do aggressive outreach to communities of potential voters who are underrepresented at the polls and often overlooked in get-out-the-vote drives."

An unexpected letter in the mail from Pete Seeger

As many CVF-NEWS subscribers know, I have written a few Proposition Songs in my time, to help familiarize voters with each measure on California's ballot. I also organize a folk music jam in Sacramento. Like a lot of people, I was very saddened last Tuesday to hear the news that Pete Seeger, a folk hero who lived to be 94, had passed away.

I had written a letter to Pete Seeger back in August 2013, to share with him the impact he has had on me and to seek his advice about how to help more people overcome shyness and participate in music jams and sing-alongs.

As you might imagine, I was astonished to discover in my mailbox, the day after Mr. Seeger's passing, a hand-written letter from him in response to mine, advising me to turn my jamming tips into a "lovely pamphlet" (which is what I plan to do).

The story of this letter has been widely shared on the Internet and was covered last Friday by NPR's All Things Considered, as well as in the Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento News and Review and Fretboard Journal. You can also find more details, commentary and pictures on my blog, The past week has been an incredible experience, hearing from musicians and folk music lovers from all around the country who were moved by this story and shared their own.

Follow CVF on Twitter!

CVF uses Twitter to help our audience connect with important news and developments in the field of voting and elections, and also to offer live tweeting from conferences and events. An archive of tweets and links to relevant stories is available at!/kimalex3.

Follow @kimalex3 on Twitter to get CVF news tips, opinion and analysis from CVF's president.

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The California Voter Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting and applying the responsible use of technology to improve the democratic process. CVF-NEWS is a free, electronic newsletter featuring news and updates about the California Voter Foundation's projects and activities.

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