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Presidential commission talk, disclosure bills & special elections

August 22, 2013

Hi Folks,

I hope you are having a great summer! This edition of CVF-NEWS features a presentation I recently gave to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration regarding California's vote-by-mail balloting challenges, two disclosure bills (AB 400 and SB 27) that CVF is supporting, and a recent news story on the rise of California special elections. Comments and feedback welcome.

-- Kim Alexander, President & Founder
California Voter Foundation

BallotsCVF informs Presidential commission of California Vote-by-Mail challenges

Recently I addressed members of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration at a meeting in San Francisco hosted by the James Irvine Foundation through the Future of California Elections (FOCE), an election reform collaborative of which CVF is a member.

Many FOCE members addressed the commissioners during this "listening session" regarding various aspects of California's election process. My presentation focused on the rise of vote-by-mail balloting in California and with it the rise of vote-by-mail balloting errors that leave thousands of ballots uncounted after every statewide election.

In my Powerpoint presentation (online here), I noted that 43 percent of California's registered voters are currently signed up as permanent vote-by-mail (or VBM) voters, and that California has among the highest VBM balloting error rate in the nation. This chart below illustrates the growing number of ballots going to compared to growing number of those not coming back. Many VBM ballots do not get counted because they are returned by voters too late (under current law they must be received, not postmarked by Election Day in order to be counted) or because the signature is missing or does not match the one on file.

CVF is working with its FOCE partners to identify legal, administrative and educational strategies for improving California's vote-by-mail performance. Two bills are currently pending in the Legislature that would address some of these challenges - SB 29 by Senator Lou Correa would change California law to allow VBM ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within three days of the election to count, and AB 1135 by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin would allow registrars to use additional signatures on file for voters besides the one on their voter registration application to be used for VBM verification purposes.

More about the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and its commissioners is online at

Legislation to inform voters about who is behind ballot propositions supported by CVF

For many years CVF has promoted public access to disclosure information that helps voters follow the money, particularly when it comes to ballot propositions. Knowing who is supporting or opposing a proposition, or who paid to qualify it for the ballot in the first place, is a great shortcut that helps voters make more informed choices when they make laws directly through the initiative process.

Although historically the California Voter Foundation has not taken positions on legislation, we broke with tradition this year to support two very important bills that, if enacted, will greatly improve California initiative disclosure.

Senate Bill 27, authored by State Senator Lou Correa, would require committees that raise $1 million or more to self-identify their top ten donors and disclose that top ten list as part of their regular disclosure reports. This bill will also require these top ten lists to be posted on the Fair Political Practices Commission's web site and require the state Voter Information Guide to reference the availability of these lists. Sponsored by the FPPC, this bill has made it through its house of origin and is currently awaiting action by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Since it amends the Political Reform Act, a two-thirds vote is required for passage. CVF's letter of support is online here.

Assembly Bill 400, authored by Assemblyman Paul Fong, would require initiative petitions to list the donors of $50,000 or more that paid to produce and circulate the petition to be listed on the petition itself. This bill, if enacted, will give voters who are asked to sign petitions the opportunity to know who the true sponsor is and make an informed decision before signing. This bill is currently in the Senate. CVF's letter of support is online here.

KimNews story investigates and highlights the rise of California special elections

If it seems like there are more special elections in California than ever, that's because there are. A recent investigative story by John Myers of News 10/ABC Sacramento looks at the rise of California special elections and the domino effect they create when sitting lawmakers run for vacancies.

The online, text version of the story highlights the potential for a "resign to run" law, which other states have in effect, to help reduce the rash of special elections, which are costly to counties and produce extremely low voter turnout. For example, in the most recent contest, for Assembly District 52, less than ten percent of the district's eligible voters cast ballots.

The full text version and the archived video of the TV story are online here. A recent history of California special elections is available from the Secretary of State, as well as a list of recent special elections, results and turnout.

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 the new, opinion and analysis from CVF's president. Follow @calvoterfdn for CVF announcements.

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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.

Contact the California Voter Foundation by:

phone - (916) 441-2494
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U.S. Mail - P.O. Box 189277, Sacramento, CA 95818

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This page was first published on August 22, 2013 | Last updated on August 21, 2013
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