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CVF in the News

Below are excerpts from news stories and commentary highlighting CVF's work or featuring comments from CVF staff and board members. Archived CVF in the Media stories are also available.

The Cost of Special Elections

By Scott Shafer, KQED News, for the California Report, January 2, 2018


The spate of sexual harassment allegations has led two state lawmakers to resign. Local election officials are feeling the burden of special elections to fill those vacancies.

A Hidden Cost of Sexual Harassment in Sacramento: Expensive Special Elections

By Scott Shafer, KQED News. December 27, 2017


The sexual harassment scandal that began enveloping the state Capitol two months ago has cost two state lawmakers their jobs. And now their resignations mean more work, and unanticipated costs, for local governments that must hold special elections to fill those vacant seats.

An April 3 election is scheduled to fill the seat left open when Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) resigned in November.

Fellow Los Angeles-area Democrat Matt Dababneh resigned effective the end of December, and Gov. Jerry Brown will soon announce a date for that special election.

And now added to the bumper crop of Southland special elections: the unexpected resignation of yet another L.A. assemblyman, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who said Wednesday he was stepping down for health reasons.

Los Angeles County will have to bear the costs of all three special elections to fill those seats.

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And one resignation often sets off a series of others. For example, when Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate, Gov. Brown picked Los Angeles congressman Xavier Becerra to replace her. A special election was called to fill Becerra’s seat, and after a special primary and general election, the winner was Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez. He in turn had to resign to fill out the remainder of Becerra’s term.

That required yet another special election (primary and general) to fill Gomez’s seat in L.A. County. The primary was held Oct. 3, followed by a Dec. 5 runoff.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said it’s an unexpected cost that local government has to eat.

“There had been a law in place in the past that would have reimbursed counties for special election costs, but it sunset,” Alexander said, adding the law was never renewed by the Legislature.

In addition to the high cost, Alexander said, voters don’t like to be bothered.

“A lot of times people feel like there’s too many elections going on,” she said.

The result of these oddly timed elections is often lack of interest, with turnout as low as just 8 percent of registered voters. The turnout for that Dec. 5 runoff in L.A. was just over 9 percent. (Full Story)

Letter: Gov. Brown, don’t make it easier to meddle in our elections

By Kammi Foote, Inyo County Registrar Of Voters, Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation, Barbara Simons, Verified Voting, October 1, 2017


Re: “Here’s how Jerry Brown can help protect vulnerable people, voting integrity and local control” (Editorials, Sept. 28) and “Brown should help ensure election integrity by signing this bill” (Another View, Sept. 30): With recent news of Russian scanning of state technology websites, this is not the time to reduce California’s manual 1 percent audit practice, which is designed to detect errors or manipulations in vote-counting software.

Assembly Bill 840 would invalidate a recent San Diego County court ruling (Lutz v. Vu) that all vote-by-mail ballots must be subject to inclusion in the 1 percent post-election manual tally, a ruling which confirms current practice of many California counties, including Inyo, Santa Clara and San Francisco. 

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs AB 840 into law, election officials will likely reduce the number of ballots included in the 1 percent manual tally to include only those counted on Election Night, excluding many vote-by-mail and all provisional ballots from potential audit, and signaling to would-be attackers to target such ballots, knowing they likely will not be checked. (full story)

What a March Primary Could Mean for California

By Mina Kim, KQED, September 29, 2017


California is a state of superlatives: the most people, the biggest economy. But when it comes to influence in presidential primaries, it’s been an underachiever. That’s about to change: Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill moving the state’s June primary elections to early March, starting in 2020. We’ll discuss what the change might mean for voter turnout, down-ballot races and third party candidates. (Audio)

Here’s how Jerry Brown can help protect vulnerable people, voting integrity and local control

By Sacramento Bee Editorial Board, The Sacramento Bee, September 28, 2017


Veto AB 840

California elections officials are proud of the integrity of this state’s elections. Brown ought to help them keep their record of accurate vote counts by vetoing Assembly Bill 840 by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, an East Bay Democrat. The bill zipped through at the end of the legislative session without a no-vote. Legislators must not have been paying attention. 

But Inyo County Clerk Kammi Foote and the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation note that the legislation would dramatically reduce the number of ballots counties must include in their public counts to show the accuracy of software vote counts. 

The bill also would make moot a judge’s ruling against San Diego County over its method of verifying votes. That ruling was issued in January. And yet AB 840 was amended at the end of the session, on Aug. 24, and jammed through with only a cursory hearing, Kim Alexander, who runs the voter foundation, told an editorial board member.

We have no cause to question the accuracy of California’s vote. We certainly do not buy President Donald Trump’s bogus claim that huge numbers of votes were cast illegally in 2016. But if California’s voting integrity law is worth altering, it should be subjected to full hearings, not rushed through at the end of a legislative session. (full story)

Challenges mount as rollout of new California voting overhaul nears

By Mary Plummer, KPCC, September 22, 2017


Think back a decade: what did your cell phone look like? Now imagine carrying out your normal routine today with that old phone.

That scenario sums up the problem facing California’s aging voting system.

Around the state, the machines that handle ballots have grown old as technology has advanced. There are also increasing concerns about security threats and how to get more voters to participate in elections. And the pending rollout of a new law could do away with most neighborhood polling locations and nudge more voters to vote by mail.

In short, many California voters are facing a major shakeup in how they will be casting ballots.

"There is a lot of change going on at once and I do think it's tricky," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation.

Alexander said there is a wave of activity going on at the state level: 10 sets of voting regulations are in development by the Secretary of State office and the voting systems certification process — which will allow for new types of voting equipment  — is starting up after several years of stagnation. All of this will eventually lead to changes aimed at helping people vote in an easier, modernized and more secure way.  (Full Story & Audio)

California may move up its primary, shaking up 2020 presidential race

By Mary Plummer, KPCC, September 12, 2017


The California Legislature is moving forward on a plan to switch the state's presidential primary election from June to March, a move that would change the national strategy for presidential candidates but has unclear implications for local voters. 

S.B. 568 appears to have broad support among lawmakers. Final votes in the Senate and Assembly are expected by Friday; it would then advance to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. 

With Brown's checkoff, the statewide primary would shift to the Tuesday after the first Monday in March, giving California among the earliest primary elections of all 50 states. In 2016, California was one of the last in the country to hold its primary, leaving some voters feeling left out of the process. 

Over the past few decades, California has ping-ponged between early primaries in February or March and primaries in June. Officials held the most recent early presidential primary in February 2008. In that year, Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in California's Democratic primary, but failed to win the party's nomination. Voter turnout in the presidential primary hit 57.7 percent of registered voters, among the better turnouts in recent years. 

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Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, said her organization supports the early primary bill.

"One out of eight voters lives in California and yet we have virtually no say in the outcome of the presidential election because everyone presumes to know how we're going to vote, so there's no competition here," she said. "I'm happy to see this change appears to be likely to be made."

Alexander said while she doesn't know if moving the primary to March will impact voter participation rates, she does think it will increase enthusiasm among voters.

"I would like to see California have more of a voice in selecting who the nominees are," she said. 

The state is often viewed as more valuable for fundraising because of the wealth in locations like Silicon Valley and Hollywood. But an earlier primary would force presidential candidates to wage a costly campaign for votes in populous California. (full story)

Political Road Map: Knowing who is (and isn't) legally registered to vote in California

By John Myers, Los Angeles Times, August 13, 2017


Perhaps the biggest takeaway from President Trump’s unproven allegations about the security of elections is that he’s managed to blur the difference between voting records and the act of voting.

Or put another way, it’s a distraction from resolving the challenges in keeping voter registration data accurate and up to date.

Trump awkwardly waded into the topic last fall when he insisted millions of fraudulent votes had been cast in California and two other states. No evidence of widespread chicanery existed then, nor has any been brought forward since. At times, it seemed the president was wrongly conflating fraud with a 2012 nonpartisan study that warned of problems with some states’ voter registration lists.

Fast forward to last week, when a conservative legal organization insisted that 11 California counties have more registered voters than voting-age citizens. The group refused to share its methodology, and partly based its conclusions on the counties’ lists of “inactive” voters — people who haven’t cast ballots in the past two statewide elections.

Even the best registration list lives in a state of flux. Voters die. They enter prison on a felony conviction and forfeit their right to vote. They move and don’t notify elections officials. "Things change every day, and our voter file is constantly fluid,” said Gail Pellerin, registrar of voters in Santa Cruz County. “It's real people.”

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Change might also be useful when it comes to paid voter registration drives. Tens of thousands of Californians are signed up by for-profit companies hired by political parties. Critics argue that the efforts often produce flawed or false registrations. After all, vendors get paid by the number of voter cards they turn in.

Consistency is an issue, too, when it comes to purging names off voter registration lists. County registrars have wide discretion, and some worry about striking too many names and denying people a legal right to vote. But should there be a single, statewide standard for these lists of “inactive” voters?

“It might help take the guesswork out of it,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. Of course, any new mandate would require the state to “pony up and pay the money,” she said — something that’s long been a problem with elections operations in California.

In short, California’s voter lists are undoubtedly better than they used to be. And that’s good, because they’re going to get tested in 2018. The state’s new automated voter registration process begins at DMV offices in April, and could sizably boost voter rolls. Next year will see the first statewide use, too, of the law allowing voter registration on election day. And it’s the first election in which some counties will opt to close polling places in favor of absentee ballots.

Knowing who’s eligible to vote is important. While many elections officials think Trump’s unfounded fraud accusations will erode the public’s faith in voting, the best antidote might be a fresh look at the lists of those signed up to cast ballots in the first place. (full story)

California’s Top Elections Official Continues To Balk At Request From Trump’s Voter Panel

By Chris Nichols, Capitol Public Radio, July 19, 2017


President Trump said on Wednesday that states such as California that won’t agree to share data with his commission on voter fraud must be worried about what the results will show.
“If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about,” Trump said before the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in Washington D.C. “There’s something, there always is.”

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is one of dozens of elections officials across the country who have expressed privacy and security concerns about the request.

Padilla told reporters Wednesday in a conference call that he’ll continue to withhold sensitive voter information, such as Social Security numbers, requested by the panel.

“We know based on who’s in charge of this commission what their end game is and how this data may be used and abused to justify rolling back voting rights. We’re not worried about anything. We’re not hiding anything, Mr. President,” Padilla said.

The panel asked for voter data publicly available under the laws of individual states.

California law does not allow the release of the last four digits of a voter’s social security number, their driver’s license number, how they voted or their signature. It does allow for the release of a voter’s name, address and party affiliation.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said Padilla is right to oppose the commission’s request.

Given Trump’s evidence-free claims about voter fraud in California, Alexander said she can understand “why the secretary of state would not want to exacerbate or undermine the voters’ confidence” by sending sensitive data to the commission.

“Just because you’re a government agency doesn’t entitle you to the data automatically,” Alexander said. (full story)

Think California’s Legislature doesn’t represent you? Here’s a fix for that.

By Foon Rhee, Sacramento Bee, June 26, 2017


That means the number of Californians represented by each Assembly member has jumped from about 5,200 to nearly 500,000. And that dilutes the power of each vote and makes it nearly impossible for legislators to represent competing interests, according to the lawsuit. 

There are problems with the suit. For instance, the plaintiffs want one senator per county, which again would violate one person, one vote. Yet maybe it will take the courts to tackle this issue since it’s an extremely long shot that legislators will put any constitutional change on the ballot that would diminish their own clout. 

I know: You may be thinking we need more politicians roaming around Sacramento like we need a plague of locusts. 

But as we get ready to celebrate our democracy on July Fourth, we should consider this: California has taken steps to make it easier to register to vote, and to cast ballots. That’s great, but our low voter turnout isn’t going to turn around unless state government is more fully representative. 

Other big states have many more legislators. Our state Senate districts represent more people than congressional districts (about 711,000) – which is “kind of crazy,” as Kim Alexander, founder and president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, points out. 

“People often tell me they don’t have good representation in Sacramento. I tell them that’s because you don’t,” she says. 

The goal of any change should be to make it easier for Californians to be heard and to hold elected officials accountable. Having more legislators could bring them closer to their constituents. It shouldn’t take a crisis such as the Oroville Dam evacuation to have well-attended town hall meetings. 

Also, smaller districts could also lessen the influence of big money and special interests and make it easier for grassroots candidates to win. “It would help level the playing field,” Alexander says. 

Derek Cressman, a longtime good-government reform advocate in California and former national vice president of Common Cause, agrees that with smaller districts “it would make it more possible to win through walking a district and holding community forums.”

There has been recent progress in making California more representative. Pushed by good government groups and foundations, voters gave the drawing of legislative districts to an independent citizens’ commission, starting in 2011. On the local level, more cities have switched to district city council elections, which give all neighborhoods a bigger say than citywide races. 

There’s no simple solution to getting citizens closer to their government, however, and there can be unintended consequences. The “top two” primary created more competition in Democratic or Republican strongholds and in down-ballot statewide races. But the Green Party argues it’s making it too difficult for minor party candidates to get on the ballot. (full story)


Congressional Hearings Focus on State Election Hacks: KQED’s John Sepulvedo's interview with Kim Alexander regarding California voting security,

The California Report, June 19, 2019 (Audio)

Thousands of Angelenos have voted four times in four months. Soon, they'll be asked to vote again

By  Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2017


Los Angeles might as well rename Tuesday and call it election day instead. That’s been the joke in some corners of the city, where voters have been asked to go to the polls four times in the past four months.

With Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez heading to Congress after winning last week’s special election to replace Xavier Becerra, more than 100,000 voters still face one more election — maybe even two — in the foreseeable future.

In the doldrums of odd-numbered years, L.A. politics often focuses on elections for mayor and city council. But 2017 has felt like overkill even for the most die-hard voters.

“It’s like a never-ending cycle since November,” said Amanda Santos, a stay-at-home mom and part-time bookseller who lives in Montecito Heights.

She has cast a ballot every month since March, when L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti won reelection and county voters approved Measure H to fund homeless services.

A month later, 23 candidates stacked the ballot in the primary to replace Becerra, and six weeks after that there was a hotly contested runoff between L.A. Councilman Gil Cedillo and Joe Bray-Ali and a vote on Measure C, the police misconduct review measure. And then, just last week, voters went to the polls for the runoff between Gomez and attorney Robert Lee Ahn.

That means for the better part of six months, the likeliest voters in central and northeast Los Angeles have been inundated with incessant phone calls, stacks of mailers and volunteers knocking on their doors for one campaign or another.

Santos said she’s voted in pretty much every election since she turned 18, even when she lived abroad. But this year has been a bit much.

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“I don’t think you can blame people when you have four elections in this short of a time,” said Mike Samonek, 48, a voter in Mount Washington. Samonek said he didn’t used to vote in local elections, but he and his wife made a pact to vote in every race after Donald Trump’s presidential victory in November.

“It’s frustrating because I think when these politicians see that nobody’s turning out to vote … they realize those [voters] are the only people they have to appeal to or think about.” Samonek said.

Starting in 2020, L.A. city elections will coincide with state and federal elections, which will cut down on the number of races in odd years. But federal law requires vacancies in the House to be filled by special election rather than appointment, and efforts to allow the governor to fill most legislative vacancies by appointmentrather than a special election have failed in the past.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, which advocates for voters’ rights, suggested one way to limit the “cascading effect” of special elections spurred by politicians looking to advance: Enact a law that would require elected officials to resign before running for another position. Five states have such laws.

This might prevent situations where incumbents such as Gomez can jump into another race with little political risk.

It would also have forced Kamala Harris to give up her post as attorney general before her successful run for U.S. Senate — a victory that triggered Becerra’s appointment, the special congressional election that replaced him with Gomez, and soon, an Assembly special election to replace Gomez.

“I think we have to look back at the root cause and what is causing these vacancies in the first place,” Alexander said. (full story)

A letter sent to some L.A. voters sought to shame them for their voting records — and no one knows who sent it

By  Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2017


Offended, harassed, violated. Those are some of the words voters used to describe their reactions to a letter they received this week from a group calling itself the California Voter Awareness Project.

Several people who spoke to The Times said the letter arrived just hours before polls opened in Tuesday’s citywide election in Los Angeles, and included each recipient’s voting history in the last three elections, along with names and addresses of neighbors and acquaintances and whether or not they’d voted. An updated chart would be mailed out after Tuesday’s election, the letter warned, and “other people you know will all know who voted and who did not vote.”

Exactly who sent the mailer and why is unclear: No return address or contact information was on the envelopes. Simple Google searches and a look at state and county business records turn up nothing on the California Voter Awareness Project, the name of the group that appears on the letters.

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"When voters become aware that they’re being profiled, especially by people they don’t know, it can definitely creep people out."

— Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation

Some voters have mistakenly blamed two other organizations for the letter: the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, which said it received a handful of angry calls, and the San Diego-based political committee California Voter Project, which said dozens of people contacted them to complain.

The California Voter Foundation says it has encouraged people to file a complaint with the California secretary of state. The agency also has a voter complaint hotline: (800) 345-8683.

Voter shaming isn’t new — and it’s been shown to be effective

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas caught flak in last year’s presidential primary for using a similar play, assigning recipients letter grades for their voting history. Other similar mailers have been sent by conservative groups to voters in Washington and New Mexico.

“Nationally, it’s a common tactic,” says Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., which sells voter data to political campaigns. Research has shown that this kind of “social pressure” can positively affect voter turnout, Mitchell said, in the same way “I Voted” stickers can serve as positive reinforcement. But one thing is key, Mitchell said: The vote shaming can’t be perceived as coming from a specific campaign or candidate for risk of possible blowback. (full story)

Report: State Still Short-Changing Counties for Election Costs

By Guy Marzorati, KQED, March 30, 2017


California’s state government should pick up the tab for more local election costs, according to a report released Thursday by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

California’s 58 counties currently shoulder the costs for federal and state elections, but don’t receive reliable payments to cover those costs. Towns, cities and school districts typically reimburse counties for carrying out their local elections.

“The state has a clear interest in secure, timely, and uniform elections,” the LAO report says. “While the state reaps regular benefits from county elections administration, it only sporadically provides funding to counties for election activities.”

State law requires that counties provide services such as vote-by-mail, but in recent years the state has suspended the “mandate” around these services. That’s allowed the state government to avoid reimbursing the counties for the costs, which the report estimates at around $30 million in general election years.

Without reimbursement, California’s poorer counties have difficulty providing more robust services such as voter registration programs.

“Counties that have more resources are able to provide more services to voters,” says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which works to improve the state election system. “Some of the smaller and more rural counties aren’t able to provide those services.” (full story)

Los Angeles County Sues State Over Political Boundaries Law

By Don Thompson, Associated Press, February 28, 2017


Los Angeles County is suing over a new state law it says discriminates against more than 1 million voters while taking away the power of the Board of Supervisors to draw its own political boundaries.

The lawsuit aims to block the 2016 law that creates a 14-member commission to draw boundaries for county supervisor districts after the 2020 census.

Commission members would be chosen from political parties, the lawsuit says, unfairly excluding about a quarter of county voters who register with no party preference and comprise the fastest-growing portion of newly registered voters.

Aides to state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Los Angeles, who wrote the law, said Tuesday that the intent of SB958 is to include those independent voters on the commission.

"If the citizens redistricting commission is good enough for the state Legislature and Congress, it should be good enough for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors," Lara said in a statement.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court says the law illegally takes away local control, unfairly applies only to Los Angeles County and makes the process more political. Based on current registration, 70 percent of commissioners would be Democrats, 25 percent Republicans and 5 percent from smaller political parties, the lawsuit states.

"I think that's a valid concern, but it's also a valid concern that politicians shouldn't be drawing their own district lines. So there are competing benefits on both sides," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. She was not involved in passing the law.

The law calls for a different makeup than the 14-member statewide commission that drew the current legislative maps. The statewide panel includes five members representing each major political party and four representing smaller parties and voters with no party preference. (full story)

After His Claim of Voter Fraud, Trump Vows ‘Major Investigation’

New York TImes, By Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker, January 25, 2017


President Trump intends to move forward with a major investigation of voter fraud that he says cost him the popular vote, White House officials said Wednesday, despite bipartisan condemnation of his allegations and the conclusion of Mr. Trump’s own lawyers that the election was “not tainted.”

In his first days in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump has renewed his complaint that millions of people voted illegally, depriving him of a popular-vote majority. In two Twitter posts early Wednesday morning, the president vowed to open an inquiry to reveal people who are registered to vote in multiple states or who remain on voting rolls long after they have died.

“We have to understand where the problem exists, how deep it goes, and then suggest some remedies to it,” said Sean Spicer, the president’s press secretary. He said the White House would reveal more details this week.

But voting officials in both parties across the country said the answer to those questions is already clear: Fraudulent voting happens in tiny, sporadic episodes that have no impact on the outcome of elections. It is virtually impossible, several state election officials said, that millions of people voted illegally in last year’s presidential contest.

In fact, that was the conclusion of Mr. Trump’s own lawyers last year as they sought to stop recount efforts in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake,” Mr. Trump’s lawyers wrote in their response to recount petitions by Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate. Mr. Spicer said the lawyers were referring only to states where Mr. Trump campaigned extensively.

In Ohio, Secretary of State Jon A. Husted, a Republican, said Wednesday in an interview that there was “no evidence” that voter fraud was happening on a large scale. Edgardo Cortés, Virginia’s election chief, a Democrat, said there was “no basis” for the claims. And California’s Democratic secretary of state lashed out at the president for undermining confidence in the election system.

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“Voter fraud exists. It’s not widespread or systemic,” said Mr. Husted, who said he had voted for Mr. Trump. “There’s no evidence that that is happening on a wide-scale basis.”

Mr. Husted said he would be happy to share Ohio’s review of the 2016 election with the federal government when it was completed. And he said Mr. Trump could aid states by sharing government databases that could help them clean their voter rolls.

In his Twitter message Wednesday, Mr. Trump suggested that a federal review could lead to improvements in voting procedures.

But Democrats and voting experts criticized the president for focusing his allegations on voter fraud while resisting the intelligence community’s conclusions involving Russian hacking of the Democratic National Commitee and officials connected to Mrs. Clinton during last year’s election.

“It’s more important that we investigate the known instances of election fraud, rather than imagined ones,” said Kim Alexander, the president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving the voting process. “We have had an election that was compromised by foreign interests. That’s the real danger that has come out of this election.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said the president should “knock this off” and move on. “This is going to erode his ability to govern this country if he does not stop it,” he said on CNN.

And several Democratic lawmakers and state election officials said they suspected that Mr. Trump’s allegations were part of a plan by Republicans looking for reasons to justify new restrictions on voting to benefit their party, particularly targeting immigrants and African-Americans.

“There has been a sustained effort across the country, rooted in similar conspiracies about voter fraud, to make it harder for Americans to vote,” Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said in a statement. “We can’t allow this attack on voting rights to continue, and it’s shameful to see such debunked conspiracy theories emanating from the White House.”

Mr. Padilla, the California secretary of state, said he also worried that Mr. Trump’s repeated allegations about fraud would undermine the confidence that Americans had in the integrity of the voting system. “Stoking fear and concern is undermining people’s faith in our elections,” he said. (full story)

No stamp, no problem: Lawmaker says postage-paid ballots should be available to all Californians

Los Angeles TImes, By John Myers, January 25, 2017


California voters would no longer have to scrounge around in search of a stamp to mail in their ballot under new legislation introduced this week at the state Capitol.

“We want to make sure voters don’t have any barriers,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), the bill’s author.

Ballot envelopes sent by elections officials would be marked as “prepaid postage” and the postage costs would be paid for by individual counties. A key question will be the cost for mailing in as many as 10 million ballots statewide. Not all ballots will weigh the same, given the numerous city and county measures that also are considered in regularly scheduled elections.

The initial language of Assembly Bill 216 doesn’t offer specifics on reimbursing counties, though Gonzales Fletcher said she expects the proposal’s ultimate cost could be under $2 million, if the law also makes clear that voters can still place a stamp on their ballot.

Regardless, postage fees are likely to be deemed a mandated cost that state government must cover.

Gonzalez Fletcher said the advent of email and online bill-paying services have meant that fewer voters have stamps readily available, with busy working Californians scrambling just to find the time to exercise their right to vote.

"It starts to feel like a very small poll tax," she said.

The proposal is another example of the steady evolution of elections conducted less by the ballot box than the mailbox in California, as more than half of all registered voters now permanently receive absentee ballots. A number of the state’s most populous counties are expected to soon embrace a sweeping new law shifting elections away from neighborhood polling places and toward a substantial number of votes being cast by mail.

“This is welcome legislation,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “Requiring voters to pay for ballot postage sends a message that the government is putting up obstacles to make it more difficult to vote.” (full story)

Trump repeats voter fraud falsehood to make himself look better

San Francisco Chronicle, By Joe Garofoli, January 24, 2017


The motivation for President Trump to continue repeating the falsehood that millions of people voted illegally in November’s election might be about more than soothing the bruise to his ego after losing the popular vote, analysts said.

In the short term, repeating the widely debunked statistic diffuses the media’s attention from the new administration’s more controversial topics — reviving the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects and the records of some Cabinet appointees. But in the long term, analysts say it might be aimed at destroying faith in the nation’s core institutions, making Trump appear more omniscient.

It is an echo of Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, when he said, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

“He could be saying that you can’t trust the news media, you can’t trust the voting systems, you can’t trust anybody but him,” said Melissa Michelson, a professor of political science at Menlo College in Menlo Park and co-author of “Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate Through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns.” “He may be trying to say that other institutions are lying to you, but I am the deliverer of the truth.”

But continuing to repeat the claim could hurt Trump’s credibility with his fellow Republicans. On Tuesday, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN, “This is going to erode his ability to govern this country if he does not stop it.” House Speaker Paul Ryan said he has seen no evidence of massive fraud, but the top three Republicans in the Senate Tuesday refused to disavow Trump’s fact-less assertion.

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Voter watchdog Kim Alexander said Tuesday the claims do “damage to people’s confidence in the process, when the president makes false and alarming statements about the integrity of our elections.”

Alexander, the founder of the California Voter Foundation, said, “I can count on one hand” the number of times that a secretary of state has pursued voter fraud charges during her two decades monitoring the state’s electoral process. And prosecutors usually pursue only the cases they think they can prove.

Besides, Alexander said, “It’s absurd to think that millions of illegal residents would vote and commit that crime,” given that voters must give their name, address, birth date and place of birth when they register. “If you don’t want ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers) knocking at your door, you don’t register to vote.”

Still, Trump’s remarks could have other long-term effects, including depressing voting participation in immigrant communities, said Michelson, an expert in the Latino vote. It could create a drive for even more restrictive voting rights laws. It could embolden more poll workers and others to confront Asian and Latino voters at the polls, trying to sniff out if they’re legal, she said.

“People who are concerned about having those kinds of confrontations might not want to vote,” Michelson said.

But it is still too early to tell if November’s swing voters — the blue-collar voters in the Midwest and elsewhere who backed Trump — will care about this controversy. (full story)

Trump and vote fraud: Officials say it’s just not happening

San Jose Mecury News, By Eric Kurhi, November 30, 2016


State officials were indignant when President-elect Donald Trump suggested amid recount calls in states he narrowly won that California was among places where “serious voter fraud” may have boosted support for his opponent.

“Voter fraud is a serious crime and exceedingly rare,” said Sam Mahood, spokesman for the California Secretary of State.

So how does California, a state that welcomes immigrants and bends over backward to make voting easier and more convenient than ever, ensure those who aren’t supposed to vote — including non-citizens in federal elections — don’t?

In order to be registered, a resident must provide a valid California drivers’ license or identification number, the last four digits of a Social Security number and date of birth. That information is then sent to the Department of Motor Vehicles for authentication and signature comparison. And the person must attest to eligibility under penalty of perjury.

The voter rolls, kept in a statewide database, are regularly checked against other records that would disqualify voters, such as death or imprisonment. Social security numbers are verified with the Social Security Administration. Vote-by-mail ballots — an increasingly popular way to vote — all undergo a signature verification and voters are required to sign in at the polls.

In addition, after every election each county does a randomly selected hand-count audit of 1 percent of the precincts cast to see if they are representative of the total.

“From 1994 to 2012, the Secretary of State’s investigative unit saw five convictions for noncitizen voting,” Mahood said. “Mr. Trump’s outlandish claims seek to undermine faith in democracy. His comments are a disservice to elections officials who work diligently to ensure free and fair elections.”

That doesn’t mean that mistakes don’t happen, said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation.

“It’s entirely possible that there are names of people on the rolls that shouldn’t be there — no system is perfect,” Alexander said. “There may be some cases where a deceased person is still on the rolls, and there was one glitch in Los Angeles where 80 ballots were sent to one address. But that wasn’t fraud — it was a glitch.”

Still, efforts in California to be more welcoming to all immigrants, regardless of their legal status, have fueled speculation from critics that there aren’t enough checks and balances to prevent voter fraud.

Undocumented immigrants now can receive an official California driver’s license, and residents also can register to vote at the DMV. Starting next year, a new law aimed at getting more voters on the rolls will automatically register drivers to vote.

Such measures could have put the state in the cross-hairs of those alleging rampant fraud. Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of Houston-based voters rights and election integrity organization True the Vote, said there aren’t enough firewalls in place in California, which she said has a more “porous” system than other states.

“They do offer non-citizens a way to get a drivers’ license and that comes part and parcel with the opportunity to vote,” Engelbrecht said. “Couple that to the fact that they don’t have to show an ID at the polls and it sets a tone for a potential free-for-all.”

She asserted that the upcoming motor-voter law will only exacerbate the problem.

But Alexander of the California Voter Foundation disagreed.

“The thought that people who are avoiding government detection would provide all their vital information to a government agency that provides that to other government agencies, and the media and private parties — it’s ridiculous,” said Alexander. (full story)

States reject Trump's claim that illegal ballots gave Clinton popular vote

Fox News, By Brooke Singman, November 28, 2016


President-Elect Donald Trump’s claim that ballot fraud in certain parts of the country cost him the popular vote is not going over well in the states he singled out.

Hillary Clinton’s total was swollen by millions of people voting illegally in the Nov. 8 election, Trump said Sunday, citing New Hampshire, Virginia and California. Although Trump won easily with electoral votes, unofficial totals have him trailing Clinton 64,654,483 votes to 62,418,820, according to a Cook Political Report analysis Monday.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

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There are checks and balances in place to make sure the Golden State’s vote is not manipulated, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. Every county in the state is required to select one percent of its precincts at random and recount the votes cast in those precincts publicly, by hand, to show that the results match the software-counted results, Alexander said.

“We’ve done this for over 50 years, ever since software was first introduced into the vote-counting process,” Alexander said. “Many counties are in the process of conducting their post-election manual tallies right now and the public can watch.”

Registrar of Voters for Los Angeles County and President for the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials Dean Logan told Fox News in an email that election officials are “frustrated” and voters may well be “insulted” by Trump’s claim.

“Broad brush allegations of voter fraud and illegal voting serve only to undermine the public’s trust and confidence in the elections process and run the risk of further deflating voter participation,” Logan said in a statement.

New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said that while the Granite State has seen no evidence of voter fraud this time around, officials acknowledge there are individual instances.

“This is nothing that we haven’t already heard in New Hampshire,” Scanlan said. “There are perceptions out there similar to what the president-elect expressed, and perception is very important for New Hampshire voters.”

Like California, New Hampshire has instilled safeguards in the election process, including requiring every voter to register with an elected official in person. That process requires an ID check or, for those without identification, a verification review by the state attorney general’s office. (full story)

Experts bash Trump’s baseless claim of voter fraud

The San Francisco Chronicle, November 27, 2016


President-elect Donald Trump said Sunday that he had fallen short in the popular vote in the general election only because millions of people had voted illegally, leveling the baseless claim as part of a daylong storm of Twitter posts voicing anger about a three-state recount push.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump wrote.

The series of posts came one day after Hillary Clinton’s campaign said it would participate in a recount effort being undertaken in Wisconsin, and potentially in similar drives in Michigan and Pennsylvania, by Jill Stein, who was the Green Party candidate. Trump’s statements revived claims he made during the campaign about a rigged and corrupt system.

Claims of wide-scale voter fraud have been advanced for years by Republicans, though virtually no evidence of such improprieties has been discovered — especially on the scale of “millions” that Trump claimed. Late Sunday, again without providing evidence, he referred in a Twitter post to “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California.”

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“His unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud in California and elsewhere are absurd,” he said in a statement Sunday. “His reckless tweets are inappropriate and unbecoming of a president-elect.”

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit promoting the responsible use of elections technology, said she had no idea what Trump based his fraud assertion on, but added: “I can tell you that California has the most robust voting technology of any state in the country.”

As for the possibility of scores of noncitizens casting votes — a notion that has gained some currency among conservatives — “We know historically that this almost never happens,” David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, told Politico.

“You’re more likely to get eaten by a shark that simultaneously gets hit by lightning than to find a noncitizen voting,” he said. (full story)

Donald Trump alleges widespread voter fraud in California. There's no evidence to back it up

The Los Angeles Times, By John Myers, November 27, 2016


President-elect Donald Trump not only alleged widespread national voter fraud in a series of messages posted on Twitter on Sunday, but took the time in one tweet to target the ballots cast in California as an example of the problem.

Trump called the fraud “serious” in the state, along with Virginia and New Hampshire, and blamed media “bias” for the lack of coverage the allegations have received.

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The word ‘postmarked’ is not clear in the law,” said Dhillon, a San Francisco attorney.

But any such incident would be too isolated to sway a statewide election such as the presidential contest. Trump’s accusation, offered as so many of his tweets without any further explanation or substantiation, stood in contrast to what otherwise at this point are only a series of vignettes about ballot or election mistakes in California.

“Broad-brush allegations of voter fraud and illegal voting serve only to undermine the public's trust and confidence in the elections process and run the risk of further deflating voter participation,” said Dean Logan, registrar of voters in Los Angeles County and president of the statewide association of elections officials.

Unlike other states, elections observers point out that California has a series of safeguards built into the systems used by individual counties and overseen by state officials. Those include voter-verified paper records for any ballots cast by electronic device (though the preponderance of votes are now cast using optical-scan ballots) and a 51-year-old law requiring an audit of the results in all races by hand-counting 1% of the ballots in each precinct across the state.

“California has the most robust voting verification laws of any state in the country,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

In the almost three weeks following Trump’s election, numerous online posts have alleged — with no actual evidence — voter fraud in various places across the country, often tied to allegations that those votes came from immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

Even so, Dhillon said the integrity of elections in California and across the nation is a serious issue that Trump is trying to highlight.

“I think a single fraudulent ballot is a serious instance of fraud,” she said. (full story)

Polling Issues In California Minimal This Election

Capital Public Radio, By Chris Nichols, November 10, 2016


Californians cast their ballots on Election Day with shorter lines and less confusion than some experienced at the polls during the state’s June primary. California Voter Foundation president Kim Alexander says that’s partly because there’s open voting in the general election.

“I think by comparison things went much more smoothly in California in our general election than it did in the primary. We didn’t hear those kinds of complaints," says Alexander. "Of course we didn’t have the challenge in the general election that we did in the primary where your voting choices were restricted based on your party registration. So, that made things less confusing for voters.”

Alexander says California’s large share of early voting and vote-by-mail also eased pressure at polling places.

Capital Public Radio participated in Electionland, a national collaboration between news outlets that helped monitor voter access on Election Day. The project reported few widespread problems in California. (full story)

Why We Can’t Use the Internet to Vote

Mel Magazine, By John McDermott, November 7, 2016


Every four years, America elects a president. And every four years around election time, Kim Alexander gets annoyed by the same question: Why can’t we vote over the internet yet?

“I hate the question,” says Alexander, founder of the California Voter Foundation. Voting over the internet isn’t a priority for CVF, and won’t be for the foreseeable future.

You would think an organization dedicated to “the responsible use of technology to improve the democratic process” would be for using the internet to make voting easier. Alexander did, too, once, back in the mid-’90s, shortly after she established CVF and the internet first entered the public consciousness. “But then I started to learn what about it takes to run secure elections, and how vulnerable the internet is,” Alexander says. “This internet is not a safe place to cast ballots.”

“This” being the operative word, because if we ever want to vote over the internet, we have to create a new parallel internet that prioritizes security and privacy over the open exchange of information, she says. And that might not happen in our lifetimes?—?even if it would likely boost voter turnout: A whopping 79 percent of Americans now have smartphones, far more than the 53.6 percent of eligible voters who participated in the last presidential election.

Smartphone voting could seemingly make electing candidates and voting on ballot initiatives as easy as ordering an Uber. You fire up your voting app, exercise your democratic privilege, then go back to mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. It seems inevitable, really.

The irony is that the internet’s democratic values are exactly what prevents it from being used in elections. As this election season has shown, an open internet is an unsafe internet. Russian government hackers broke into the Democratic National Committee’s computer network in June, allowing them to read every email and instant message in the system. Two months later, voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois were breached. “We are seeing actual attempts to interfere with our election from outside our borders,” Alexander says.

Imagine the hacking attempts when the stakes are choosing the leader of the free world. The risk of hackers manipulating voting results far outweighs any potential benefits. “The threat is real,” Alexander says.

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Say we could build the infrastructure needed for a secondary, election-only internet, and had the money and manpower to constantly upgrade its security and ward off would-be hackers. The cost would be astronomical, so much Alexander couldn’t even estimate it. (Banks have spent billions upgrading their digital infrastructure, for instance, and they, too, were hacked this year.)

Even if this secure internet were to exist, there would still be one last dilemma to solve for: The system would have to simultaneously keep votes anonymous and ensure each person casts only one vote.

Preventing someone from casting multiple votes seems plausible now that phones recognize fingerprints, and adding a retina scanner to a phone seems within the realm of possibility. But tying someone’s vote to their personally identifiable information would compromise ballot privacy, one of our oldest and most sacred democratic values, Alexander says. Without ballot privacy, elections are susceptible to coercion and vote selling, she adds.

The timeline on internet voting is between sometime in the next 15–20 years to never in our lifetimes, says Smith.

“It’s not for lack of wanting internet voting,” says Alexander. “I’m sure [internet voting] would be exciting, but I don’t see it in the near future.” (full story)

California voters confused, frustrated in long lines

Associated Press, By Janie Har, November 7, 2016


California voters waited in long lines to cast ballots Tuesday and peppered elections officials and monitors with questions about polling locations and absentee ballots, with high turnout expected for the Golden State.

Frustrations ran high at a few Los Angeles polling places as voters waited two hours when ballot marking devices and rosters arrived late. Elections officials didn't say what caused the delay at Delano Recreation Center in Van Nuys.

"It's been a fiasco," said voter Bob Corbett, who arrived well before the 7 a.m. opening time and said he would wait as long as it took to cast his vote.

There were no immediate reports of similar problems or glitches elsewhere in the state.

Waits eased in the morning but long lines were expected to remerge in the evening as voters who didn't cast ballots during the day were expected to show up at polling sites after they finished work, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

Alexander said she fielded calls from people who lost their absentee ballots or wondered whether they could cast a vote in a different county because they weren't going to be in their home county.

She told them they could vote in different polling places within the county where they had registered, but cautioned against trying to do so in different counties.

A record 19.4 million voters in California are registered for the presidential election - about 78 percent of those eligible. That's the highest percentage of eligible citizens registered before a general election in 20 years, the secretary of state's office said in a statement.

More than 5 million people had already cast ballots in early voting, according to the data tracking firm Political Data Inc.

In Northern California, a steady stream of cars pulled up to an absentee ballot drop-off station outside a courthouse in Oakland.(full story)

California braces for high election turnout, voter confusion

Associated Press, By Janie Har, November 7, 2016


California elections officials braced Monday for robust turnout, confused first-time voters and the prospect of long lines on Tuesday in a presidential election that has registered a record 19.4 million voters in the state.

About 5 million people in California have already cast ballots in early voting, according to the data tracking firm Political Data Inc.

Many marked ballots at home, but elections officials throughout the state reported heavy in-person crowds at polling sites over the weekend and Monday.

Thousands of voters in the state's most populous county waited hours over the weekend to cast ballots, some standing in line for three hours or more. Nearly 18,000 ballots were cast Saturday and Sunday in Los Angeles County.

Wait times were much faster in San Francisco, where voters moved through lines, usually within 15 minutes, said Elections Director John Arntz. He said Sunday's turnout of more than 2,000 voters was the most ever for a Sunday in the county before Election Day.

And in San Diego County, registrar Michael Vu said people waited about an hour to cast a ballot, patiently and even happily.

"It was kind of like being at Disneyland, waiting to get on the most exciting ride," he said Monday.

About 78 percent of eligible Californians are registered to vote, the highest percentage of eligible citizens registered before a general election in 20 years, the secretary of state's office said in a statement.

California is not known for long lines on Election Day and Dean Logan, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, said he did not anticipate significant lines throughout the day Tuesday. Logan, who is also registrar of voters in Los Angeles County, said polling sites will be busiest before and after work hours.

But others said that this election is different, meaning long lines are a distinct possibility.

Voter advocacy groups are on high alert, worried about possible voter intimidation stemming from GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's repeated assertions that the election is rigged against him.

There are also 17 statewide ballot measures, in addition to local measures, that may take time for voters to digest while they are inside voting booths. And the state has a record 11.7 million people registered to vote by mail, some of whom may show up at polling sites unaware they have ballots at home that they need to surrender before they can get a new ballot.

All of that may add to confusion and long wait times on Tuesday, said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit and nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

"There is huge demand," she said. "This is a good problem to have." (full story)

There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Voting, and It’s Going On in My Neighborhood

Time, By Joel Stein , November 3, 2016


When I moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago, I knew I’d have certain responsibilities: hiking, smiling, pretending medical advice doesn’t need to come from a doctor. I did not know, however, that in order to be able to pull the infinite levers in the voting booth, I’d have to build my forearm muscles. This, I believe, is why L.A. created the porn industry.

My mailbox was hard to open the day this year’s California voter’s guide arrived. It is a record 224 pages, not including my separate 96-page L.A. guide. In California, we elect our insurance commissioner, superintendent of public construction and the board of equalization, which is a board that is in charge of equalizing things. We are voting on whether porn actors have to use condoms, for my second time since moving here. Hamilton and Madison crafted a republic to avoid this kind of direct democracy specifically because they feared children might overhear news shows discussing whether porn actors should wear condoms.
Jessica Levinson, a Loyola law professor who assigns an election-law textbook that is shorter than this year’s voter’s guide, says our democracy has run amok. “People say, ‘I never know who to vote for.’ Then we say, ‘O.K., we’ll let the governor appoint them.’ Then they say, ‘I don’t trust the governor to do that.’ Voters have a lot of faith in themselves,” she says. That’s because of the illusory-superiority bias, which also makes everyone think they’re an above-average driver and an above-average understander of the Wikipedia entry on “illusory superiority.”

When I asked Levinson if she knew who she was voting for in the Susan Jung Townsend–vs.–Javier Perez race for County Superior Court Judge seat 84, she said she didn’t yet, since she scheduled from 8:45 to 10:45 a.m. on Sunday to make a spreadsheet to determine her choices. Likewise, I asked Mike Murphy, Republican political consultant and member of the board of advisers for the nonpartisan voter information site, if he’d made all his selections for his L.A. ballot. “Hell, no. I do some late web searching on the big stuff and then either vote party line, skip or vote for the candidate with the hardest-to-spell name,” he said, following a policy of helping out those unfairly disadvantaged. “When in doubt, I go old-school American politics and just vote— in nonparty elections — for the Irish guy.” This is the kind of voter behavior that will one day lead to the terrifying reign of Board of Equalization member Siobhan O’Isthmus

To explain each of the 17 state ballot initiatives, Kim Alexander, founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, released her seventh Proposition Song; this one is over five minutes long. “This ballot has something for everyone,” she told me. “We have drugs and guns and pot and porn and the death penalty.” And yet, for reasons that must have to do with her ukulele skills, she did not record it as a rap song.

Alexander told me that one problem with distributing 10.8 million copies of a voter’s guide in 10 languages is that many candidates can’t afford to pay the fee to the state required to print their statement, so they leave it blank. She told me that the state fee for a candidate’s 250-word statement is $6,250. For a mere rounding error, they could afford my rate. I had no doubt I could totally beat prose such as “Susan Jung Townsend is the experienced, dedicated and competent choice for Superior Court Judge.” Writing for the voter’s guide would be my lifeboat out of journalism.

The last item on my ballot is District Measure GG, in which people in my neighborhood would pay $35 a year for 10 years to maintain our mountains, which seems less like a ballot measure and more like a door-to-door candy sale. The pro argument in the voter guide is co-written by five people, one of whom is the actor Ed Begley Jr. He told me the writing gig was really easy, and that he was getting some good response on his other piece in the voter’s guide against City Measure RRR. “I’m hoping to weigh in on a lot of measures. I think it’s going to be a good career move,” he said. He figured if I wrote some, he’d attach his name and we’d both get a boost. (full story)

Central Coast residents should use proper postage to vote-by-mail in this election

KCBX, By KCBX Newsroom, November 3, 2016


A growing number of Central Coast residents are choosing to vote-by-mail, but not everyone is clear on whether postage is necessary.

The KCBX Counties of Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara do request postage to mail in your ballot. The amount is one first class stamp: 47 cents.

California Voter Foundation President and Founder Kim Alexander said Thursday that if you're not sure how much postage to use, don't worry because each California county has an arrangement with the postal service to ensure your ballot gets to where it needs to go.

"So, they don't advertise it — as you can understand, they don't want to pay those costs — but voters should know there is a fail-safe in place, in case they don't have a stamp or they don't have the exact-right postage to put on their envelope," said Alexander.

She says several Bay Area counties and a couple in the Sierra Nevada are now paying the postage for all voters. (full story)

The Future of Voting in California

KQED, By Dan Brekke, November 3, 2016


More than 3 million Californians have already cast their ballots by mail — a state record. In this hour, we’ll talk about what the rising popularity of mail-in voting means for vote counting, turnout and campaign tactics. We’ll also preview big changes to voting in California that Governor Jerry Brown recently approved, aimed at making it easier to vote by mail and in-person. (Audio)

How to vote when you don't know what you're voting for

ABC 10, By Sarah Moore, November 2, 2016


No one is an expert on every subject.

And yet, California’s political process frequently calls upon voters to weigh in on complex issues concerning criminal justice, public health, economics, the environment, just to name a few.

The good news is, voting is not a test, says Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation. If you skip boxes on the ballot, you will not get an “F” in voting.

Alexander is beating the drum on encouraging people to vote.

“People don’t like to do things they feel they’re not good at,” she said. “I worry people feel they’re not good at voting.”

Faced with a long list of propositions with implications they don’t fully grasp, some voters’ impulse is to vote no, which is something critics of California’s direct democracy process advise as a way of voicing disapproval of it.

But that could backfire on you, Alexander said. Voting no on a proposition sometimes actually means you are voting yes on an issue (and vice versa). As in Prop. 67, which is a referendum on California’s plastic bag ban. You might think you need to vote yes to get rid of the bag ban and no to keep it, but since you are actually voting on the law banning the bags and not the ban itself, a yes vote means keeping the bag ban.

“Worse than not voting at all, is voting one way thinking you’re supporting something when you’re not,” Alexander said.

The California Voter Foundation site and Alexander’s blog highlight resources to help voters feel more confident about their vote and understanding the issues, with links to various resources. (full story)

California officials say state has clean elections process

San Francisco Chronicle, By Janie Har, November 2, 2016


California officials are sending a message: The state has a clean elections process with few confirmed instances of voter fraud.

The assertion came as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump repeatedly claims the election is rigged in favor of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

"There's nothing rigged about our elections, and even when there are some minor irregularities, the reality is that they will be statistically insignificant," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said Tuesday at a news conference meant to reassure voters.

Rick Hasen, a law professor who specializes in election law at the University of California, Irvine, said the state has a good record on election participation.

"The situation in California is much better than what the picture looks like in other parts of the country," he said.

Here are answers to some other election-related questions:


Opponents of a development measure in Beverly Hills have accused backers of registering more than 300 people to vote using post office boxes, which is illegal. They also claim three people associated with Ballot
Measure HH have registered using addresses where they don't reside.


Voters don't have to cast ballots on every item, said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit and nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

The group also suggests voters study the issues before heading to a polling place. If voting by mail, make sure to sign the back of the return envelope.

California accepts ballots postmarked as late as Election Day and received by counties up to three business days later.

Still have questions? Contact your county elections office. (full story)

Your Guide To Coping With The 'Too Darn Long' California Ballot

Capital Public Radio, By Ben Adler, November 2, 2016


There are plenty of handouts to go with the snacks and drinks at Deborah Barron’s Proposition Party, at her home in San Francisco’s Mission District.

In addition to California’s 17 state ballot measures, San Francisco voters face an astounding 25 local measures.

The half-dozen adults here divvied up the prep work and take turns leading the discussion – starting with Proposition 51, the $9 billion statewide school bond.

“I mean, I don’t know,” says Barron, a 43-year-old attorney in private practice. “Normally, I am ‘Yes’ on education ones, but...”

“I’m kind of ‘No’ on this too,” chimes in 43-year-old Eric Quandt of Berkeley, who works in the San Francisco Public Defender’s office.

“That’s how I feel,” adds Jane Ivory Ernstthal. “But I feel so wrong!”

The crowd laughs. “Are you voting against the education of our youth?” Barron quips.

The group quickly gets frustrated.

“Everybody’s got college educations,” Barron vents to the room. “Almost everybody has a master’s degree in some area. All of us work in things that are impacted by this. Numerous of us are attorneys, who read law for a living. And we still can’t figure out how to vote!” (full story)

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

KQED, By Scott Shafer, October 31, 2016


When California first offered voters the option of mail-in or absentee ballots in 1962, less than 3 percent of ballots were cast that way.

In 2002, the state began allowing Californians the option of signing up to be permanent absentee voters for any reason at all. Since then, the percentage of ballots cast by mail has steadily climbed, and when all the votes are counted in the Nov. 8 election, over 60 percent of the votes will be cast by mail-in ballots.

But how do you make sure your ballot gets there on time to be counted?

Many voters, perhaps still nostalgic for old-timey elections, physically drop off their mail-in ballots at their local polling place.

If you put your ballot in the mailbox, the first question is, “Do I need to put a stamp or two on it?”

The answer is, “it depends.” Alpine and Sierra counties have mail-in-ballot-only elections and cover the cost of postage. Until very recently, the only other county that paid the cost of postage voluntarily was San Francisco.

But the tide is turning, says Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation.

“Santa Cruz is covering postage for the first time this year,” Alexander says. “It’s an important new trend!”

In addition, Alexander says other counties, mostly in the Bay Area, also pay for postage now. They include Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Plumas counties.

If you’re not in one of those counties, how much postage do you use? It’s not as straightforward as you might think.

“I’ve found that in Alameda the county advises voters to affix two ‘forever’ stamps if they are voting three cards, and three ‘forever’ stamps if they are voting four cards,” Alexander says. She adds that Los Angeles County says one stamp is enough, while Contra Costa, Sacramento and San Diego counties are advising 68 cents worth of postage.

Adding to potential confusion, says Alexander, Sacramento’s return envelope says “place stamp here,” even though more than one stamp is required.

But don’t worry too much about your vote not counting for lack of postage.

“The counties all have agreements with the post offices to cover insufficient postage costs, but most voters don’t know that,” Alexander says.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed SB 450, which will allow some counties to hold all-mail-in ballot elections starting in 2018, with regional polling centers replacing neighborhood polling places.

Alexander’s organization had serious concerns about SB 450 in part because it didn’t require counties to pay the cost of postage if they opt-in to all mail elections.

“A lot of people look at having to pay postage to mail in ballots as a kind of poll tax,” Alexander says, “while others see it as a convenience, and if you don’t want to use your own stamp you can just go to your polling place.” (full story)

5 Ways To Have (A Little) Fun With The November Ballot

KPBS, By Marissa Cabrera, Maureen Cavanaugh, October 31, 2016


Doing your homework for the Nov. 8 election doesn’t have to be boring.

There are 17 statewide propositions on the ballot that address everything from guns and marijuana to the death penalty. Voters in the city of San Diego will vote on an additional 12 measures, including one on whether to build an NFL stadium and two that would change election rules.

RELATED: Time To Cram: California’s 17 Ballot Measure Propositions Explained

To help voters tackle the ballot, the California Secretary of State published a 225-page voter guide. But the lengthy ballot has also inspired some Californians to get creative.

Here are five ways to have some fun with the 17 statewide propositions:

1. Sing a song

The California Voter Foundation squeezed the propositions into a folksy song. “This is a challenging election where voters are facing a long and complex ballot,” founder and president Kim Alexander said. “We hope that the song makes the process of getting ready to vote a little easier and more entertaining for California’s voters.” (full story)

Prop prep: Californians tackle jumbo ballot with humor

CALmatters, By Katherine Seligman, October 27, 2016


The upcoming ballot is so stuffed with complicated propositions that someone had to explain them in haiku. And song. And cartoon and emoji.

The surge of creations speaks to a wave of younger, first-time and time-pressed voters who might not study the record 224-page tome that is the official California Voter Information Guide. That doesn't even take into account the local measures: All told, voters in San Francisco have 42 ballot measures to decide and 536 official pamphlet pages to peruse—more pages than Charles Dickens needed to write Oliver Twist.

If you’re feeling daunted, you’re in luck: You can now find out about all 17 measures via explanatory poetry, animated films, a bluegrass ditty and more.

Or maybe you prefer your politics up-close-and-personal? You could join other civic-minded Californians and host a proposition potluck for your own friends—dishing out assignments like “Would you bring pasta salad and a primer on Prop. 52?” If your friends aren’t game, you could plug into one of several “prop prep” sessions being hosted around the state at churches, bars and art studios.

Or this Saturday, you could sojourn to Los Angeles City Hall, site of the first-ever Ballot Con. The free event is scheduled to run for six and a half hours at Los Angeles City Hall, and will feature advocates pro and con debating the merits of ballot propositions, along with food and live music. The event is sponsored by SeePolitical, a nonprofit that aims to demystify elections, and the Los Angles Times.

Organizers say they anticipate up to 1,000 people to attend the event, featuring journalists, academics and policy experts as moderators. No one is expected to wear costumes, despite the title and proximity to Halloween.

The same can’t be said of SeePolitical’s 90 second cartoons, where the animated characters include a green alien, an ape, a green marijuana leaf and a beer can that burps, all talking basics on the most prominent propositions in English and Spanish. Shorter cartoons cover the rest.

“It’s hard to give a huge voter handbook to young or first-time voters,” said Nate Kaplan, SeePolitical founder, who worked with Imaginary Forces, a creative studio, and students at Otis College of Art and Design to produce the cartoons. “The way they consume information these days, it doesn’t make sense.”

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Increasingly, people are “looking to watch things” to get information, said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. “We live in a visual world, so it’s important to provide things that are accessible to younger, more diverse voters.”

This season, Alexander collaborated with local musicians on her seventh election ditty, “The Proposition Song.” Set to music that resembles “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” it’s been a top feature on You Tube, performed at music festivals and in front of the state Capitol.

“It’s the longest one we’ve ever produced,” said Alexander. “It’s five minutes. In the world of music videos, that’s long, but for propositions, it’s not.” (full story)

California voters confront super-sized ballots

The San Jose Mercury News, By Matthew Artz, October 26, 2016


Voting in California this year isn’t just an exercise in civic duty. It’s an endurance test.

With 17 statewide propositions that would do everything from legalize pot to mandate condom usage in pornographic films – on top of a crush of local measures and city council, school board and special district races – many Bay Area voters will be filling out three torso-length ballot cards – printed on both the front and the back.

That’s more arrows to connect than any recent election, but a walk in the park compared to what some voters will be facing.

Oakland’s ballot is four double-sided pages. And San Francisco, which has a whopping 25 local measures, has a five-page ballot. It’s overwhelming,” said Bob Mulholland, a Democratic strategist who in the past has run proposition campaigns that suffocated under the weight of an overstuffed ballot. He sees several statewide propositions suffering the same fate this year when voters open up their voting guide, which at 224 pages is longer than “Catcher in the Rye.”

“Twenty-year-olds who get that guide are going to think they’re prepping for the SAT,” Mulholland said. “And the chances of them reading it are almost zero.”

Still, polls show that Californians of all stripes like the initiative process – maybe even more than they like complaining about it. This year there is plenty of reason to bellyache: The number of state propositions is the most since 2000. But one ray of hope is the proliferation of online tools to help voters understand what they’re being asked to decide and easily check out who is paying for all those ads about tobacco taxes and drug costs.

See Political, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles, is making animated videos to explain each proposition. And the Sacramento-based California Voter Foundation distilled every measure into a five-minute “Proposition Song” posted on its website.

“There is an amazing amount of information for voters,” said Kim Alexander, who started the nonprofit foundation two decades ago. “It seems like every day I’m hearing from somebody about a new resource.”

Not surprisingly, one of the most frequent questions she’s gotten so far this month is whether voters are allowed to leave items blank.

“Absolutely,” Alexander said. “It’s not a test.”

That California has a jam-packed ballot might have been the most predictable development of this topsy-turvy election season. Low turnout in the 2014 gubernatorial election reduced the number of signatures needed to qualify a ballot measure. And a 2011 California law pushed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown moved nearly all measures to November, when voter turnout is highest and – you guessed it – Democrats are more likely to show up at the polls. (full story)

Voting by mail in Sacramento? Don’t forget the second stamp

The Sacramento Bee, By Ellen Garisson , October 24, 2016


If that ballot envelope seems a little heavier this year, that’s because it is.

So heavy, in fact, that it requires two stamps of postage.

The 17 statewide measures and numerous local, state and national races add up to a hefty package. The three 17-inch ballot cards Sacramento County voters are filling out weigh more than an ounce, pushing them into the category requiring 68 cents of postage, Sacramento County Registrar Jill LaVine said.

The ballot envelope does not explicitly state how much postage is needed – only that it may require additional postage – so the county has added a flier explaining the two-stamp requirement, LaVine said. The exact postage could include a standard 47-cent Forever stamp and 21 cents of additional postage.

The unusually high number of statewide measures contributed to the length of the ballot this year, LaVine said. During the last few elections, she said everything fit on two ballot cards, which needed only one stamp.

If voters fail to add a second stamp, their ballots will still arrive at the elections office, said Meiko Patton, a spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service. The postal service passes on the bill for insufficient postage to counties, she said.

In previous election cycles, LaVine said the county has paid the postal service about $500 for ballots with insufficient postage. The cost could approach $1,000 this year due to higher voter turnout, she said.

The extra postage requirement can be a source of stress for voters, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

“My biggest worry about vote-by-mail postage is that voters don’t know that counties have a fail-safe,” she said. “They get very worried when they realize they didn’t put enough postage on their ballot envelopes.”

She said recognizing election mail and passing it on with or without correct postage is part of postal carrier training. As a result, she said she doesn’t think many ballots get returned to voters because of insufficient postage.

“My biggest worry about vote-by-mail postage is that voters don’t know that counties have a fail-safe,” she said. “They get very worried when they realize they didn’t put enough postage on their ballot envelopes.”

She said recognizing election mail and passing it on with or without correct postage is part of postal carrier training. As a result, she said she doesn’t think many ballots get returned to voters because of insufficient postage.

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The Postal Service is encouraging voters to mail their ballots at least a week before the Nov. 8 deadline because recent USPS downsizing means it takes longer to process them, LaVine said. El Dorado County’s election office last week said that some voters were experiencing long delays in receiving their mail ballots due to USPS processing times.

LaVine’s office was closing in on 60,000 ballots returned as of Monday morning, a higher number than at this time in previous election cycles. As for how many people forget the extra stamp, she said the majority of voters use two stamps or drop ballots off at one of the designated spots around the county, which eliminates the need for postage.

Alexander said the California Voter Foundation has three tips for vote-by-mail voters: Get your ballot in early, make sure you have the correct postage and sign the envelope. Unsigned envelopes will not be counted. (full story)

California voting groups prepare to monitor polling places

The Associated Press, Janie Har, October 24, 2016


California voting rights advocates say they will monitor more polling places than usual on Election Day amid concerns about possible voter intimidation stemming from GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's repeated assertions that the election is rigged against him.

The stepped-up efforts are happening as officials in the diverse state brace for a potentially high turnout in the presidential election year. In addition, there are numerous local and state races and 17 statewide initiatives on the ballot that could take voters a while to complete.

Monday is the deadline for Californians to register to vote in the Nov. 8 election. Counties began sending out vote-by-mail ballots on Oct. 10. More than 800,000 have been completed and returned, according to data tracking firm Political Data Inc., which tracks returns reported by counties.

More than 18 million people have registered to vote, a record high for the state, with nearly a third of them in Los Angeles County alone.

While California is not known for strict voter ID laws or hours-long waits to vote that critics argue can disenfranchise voters, election-watchers worry about the harsh tenor this campaign season.

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"There is no organized effort that I know of to influence people in any way," she said.

Dean Logan, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and the registrar of voters in Los Angeles County, said voting early and by mail is on pace with the 2008 presidential election. He said counties have issued more than 10.7 million vote-by-mail ballots.

California accepts ballots postmarked as late as Election Day and received by counties up to three business days later, which typically slows final results compared to other states.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, said many voters in the June primary did not realize they had committed to permanently receiving mail-in ballots.

That resulted in confused voters showing up at polling sites unaware they had received mail-in ballots at home, she said. In those cases, counties issued provisional ballots so clerks could verify counties hadn't already received ballots from those voters, leaving some feeling as if their vote didn't count.

"For this election," she said, "you're going to have a lot of people who vote occasionally or are first-time voters, and they're going to need some extra assistance." (full story)

Corporations Love Direct Democracy

LA Progressive, By Judith Lewis Mernit, October 24, 2016


It’s been 105 years since California voters were granted, by a progressive governor and his forward-thinking allies, the right to make laws at the ballot box. We were not the first to gain the privilege; 11 states got there first. Today 24 states allow for direct legislation, which they exercise with varying degrees of intensity when the need arises.

But no state quite matches the high-roller financial showdown that happens every election season in California. Our ability to attract big spenders on the initiatives, referenda and state constitutional amendments that confront an increasingly confused electorate is unparalleled. As of mid-October, more than $400 million had been spent on the 17 measures on the 2016 California ballot. Compare that with Colorado, which ranks second in ballot measure campaigns and whose seven initiatives and two referenda this year cost donors a total of $67 million, a “high-water mark” according to the Colorado Independent.

California’s ability to attract big spenders on the initiatives, referenda and state constitutional amendments that confront an increasingly confused electorate is unparalleled.

This was not what John Randolph Haynes had in mind at the end of the 19th century, when he fought to bring citizen lawmaking to the people. A thoughtful humanist with bold progressive ideas about how to preserve democracy, Haynes came to California from Pennsylvania’s coal county in 1887 to find the state legislature in the thrall of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. Every shred of legislation proposed in Sacramento had to pass muster with the railroad oligarchs; politics were dominated by scoundrels.

More than 20 years later, Haynes’ solution, known back then as “direct democracy,” was intended, in the words of Governor Hiram Johnson, to “eliminate every private interest from the government, and to make the public service of the State responsive solely to the people.” Among its early victories was the abolition of the poll tax—certainly a win for the common man. Less than a century later the ballot initiative and referendum process had become, in the words of journalist David Broder, “not only a radical departure from the Constitution’s system of checks and balances, it is also big business,” a playground for millionaires and corporations that view initiative campaigns as a far less cumbersome means of achieving their various agendas than lobbying legislators to pass their bills.

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Part of the reason wealth concentrates in ballot-box lawmaking is that unlike candidate races, there are no limits on contributions made to initiative campaigns; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1981 that any such restrictions would violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of free association. Another part is the price of admission—simply gathering sufficient signatures to get a state or amendment on the ballot costs at least $2 million and as much as $6 million, depending on deadlines, timing and the aggressiveness of a campaign.

That pretty much counts out any middle-class activist with an eye on citizen lawmaking. It also gives outsized power to billionaires with big ideas. “A single individual with deep pockets and a pet project can almost single-handedly get an initiative on the ballot,” says Kim Alexander, who established the California Voter Foundation in 1994 to foster a better-informed electorate. And even that single individual can be outspent, in a game of one-upmanship that ends only when one side runs out of cash. Witness Los Angeles real estate developer Steve Bing’s 2006 bid to establish a tax on oil-and-gas extractors. Bing bankrolled his $61 million Proposition 87 campaign with $50 million of his own money, but the oil and gas industry spent more— $94 million—and prevailed. It was, at the time, the most money ever spent on an initiative campaign.

Money, however, isn’t everything. “Just as it’s not possible to get an initiative on the ballot without money, it’s also not possible to win a campaign with only money,” Alexander says. Pacific Gas & Electric, for instance, in 2010 spent $46 million to effectively outlaw community power companies; the opposition spent less than $100,000, and won.

In fact, most propositions, no matter how generously supported, fail in California, says Shaun Bowler, a political science professor at the University of California, Riverside, and author of Demanding Choices: Opinion Voting and Direct Democracy. And plenty of high-stakes opposition campaigns go down, too, which might make the investment in California’s ballot-box governing look dubious to the casual observer. (f

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Smith says the “really strong irony” is that Johnson himself inspired early 20th century industrialists to take up the game. “Progressives took over the government,” he says, closing off industry’s former avenue of influence. Moneyed interests then took advantage of the very mechanism progressives had created for the people, only to achieve their own corporate agendas. As early as 1922, so much money was spent on initiative campaigns that the state senate convened a special investigation to look into the issue. “The power of money” over direct legislation, they found, “was made strikingly manifest.”

But the power of money wasn’t enough to move those same senators to end the citizen lawmaking process, and none likely will. For all their gripes, California voters actually like their ballot-box governing. “California voters are deeply protective of their rights,” Kim Alexander says. “As much as people like to complain about it, California voters don’t want to see their right to make laws directly through the ballot eroded.”

Judith Lewis MernitThe most worthy thing we can all do, then, to safeguard the intent of direct democracy is to exploit the state’s robust transparency laws—“the best in the country,” Alexander attests—to understand exactly what each of our votes will mean.

“We have much more information as voters in California than anywhere else in the world,” she says. “We have much more power, too. If California voters understand that power, every November is an awesome opportunity.” But only if we know what we’re doing. (full story)

NPR Politics Podcast

National Public Radio, October 21, 2016


How steep is Donald Trump's climb? This episode: host/campaign reporter Sam Sanders, White House corespondent Tamara Keith, campaign reporter Scott Detrow, and political editor Domenico Montanaro. More coverage at Email the show at

This episode features, at 45 minutes in, a segment about the California Voter Foundation’s “Proposition Song

Do Voters Care About Down-Ballot Races?

KQED, By Ericka Cruz Guevarra, October 21, 2016


As part of our election series “All Politics is Local,” we’re looking at some of the races that voters will find lower down on their ballots.

We hear plenty about the presidential election, but the candidates who win these less publicized races — for things like BART board, school board and Superior Court judge — could have a more direct, tangible effect on our lives and communities.

But not everyone who goes to the polls actually votes in every race.

According to a KQED analysis of data on voter turnout, just about everyone who voted in San Francisco in 2012 cast a ballot for president. But when it came to voting on down-ballot races — contests for local office that generally appear lower on the ballot — many opted out. Only seven in 10 San Franciscans voted for BART director in 2012. And just half voted in the judicial races in 2014.

To make sense of this trend, we sat down with Kim Alexander, director of the California Voter Foundation. She’s urging voters to do their homework on those local contests.

“Even though the presidential election is the race that is getting the most attention, at the end of the day the politicians that are going to have the greatest impact on your life are the people that represent you at the local level,” Alexander said.

But why are voters less likely to vote on those down-ballot measures?

Alexander says it’s because news and information on down-ballot contests are few and far between. This is especially true when compared with the flood of news coverage of presidential candidates, and even all the information available on state propositions.

“If there’s no campaigning on the part of the candidate, no communication to the voters, then the voter has no way to even evaluate whether that person would deserve their vote again in the future,” Alexander said.

It turns out that getting that information to voters can be costly. Counties can charge candidates hundreds or even thousands of dollars to place a statement in the official printed sample ballot.

“We think it’s really important that politicians, when they run for office, make a public statement to the voters saying what they will do if they are elected,” Alexander said. “It’s a really important accountability tool, just as elections themselves are an important accountability tool.”

But here’s the thing: If fewer people are voting in a race, the votes of those who do cast ballots carry more weight, said Alexander. So if you do make it all the way through your ballot, your vote may give you a bigger voice. (Audio)

Trump’s vote-rigging claim disputed by election officials

San Francisco Chronicle, By Melody Gutierrez, October 20, 2016


Dead people voting. Noncitizens casting ballots.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s claim that there are “millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be” elicited a pointed response Thursday from California elections officials.

“False, false, false,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “There are safeguards in place to protect against it.”

While Trump’s comments during Wednesday’s presidential debate are just the latest in a divisive campaign filled with busy fact checkers, election officials say it’s important to set the record straight on the incidence of voter fraud. Otherwise, Padilla said, people could believe their votes don’t count.

“Honoring the results (of the election) is no laughing matter,” Padilla said.

Padilla said voter fraud does happen, but it’s “minuscule.” The state has seen just seven convictions for voter fraud in 20 years, he said.

Each of California’s 58 counties has its own election office that manages voting for local, state and federal races. While most counties rely on paper ballots, some use electronic voting machines at their polling places. But California

bars those machines from being connected to the Internet so that they cannot be hacked. Those electronic machines record the votes on paper to allow voters to see that their decisions were correctly recorded. The paper also

allows counties to audit the results. Counties are required to manually recount 1 percent of precincts after the election to certify the results.

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At a Thursday rally, Trump made light of the previous night’s comments, saying he would accept the election results “if I win.”

Political data expert Paul Mitchell said unqualified voters casting ballots is not the issue Americans should be concerned with, as Trump suggested. He said legitimate votes aren’t always counted because signatures don’t match or the ballot arrives late.

“By 1,000-to-1 you have more legitimate votes not counted for administrative problems than illegitimate votes being cast.” Mitchell said. “It just doesn’t happen.”

As for the possibility of hacking electronic machines to change votes, Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation said the Golden State’s system is secure because paper records are created — with or without electronic machines — and the systems are not online.

“That’s not the case in some battleground states,” she said. “So to be honest, I’m worried about Florida, Pennsylvania and Georgia.”

She said that California moved away from paperless electronic machines after the 2004 election. Those older machines allowed Californians to electronically cast ballots but did not keep a paper record that could be verified. The state passed a law after that election that requires electronic voting machines to maintain paper records.

“It’s important to sort out the real risks,” Alexander said. “The kind of election fraud I worry about is from paperless electronic voting systems.”

Alexander said that in California, she’s worried about a different way votes could be manipulated.

“There is an increasing concern for voter intimidation at polling places,” Alexander said. (full story)

The California Ballot Measure That Inspired a Tax Revolt

New York Times Retro Report video, by Clyde Haberman, Oct. 16, 2016


In 1978, California voters passed Proposition 13, which lowered property taxes for millions of the state's homeowners. Decades later, what has it meant?

Video features interview with CVF president Kim Alexander (full story)

Test Drive: The ballot's 'too darn long'; we're here to help

The San Diego Union-Tribune, By Karla Peterson, October 15, 2016


The great news about the controversy-filled Nov. 8 election is that it is almost here. The scary news is that before we can be done with it, we have to prepare for it. And with 17 statewide ballot propositions and a slew of city and

countywide measures awaiting our decisions, what we are looking at is less a civic sprint than a municipal marathon. Cue the blood, sweat and fears.

“It is a very confusing ballot this year. There are so many ballot measures, and so many of them seem to contradict one another,” said Jeanne Brown membership director of the League of Women Voters of California and president

of the league’s San Diego branch, which is holding a discussion of the pros and cons of the local and county ballot measures at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Mission Valley Library. “If these things are not explained, it can be difficult. Most

of the voters I talk to are very concerned about what they are being asked to do.”

But you do not have to do it alone. From easy voting guides to in-depth campaign-finance tutorials, here are some nonpartisan voting resources that will lead you through the maze. (Keep an eye out for The San Diego Union

Tribune voting guide on Oct. 23.) And when this is all over, you can take a nice long nap. That 224-page Official Voter Information Guide will make a great pillow.

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So what’s your pleasure, San Diego voter? A just-the-facts rundown? A deep dive into the congressional races? A musical guide to the California propositions, complete with a video?

Whether you are looking for efficiency or extreme political wonkery, the California Voter Foundation is the place for you. The nonprofit organization’s no-frills website ( is a clearing house for all of your voting

needs. There is a calendar of important dates and links to such essentials as the Secretary of State’s Voter Information Guide and the Fair Political Practices Commission’s list of the top donors for and against each state

proposition. There is even a link to Cal Voter’s very own “How to Host an Election Party” guide.

The propositions tab gets you the streamlined skinny on the state propositions, and the tabs for the presidential, congressional and legislative races are a trove of helpful links. Make sure to allow 5 minutes and 4

seconds for “The Proposition Song,” in which a troupe of politically astute musicians led by Cal Voter president and founder Kim Alexander provides singalong descriptions of all 17 state propositions. The multi-talented

Alexander wrote the lyrics, which includes a chorus that is both catchy and cathartic.

“It’s the Proposition Song! You should be singing along! Cuz the ballot is too darn long!” Amen, my voting brothers and sisters. (full story)

Election News This Week, October 13, 2016


Move over Schoolhouse Rock, there’s a new voter education group in town. The California Voter Foundation is turning to music to help voters in the Golden State understand the 17 measures on November 8 ballot.

“The Proposition Song” written by CVF’s Kim Alexander is a catchy, education and light-hearted look at what voters will be facing in the voting booth. The “Proposition Song” reviews all 17 measures on California’s

statewide ballot in less than five minutes, helping voters sort out the measures by topic. Each proposition is described in rhyme, and the lyrics are captioned in the video to encourage viewers to sing along. “This is a

challenging election where voters are facing a long and complex ballot,” Alexander noted. “We hope that the song makes the process of getting ready to vote a little easier and more entertaining for California’s voters.”

Thanks a lot CVF, this song is going to be stuck in our head all election season now. (full story)


California Voter Foundation Recommends Mailing In Ballots Early

Capitol Public Radio, October 12, 2016


Early voting begins this week in most parts of California. Kim Alexander heads the California Voter Foundation. She tells the California Report, if you're voting by mail, send your ballot back early and make sure you have enough postage.

There are so many propositions that it's a heavy ballot this year. But once your ballot is delivered back to the elections office, Alexander says voters can feel confident about their vote being counted.

"...And we are using computers and software to tabulate our votes but all those votes reside on paper, which is durable and can be recounted if there is a question," says Alexander.

Meanwhile, there are indications that this could be a banner year for early voting in California. Los Angeles County has already seen more than 100 ballots cast on the first day of early voting. (full story)

Why are there two plastic bag ban propositions on the California ballot?

Los Angeles TImes, By Javier Panzar , October 12, 2016


When voters go down the list of the 17 statewide propositions on their ballots this November, they could be confused when they reach two measures placed there by a trade group seeking to overturn the state’s landmark 2014 ban on plastic bags.

The most straightforward is Proposition 67, a referendum asking voters to either vote yes to preserve the law or no to reject the statute, which bans disposable plastic bags and lets grocers charge customers 10 cents for paper bags or more durable reusable plastic bags.

But even if voters keep that law in place, they could also alter the law by approving Proposition 65, an initiative that would send the proceeds from that 10-cent fee to a state fund for environmental projects.

Both propositions qualified for the ballot thanks to signature gathering efforts paid for by the plastic industry’s trade group, the American Progressive Bag Alliance.

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An analysis by the independent Legislative Analyst's Office also raised the possibility that if Proposition 65, the initiative redirecting the funds, gets more votes than the referendum, a court could prevent a ban from going into effect at all.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said that although the ballot often has multiple measures dealing with the same issues, this case is peculiar.

“What is unusual is for the same group to be proposing more than one measure on the ballot and having those measures operate somewhat in conflict,” she said.

Mark Murray, executive director of the environmental group Californians Against Waste, accused the plastics trade group of trying to confuse voters.

Given the other high-profile issues on the ballot such as legalizing marijuana and repealing the death penalty, the average voter, even if he or she approves of a plastic bag ban, might not know which one to vote for, Murray said.

It is worth noting, he said, that the initiative, Proposition 65, comes before the referendum, Proposition 67. That could affect voters too, he said.

“They may remember, ‘There is the thing I am supposed to vote ‘yes’ on, but I voted ‘yes’ on this first one, I think I should vote no on the second one,” he said.

Jon Berrier, a spokesman for the alliance, said the initiative is not meant to confuse voters but instead to offer them the chance to make sure that the fees collected “have some public purpose” and provide direct environmental benefits.

The Legislative Analyst's Office analysis said that fee revenue could reach several tens of millions of dollars annually, but that depends on the level of future bag sales and the prices of carryout bags.

Opponents of Proposition 65, including the San Diego branch of the Surfrider Foundation, have criticized the measure as a ploy to divide environmentalists and smaller grocers who could use the fees to cover the cost of durable bags.

The law would not affect local bag bans, which are on the books in 150 cities and counties in the state, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Those local laws cover about 40% of California’s population, mostly in more liberal coastal counties in the Los Angeles area and the Bay Area, according to the analysis. (full story)

Could the U.S. election be hacked?

USA Today, By Elizabeth Weise , October 11, 2016


The impact of Russian hacking on the upcoming presidential election was a topic in Sunday night’s debate, raising the question: Is the U.S. election hackable? Experts say at the national level, no. But there could be individual incidents that undermine faith in the system.

There’s almost no danger the U.S. presidential election could be affected by hackers. It’s simply too decentralized and for the most part too offline to be threatened, according to the head of the FBI and several security experts.

“National elections are conducted at the local level by local officials on equipment that they obtained locally," so there's no single point of vulnerability to tampering here, said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates for elections accuracy.

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last month, FBI Director James Comey said that while concern has been rightly focused on the integrity of state voter registration systems, the actual voting process remains “very, very hard to hack into because it is so clunky and dispersed.’’

“It is Mary and Fred putting a machine under the basketball hoop at the gym,’’ Comey said. “These things are not connected to the Internet.’’

Nevertheless, Comey said federal authorities have been counseling state officials to secure their systems, especially voter registration databases, as hackers have continued to “scan’’ the systems for vulnerabilities.

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Experts say some local systems may be vulnerable to hacking. In some jurisdictions, local rules allow the transfer of election results using WiFi rather than putting the information on a thumb drive that’s physically taken to the central tally site. Others simply use outdated machines, said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that promotes the responsible use of technology in elections.

“They’re in a position where they need to buy something new, but governments don’t want to spend the money on it,” she said.

Depending on the voting machine, all it might take would be one disgruntled election official plugging in a thumb drive containing malware to falsify vote tallies, said Mike Baker, founder of Mosaic451, a computer security company that focuses on infrastructure protection, including for some state and federal election networks.

So far, 33 states and 11 county or local election agencies have approached the Department of Homeland Security for cybersecurity risk and vulnerability assessments, Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement Monday.

But time is a factor and he encouraged election agencies to ask for help now.

“There are only 29 days until election day, and it can take up to two weeks from the time we receive authorization to run the scans and identify vulnerabilities. It can then take at least an additional week for state and local election officials to mitigate any vulnerabilities on systems that we may find,” he said. (full story)

Calif. Voter Foundation Releases ‘Proposition Song’

Fox 40, By Rina Nakano, October 10, 2016


In just under a month, voters have a lot more decisions to make than just their choice for president.

The California Voter Foundation released their new music video titled the "2016 Proposition Song."

For the past six elections, the non-profit, non partisan organization has helped voters understand the state initiatives by writing a song about the proposed laws.

"There's a lot of homework for voters to do. We know it's hard," the organization's president Kim Alexander, said.

She said she was inspired by School House Rock. Many voters picked up on that.

"It reminds me of when I was a kid. How a bill becomes a law. Bill on Capitol hill. I think it's helpful," voter, Terri Boughton said.

The folk song goes through the 17 initiatives on this year's ballot.

From gun control, to marijuana, to the death penalty, the song matches each prop number with the measure.

"The song is to make the process of learning about the propositions fun and engaging. and not have to take a lot of time," Alexander said.

She said many people do not want to read the official 105 page Proposition explanation packet.

While the five minute song does not replace the packet, she hopes the music video gets thousands of views. She knows song the song will not have much of a shelf life.

"We want to make sure we get it out as early as possible. So people can enjoy it. Because you know what? On November 9th, I don't think many people are going to want to watch the Proposition song music video," Alexander said. (full story)

California is making it easier than ever to vote

The Sacramento Bee, By Jim Miller, October 9, 2016


Texas lawmakers in 2011 approved a law that counted handgun licenses, but not student ID cards, as acceptable forms of identification to vote.

The Wisconsin Legislature, after Republicans took control in 2010, approved a similarly strict ID requirement. North Carolina lawmakers went further, passing ID rules as well as reducing early voting hours and eliminating same-day registration.

California will never show up in the stacks of legal filings challenging those laws. In California, no law requires voters to show ID. They soon will be registered to vote automatically. Their vote will be counted even if it shows up three days after the election.

While many other states have tightened voter access, for more than a decade the Democratic controlled California Legislature has moved in the opposite direction:

• Online voter registration. Residents have been able to register online for the past four years. Nearly 200,000 people signed up online on the last day to register to vote in the June 7 primary.

• Vote-by-mail ballots. Unlike some states, California doesn’t require a medical reason or other excuse to be a permanent vote-by-mail voter. In June, almost 59 percent of the vote came in through the mailbox.

• Three-day leeway. Mail ballots postmarked on Election Day will still be counted as long as they arrive at election offices within three days.

Other major voter-access laws should be in place in time for the 2018 election. California will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. Those applying for a driver’s license or filing a change of address with the Department of Motor Vehicles will automatically be registered, unless they opt out. Perhaps most significantly, the state will allow voter registration on Election Day.

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Vote centers would join other parts of California’s county-centric elections system. The state years ago stopped reimbursing counties for some election programs, meaning the state cannot legally impose a statewide template. That leads to voter confusion, some experts say.

“We give voters all these rights, but whether they’re able to exercise all these rights depends on the uniformity of the counties,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. “Generally it’s the bigger and wealthier counties that often do a better job.”

More changes are in store following last month’s certification of VoteCal, the state’s new statewide voter registration database. In the works for a more than a decade, VoteCal has linked to all 58 counties, and statewide certification by the Secretary of State’s Office was the last remaining step.

That clears the way for pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds as well as a statewide registration and polling place lookup tool. People will be able to register to vote on Election Day starting in January. And the certification was a key step for automatic DMV registration of voters, which should be in place by July 2017, officials said.

Turnout of registered voters, however, remains a concern, particularly among younger voters. While it can vary depending on the election, California turnout generally has been on a downward trend in recent decades. Even with Bernie Sanders on the ballot, just 34 percent of registered voters between 18 and 25 years old cast votes in June, compared with a turnout rate of 66 percent for voters 65 and older.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla has traveled California in recent weeks to drum up interest in the Nov. 8 election. He’s working with colleges to put registration links on their websites and raise awareness about the upcoming election.

If the interest is there, people will find a way to vote, said several students at Woodland Community College, where Padilla spoke last month.

Christian Lahm, 19, of Woodland cast a mail ballot in the June election.

“They mail it to your house,” Lahm said. “I don’t know how they can make it any easier.” (full story)

Confused by CA's 17 ballot props? Here's an earworm to help

KPPC, By Take Two, October 7, 2016


Californians, go ahead and give yourselves a pat on the back.

Why? Because Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced this week that we're breaking records on voter registration.

More than 18 million Californians are now registered— that amounts to almost two-thirds of everyone eligible to vote.

For those of you who are registered to vote, there's even more good news: a new, five-minute song that's going to get you prepped on all props.

It's part "99 Bottles of Beer" and a little bit "Schoolhouse Rock"

The 2016 proposition song is courtesy of Kim Alexander, president of the non-partisan California Voter Foundation. (Audio)

The ballot initiative song: Learn about all of California's propositions in one catchy tune

The Los Angeles Times, By Christine Mai-Duc, October 7, 2016


If you thought ballot initiative haikus were as good as it was going to get this campaign season, think again.

The California Voter Foundation released this catchy ballot proposition song on YouTube this week, and it has everything that will make your wonky heart pitter-patter: a folksy, twangy sound, rhyming one-liners describing each measure, and a chorus that declares "the ballot's too darn long."

The foundation's president, Kim Alexander, wrote the lyrics and is featured in the video on vocals and playing the ukulele and guitar.

"When you have 17 measures on the ballot, it's a challenge just to keep them all straight, to know which one is about which topic, and that's what the song does," says Alexander, who's written six other proposition songs since 2000. "I think I missed my calling, I probably should have been a Broadway lyricist."

If you want to sing along to the tune, here are the lyrics, and Alexander has even posted the guitar chords to go along with the words.

Want more detailed information on each of the statewide ballot measures? The California Voter Foundation has you covered, and so do we. (full story)

‘The ballot is too darn long’ – Proposition song boils down ballot for California voters

The San Francisco Chronicle, By Kristin Hanes, October 6, 2016


The voter’s pamphlet can be a difficult to tackle beast, and with election day under a month away, it’s probably time to grab the issues by the horns. The California Voter Foundation or CVF, hopes a little diddy will help you wrap your head around your options.

The “Proposition Song” music video goes over all 17 ballot measures, with hopes its rhymes and catchy chorus will help simplify the issues for voters. You can also sing along with the tune; the words bounce across the bottom of the screen during the 5-minute video.

CVF president and founder, Kim Alexander, wrote the song, and says, “This is a challenging election where voters are facing a long and complex ballot. We hope that the song makes the process of getting ready to vote a little easier and more entertaining for California’s voters.”

CVF claims to be a non-partisan group, so the song shouldn’t lean to one side of the aisle or the other. (full story)

‘The ballot’s too darn long,’ so maybe this song will help

The Sacramento Bee, By Jeremy B. White, October 6, 2016


You know how you can remember song lyrics from a decade ago even if you've forgotten where you just put your car keys?

The California Voter Foundation hopes the power of song can help people navigate this election, too, once again recording a ditty detailing the ballot measures before voters.

“Every election could use a song,” said California Voter Foundation president Kim Alexander, a folk music enthusiast who plays the ukulele in a video shot around Sacramento. “It’s engaging and it rhymes, and that makes it easier for people to remember.”

If the song’s length of just over five minutes seems on the longer end, that’s consistent with a ballot bursting with 17 different measures. The 2014 version, which covered six propositions, ran three minutes and 22 seconds.

So maybe a folk song with lyrics mentioning “Medi-Cal matching funds,” “carryout bag fees” or “nonviolent offenders” wouldn’t exactly thrill Woody Guthrie, mandolin and fiddle notwithstanding.

But the chorus should have plenty of people nodding in agreement, if not tapping their feet.

“You should all be singing along,” the band croons, “’cuz the ballot’s too darn long.” (full story)

Sacramento County eyes dramatic shift to vote-by-mail under new law

The Sacramento Bee, By Ellen Garrison, September 29, 2016


This November’s presidential election could mark the last time many California voters fill out ballots at a polling place, including traditionalists who have long resisted the trend of voting by mail.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Thursday allowing Sacramento and 13 other counties to eliminate most neighborhood polling places and send ballots to all voters starting in 2018. Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine said this week that she hopes to shift voters toward a mail ballot system in two years.

Under Senate Bill 450, counties will be required to offer “vote centers” where people can fill out their ballots and turn them in. But based on current voter registration, Sacramento County would only have to open 73 vote center locations instead of the 548 polling places it plans to operate for the Nov. 8 election.

SB 450 sets California on the same path as Colorado and some other states that have created vote centers and ballot drop-off boxes in response to the soaring use of mail ballots and shrinking numbers of polling place voters.

Proponents of SB 450 contend it will allow people to vote early more easily. Skeptics, though, have raised concerns that the centers could hurt voter turnout because many prefer to vote at their neighborhood polling place.

LaVine said Sacramento County would be able to cut costs because fewer polling places would reduce the number of machines needed to replace its aging voter technology. The county would get rid of its smallest polling places, such as those located in private garages, and focus on using community centers and churches.

Consolidation could mean that voters will lose nearby neighborhood precincts, but gain amenities such as ample parking at the locations that become vote centers.

“We wouldn’t have some of the issues that we have right now with our polling places,” she said.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said her organization formally took a neutral position on the bill but expressed some concerns to the Legislature. California has a high rate of mail ballot rejection compared with other states and that’s just among voters choosing to vote by mail, Alexander said. The bill also doesn’t require counties to pay postage for the ballots, which could disenfranchise some voters.

“Most counties don’t cover the postage now, but (voting by mail is) seen as a convenience,” she said.

Alexander also said voting in person or in public can be very important to communities, particularly communities of color who have had their voting rights suppressed in past elections.

Besides that, “people like the ritual of it,” she said.

Of the approximately 344,000 Sacramento County voters who participated in the June primary, one-third voted at polling places and the rest participated by mail.

In regular elections, SB 450 requires that counties create one vote center for every 50,000 registered voters within 10 days of Election Day. That would mean 15 vote centers would open in Sacramento County more than a week early, based on the county’s current registration of nearly 730,000 voters. Three days before the election, the county would have to expand the number of vote centers to 73. (full story)

Get ready, your 224-page voter information guide hits your mailbox soon

KPCC, By Mary Plummer, Semptember 29, 2016


On Thursday, the California Secretary of State’s office begins mailing out a 224-page Voter Information Guide to each California household with a registered voter.

The guide contains details on the candidates for president and the U.S. Senate and on 17 statewide ballot measures. There's information as well on California's Voter Bill of Rights, provisional voting and finding your polling place.

This year's booklet is believed to be the longest voter information guide produced by the Secretary of State's office, according to Sam Mahood, a spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

Believe it not, early voting in the state begins in less than two weeks, so now's a good time to start reading up on the candidates and ballot measures.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said the voter guide weighs 10 ounces and voters will find information on a host of issues on the ballot.

"We’ve got drugs and guns and tobacco and taxes and I mean it’s just a full on potpourri of life on the California ballot,” she said.

The guides are mailed out in batches. So if you don’t get yours immediately, be patient: it should be on its way.

Alexander has these tips on how to digest the information in the guide:

That encyclopedia in your mailbox is a voter guide

The Sacramento Bee, By Jeremy White, Semptember 19, 2016


Given that most voters tend to be “low-information” and distracted from election preparation even in years with leaner ballots, the barrier to comprehension is “definitely heightened in a year like this,” said Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at UC Davis.

“There are a lot of concerns that with such a packed ballot, with all those ballot initiatives, that people could get reading fatigue or information overload,” Romero said, so “they might just close it up, say ‘I’ll look at it tomorrow.’”

The good news, said California Voter Foundation president Kim Alexander, is that it all fit into one publication despite worries that it couldn’t be bound into a single volume. She heralded changes from past years boosting “plain language and better design,” like tabs tracking which initiative a voter is reading about. She argued the sprawling document could actually encourage voters.

“There’s something on the ballot for everyone: we have drugs and porn and guns and death and taxes and plastic bags,” Alexander said. “There are a lot of things on the ballot that are going to draw people into the election.” (full story)

In California, scant threat of election hacking

Capitol Weekly, By Chuck McFadden, September 19, 2016


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested that if he loses in Pennsylvania, it would be the result of voter fraud. Trump offered no evidence to back his statement. The FBI has warned state election officials of possible attempts to hack state election systems after breaches in Arizona and Illinois. The likely culprits were agents of the Russian government, the FBI said. Federal investigators also said Russians likely were behind the recent email hacking of members of Congress.

Could some nefarious organization or individual disrupt the integrity of California’s voting system and its Nov. 8 general election?

It’s possible, but extremely improbable, say the experts.

“There are tons of ways you could do it,” says Kim Alexander, founder and president of the California Voter Foundation. “Our system is not 100 percent unhackable.”

Nonetheless, Alexander adds, “We have done a lot more than other states” to prevent tampering.

Discussions of potential hacking actually may make the system more secure.

“When you have an equipment failure that led to a plane crash, people are all going to check their planes and make sure their equipment is safe,” said Richard Lowden, the founder and CEO of RTBiQ, a Bay Area high-tech data communications and advertising firm. “The same thing will occur here. They are going to be looking at the system to make sure they have the proper things in place.”

Alexander noted that California’s 58 counties independently handle election night counts — along with checks, counterchecks and paper trails – and anyone trying to foul things up would face considerable challenges.

“Voting in California is widely dispersed, with 58 counties, and there is little interference from the secretary of state’s office,” she said. (full story)

California's record-setting 224-page voter guide is costing taxpayers nearly $15 million

Los Angeles Times, By John Myers, Semptember 9, 2016


In a season replete with clothing catalogs and campaign flyers, the biggest item stuffed in mailboxes this fall may be the Nov. 8 statewide voter guide, coming in at a record-setting 224 pages.

The information booklet covers all 17 statewide ballot propositions, a document that election officials believe is the most voluminous election guide in California history. And it hasn’t come cheap: The total cost for printing and mailing, done in Sacramento and taking seven weeks to complete, will come close to $15 million.

“It could have been worse,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

The qualification in late June of this fall’s large slate of statewide voter propositions, the most in more than 15 years, set in motion plans to roll out what became a hefty voter guide. State law requires the document be mailed to each of California’s 18 million voters, a two-week process that begins on Sept. 29. The printing started in the middle of August at a state government warehouse in Sacramento, and the final cost won’t be known until the effort concludes.

“On election day every voting Californian is a lawmaker,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

This fall, voters are being asked to wade through some of the most complex laws ever proposed, initiatives with details so granular that they could easily confound all but the most expert legal minds.

Leading the pack is Proposition 64, the much-talked-about effort to fully legalize marijuana use for California adults. The broad question may be straightforward, but the initiative is not.

While there have been longer lists of state propositions in the past, the accompanying guides were shorter. In the 2012 general election, California voters weighed 11 propositions. That year’s voter guide ran 144 pages and cost taxpayers $8 million.

A review of decades’ worth of voter guides, compiled online by the University of California’s Hastings School of Law, suggests the length of propositions is increasing. In 1988, for example, a much longer list of 29 ballot propositions translated into a 159-page voter guide.

Alexander said the system hands taxpayers the bill no matter what the interest groups backing the initiative measures in question choose to write.

“It might be worthwhile to consider charging initiative proponents extra to propose their measure if it exceeds a certain number of pages,” she said.

The guide is intended to offer a variety of pieces of information on ballot measures, including a quick reference guide for what Padilla described as voters “short on time” that offers ballot titles and short summaries. The guide also includes arguments in support or opposition to each proposed law as well as a fiscal analysis by the independent legislative analyst’s office.

“Many voters use the guide as a tool for quickly learning who supports and opposes a measure,” Alexander said.

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Unlike companies that now offer consumers the option of canceling paper documents in exchange for online records, voters can’t yet opt out of receiving the state ballot guide in the mail and choose instead to read it online. A new state law, however, anticipates giving voters that option as soon as 2018 in conjunction with the certification of a new statewide voter registration database.

Because the guide is mailed to each voter in the state, some households receive multiple copies.

Some counties, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, already offer an online option for their local election documents. It could prove particularly valuable this November; San Francisco voters will have 25 local measures to ponder after they consider the 17 statewide propositions. Voters who provide an email address can stop receiving the paper brochures.

For voters overwhelmed by the weighty tome that will arrive in a few weeks, it’s always worth remembering that not every proposition requires a choice.

“We like to remind voters that voting is not a test,” said Alexander. “You don’t have to vote on every measure on the ballot, it’s perfectly fine to skip one if you are confused or unsure of how you want to vote.” (full story)

Amid FBI Warning, Elections Officials Reassure There Are Safeguards Against Hacking

CBS Sacramento, By Shirin Rajaee, August 30, 2016


With just over two months out from election day, the FBI is issuing what some people are calling an unprecedented warning. Bureau investigators say foreign hackers have penetrated election databases in two states and they are now warning other states, including California.

A suspected Russian hacker is said to be responsible for compromising data in Arizona, and investigators are working to determine the hacking group that targeted Illinois.

“Their driver’s license number, social security, there’s a lot of sensitive information that is important to protect,” says Kim Alexander, President of California Voter Foundation.

The FBI has sent state election boards a long list of recommendations on how to test their systems and do vulnerability scans.

California’s Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections statewide, says there’s no evidence of a breach here.

“I know we have strong laws compared to other states, we have a Secretary of State who’s an MIT engineering graduate, so he gets it,” says Alexander.

The office says, “California has one of the most strenuous voting system testing and certification programs in the world.”

So how is the state staying protected?

For one, they go through months of testing, including code review and simulated hacks.

Then voting systems, such as the equipment you see at polling places, cannot be connected to the Internet at any time.

Also in California, there is a paper trail in addition to our computerized voting system. But, not all counties have the same advantage.

“Large counties like L.A. have vast IT departments and lots of computer tech security, but smaller counties don’t have the same technology or security,” says Alexander. (full story)

In politically hot Sacramento, no contest for several prominent school boards

Sacramento Bee, By Loretta Kalb, August 26, 2016


In a city where politics is sport, Sacramento City Unified School District board races have attracted rising political stars and gobs of campaign money over the years.

But for the first time in decades, the capital city’s school district couldn’t attract enough candidates for a single competitive race in the November general election, allowing two incumbents and two aspirants to quietly take board seats without having to shake a single voter’s hand.

The ballot shutout doesn’t stop at Sacramento City Unified. Two other large Sacramento County districts, San Juan and Folsom Cordova, also will have no contests. Three people will slide into four-year terms at San Juan and two will become trustees for Folsom Cordova without a vote cast.

It’s been more than 20 years since all candidates have been uncontested in either San Juan or the Sacramento City districts. In the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, no-vote elections are becoming the norm. In the last two trustee elections, in 2012 and 2014, all candidates were unopposed, said outgoing Trustee Teresa Stanley.

“We’re just taking it that we’re doing something right. Because nobody wants to get in there and stir things up,” Stanley said.

But Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said voters suffer by a lack of competition at the ballot.

“Elections are a process where you pitch your ideas and hope people agree with them,” she said. “And if they do, you get elected and they hold you accountable. If there is no election, we don’t have that accountability process unfolding as it’s supposed to.”

Two years ago, school board campaigns in Sacramento City Unified were grueling and costly. Total fundraising reached nearly $200,000 by election day, including $50,000 spent by the Sacramento City Teachers Association on behalf of four candidates.

The teachers union spent heavily in an attempt to defeat trustee Jay Hansen, who has called for the district to reconsider its employee benefits and focus on reducing pension obligations. An SCTA mailer showed Hansen, first appointed in 2012, as a shotgun-toting, cigar-chomping trustee.

He survived, buoyed in part by $31,000 from the California Charter Schools Association.

“I was a bit jealous,” Hansen said when asked about this year’s lack of competition. He thought the tenor of the presidential campaign may have played a role.

“It’s so vitriolic at the national level,” he said. “I’ve talked to people who are turned off by the whole thought of public office.”

When trustee Gustavo Arroyo decided earlier this month not to run for re-election, he said he “made the rounds” to let people know he appreciated their support. But he made no formal announcement. And the teachers association did not put forth a candidate for his seat.

Only one person filed for the post: Sacramento City College adjunct instructor Michael Minnick. He said he was surprised when he learned he was the only candidate in the race.

“It’s a little anti-climactic without an election night,” he said. “It didn’t occur to me at any point that I could be done by August. What is awesome about this is I have four months to get connected with the neighborhood,” which includes Tahoe Park, Glen Elder and other south area neighborhoods.

This time, the teachers association is backing only one candidate, Mai Vang, said SCTA 1st Vice President David Fisher.

Vang is a community activist who helped wage an unsuccessful campaign in 2013 to block school closures in underserved Sacramento neighborhoods. She replaces two-term trustee Diana Rodriguez, who announced Aug. 3 she would not run again. The seat represents south area neighborhoods, including Florin and Meadowview.

Two incumbents will get new four-year terms to the Sacramento school board: Christina Pritchett, this year’s president who is finishing her first term in office, and Jessie Ryan, elected in 2014 to fill a midterm vacancy.

Alexander said the limited number of candidates could be linked to a crisis in civic engagement nationally.

“We live in a time when the majority of people eligible to vote don’t vote,” she said. “Many parents don’t have any extra time to volunteer. It’s not just local government where you see a decline in participation, but also community organizations and other service organizations that have relied on volunteers. I’ve seen similar declines.”

Alexander, citing the 2014 race for Hansen’s seat, said campaigning has become distasteful for some people. In that campaign, she said, “We got piles of mail from those candidates. It was very expensive. So if you do run for a local down-ballot office, it’s competitive. You have may have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. That can be a deterrent.” (full story)

Voting will never be quite the same in California if lawmakers pass reforms

Los Angeles TImes, By John Myers, August 23, 2016


Sweeping legislation at the state Capitol would make the future of California elections dependent on a major expansion of absentee ballots, one that would give local officials the power to close thousands of neighborhood polling places.

In their place, counties would open temporary elections offices known as “vote centers” sprinkled throughout communities, locations offering a wide variety of elections services including early voting and same-day voter registration as well as a limited number of in-person voting booths.

“We're trying to make it easier for people to participate, given the complexities of modern life,” said state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), the author of Senate Bill 450.

The proposal was passed by the Assembly on Tuesday on a party-line vote. It now heads to the state Senate and faces an Aug. 31 deadline to make it to Gov. Jerry Brown for his ultimate signature or veto.

Allen and SB 450’s supporters say the plan represents a significant rethinking of the election experience for Californians. They point out that the many complaints from voters during the June primary — including polling place mistakes and registration errors — are perhaps the best argument for why change is long overdue.

“I think it was very clear the June primary really exposed the weaknesses in our current system,” said Dean Logan, registrar of voters in Los Angeles County. “Our current system and infrastructure are failing.”

SB 450 would offer each of California’s 58 counties the chance to embrace an alternative to traditional elections. In most of those counties, every registered voter would receive a ballot in the mail and polling places would be scrapped. Voters would be able to turn in ballots either at secure drop boxes placed around the county or at the new “vote center” locations.

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Logan said he could even see a few mobile vote centers set up for a pre-election weekend at places like the Rose Bowl.

“This is an entirely new model of voting that’s designed with the voter in mind,” he said.

Still, SB 450 envisions far fewer vote centers than the polling places mandated by existing law. Even though vote centers would be open for more days, in some cases it could mean a 90% reduction in locations where a voter can cast an in-person ballot on election day.

The formulas in the bill language would allow Los Angeles County, which had more than 4,500 neighborhood polling places June 7, to open as few as 100 early vote centers for elections starting in 2020. In the final three days of early voting and on election day itself, there would need to be about 500 vote centers spread throughout the county.

“I’m frankly surprised that there has not been a more robust discussion in the Legislature about whether it’s a good idea to eliminate polling places,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

Although her organization is officially neutral on SB 450, Alexander said such a major change might have been better crafted as a pilot project in a select few counties to see how voters would react — and not something that, if signed into law, could be used in every county in California in as few as four years.

The proposal was inspired by Colorado’s move from traditional polling places in 2013. But unlike Colorado, the California shift would allow counties to decide between “opting in” or continuing to conduct traditional elections — a concession supporters admit was due to the cost of a statewide mandate, and a flexibility that Alexander said could prove troublesome. (full story)

Google launches new feature for 'how to vote' searches

KPCC, By Take Two, August 17, 2016


There's a lot for California voters to keep track of this election year.

Not only all the local races and statewide ballot measures, but also things like how to vote by mail and when you can vote.

If you're confused, fret not. Google wants to help.

Yesterday the search engine unveiled a new tool to help voters out.

Type in a query about voting (something like "how to vote") and you'll automatically see a pop up box with information tailored to the state you're clicking away in.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, joined Take Two to talk about how technology could affect voter habits in an election year that's exciting, but also pretty confusing. (Audio)

Reality Check with Sam Brock: Fact-checking Donald Trump’s Claims on Voter Fraud

NBC Bay Area, By Sam Brock, August 9, 2016


Can voters really show up at polls multiple times? Sam Brock investigates Donald Trump's claim that the country needs voter ID laws. (Video)

Is California’s Initiative Process Out of Control?

KQED, Hosted By Dave Iverson, August 2, 2016


This November, California voters will be asked to decide on a whopping 17 initiatives — and that doesn’t even include local ballot measures. The deluge comes despite recent reforms aimed at streamlining the state’s initiative process. We’ll talk with experts about this year’s bloated ballot and whether direct democracy is working for California. (Audio)

Hack the vote: Making voting easier

Public Forum hosted by KPCC Radio, Pasadena, July 13, 2016

This 90-minute forum featured CVF President Kim Alexander, along with Los Angeles County Registrar-County Clerk Dean Logan, Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley, and Long Beach City Clerk Maria de la luz Garcia, with KPCC reporter Mary Plummer serving as moderator.

A video archive of the event is available courtesy of KPCC, and features exchanges between panelists and audience members as well as testimonials from voters and pollworkers. (Video )

'Confusing' California primary ends on sour note

Los Angeles Times, By John Myers, July 11, 2016


State officials will write the June 7 primary’s final chapter this week by certifying that more than 8.5 million ballots were cast, though it’s unlikely to assuage voters or local elections officials who complained that overlapping and confusing rules left them with a lingering political hangover.

“It’s disheartening because people’s expectations were so high,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “There were a lot of unhappy voters.”

The primary’s sour ending note seems largely due to the asymmetric rules governing the presidential and statewide elections. Unlike the primary for state races – where anyone could vote for any candidate – the presidential contests were governed by a patchwork of rules that differed by political party.

“The presidential primary is always the most difficult to conduct,” said Michael Vu, San Diego County’s registrar of voters.

Independent voters, known in California as having “no party preference,” were allowed to vote in the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But they were banned from voting in the Republican presidential primary.

The Democratic Party required unaffiliated voters to use a special “crossover” ballot so they couldn’t vote for the party’s governing committee — but voters had to proactively ask elections officials for the special ballot.

“The parties set the rules,” said Dean Logan, county clerk-registrar of voters in Los Angeles County. “The presidential primary is not designed with voters in mind.”

Those rules were supposed to be enforced by local elections officials, but procedures varied county to county. Activists, many of which were fervent Sanders supporters, leveled accusations that some independent voters were being cheated out of voting for the insurgent Democrat.

Reports on election day found a number of polling place flash points, where workers either offered the wrong advice or didn’t use the latest roster of registered voters.

California does not have a uniform system for what kind of training, or how much, to give poll workers.

“There is no statewide standard, and we’re all left to interpret these things county by county,” said Joe Canciamilla, registrar of voters in Contra Costa County.

Canciamilla’s office made headlines when state officials balked at the county’s decision to give a provisional ballot to any “no party preference” voter who received a ballot by mail but then decided to cast a vote at a polling place.

Those voters are supposed to exchange their original ballot, but some left them at home. Either way, Contra Costa officials offered a provisional ballot, reserved for those whose eligibility can’t quickly be determined on election day.

“That gives us a clear opportunity to check that voter,” Canciamilla said of his county’s use of provisional ballots.

In other states, critics charged that provisional ballots went uncounted. And by the time the presidential race made it to California, Sanders supporters used social media to urge people to refuse a provisional ballot.

Elections officials countered that California’s election law allows wide discretion to accept those votes. The final report in Contra Costa County showed 88% of provisional ballots were successfully counted. In Los Angeles County, where more than 268,000 provisional ballots were cast, 87% were ultimately counted.

Registrars reported more citizens than in prior years showing up after election day to observe the counting of provisional ballots. In San Diego, activists took to Facebook and Twitter last week with accusations that elections workers were changing provisional ballots.

In one sense, they were right. Because some voters showed up in a different part of the community from where they were registered, they mistakenly voted in down-ticket races for which they weren’t eligible to participate. San Diego election workers “redacted” those mistaken votes with white correction tape, leaving intact choices made for president and U.S. Senate.

“We have to redact those votes in which you were not eligible,” Vu said.

In some counties, those ballots are “remade” with election workers copying all of the voter’s selections to a new ballot, the same process used when a ballot is damaged but a voter’s intent is clear.

San Diego County still faces a lawsuit filed by an activist group that claimed elections officials used the wrong standard in conducting the required post-election manual recount of 1% of ballots.

Alexander of the California Voter Foundation said there should be more information online about how votes are counted. “That would help clear up some of the confusion,” she said. “People are ready to claim fraud in a heartbeat.”

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In the end, the biggest challenges may have been caused by both mechanics and money.

Though election procedures vary by California county, interviews with officials from across the state found broad agreement on the need to update voting systems. Those devices, they said, are ill-equipped to handle so many different ballots by party and language as well as super-sized races like the 34 primary candidates in the race for the U.S. Senate.

Elections, say observers, continue to be underfunded, with more money needed both to expand outreach and to pay for procedures mandated by the state.

“We had so many complex rules in this election,” Alexander said. “There’s got to be a way to achieve the kind of uniformity and equal treatment of voters that people expect, and money is the way you do that in California law.” (full story)

Californians Call for a Grand Jury Investigation of the Primary

The Huffington Post, By Judy Frankel, July 8, 2016


“It was like a stab to the heart,” said Donna Tarr, “to see the presidential vote being crossed out.” Tarr is one of the citizen observers who watched as a Los Angeles county worker remade a “snagged” Democrat ballot onto a fresh, clean No Party Preference ballot, effectively wiping out their presidential vote. (To find out what happened, see this story.)

Problems like these raise serious question as to whether the vote in California has been counted correctly. is taking declarations from Californians, to show a jury of their peers the various ways in which voters were disenfranchised.

“A Civil Grand Jury is a lot faster than a lawsuit,” said Kelly Mordecai of “We hope their investigation and immediate report or presentment will call for a more uniform, more reliable voting process, proper training of poll workers, and no tampering with people’s registration.”

To start a Civil Grand Jury investigation, voters may file a complaint with their county. Both the complaints and WatchtheVoteUSA’s declarations will present the details of an election gone horribly wrong.

Independent Voters Disenfranchised in a Myriad of Ways
Independent voters may have been disenfranchised during the June 7th primary because of unusual rules that don’t apply to voters who register under a party. Independents, falling under the category of No Party Preference(NPP), needed to use special “crossover” ballots in certain California counties - Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego being among them - to vote for president.

The No Party Preference Postcard Fiasco
A number of hurdles must be overcome for an independent to cast his/her precious vote for president, especially when voting by mail. The California Secretary of State sends out a postcard to No Party Preference voters, requiring a response. Their website states, “Voters with no party preference who vote by mail were sent a post-card from their county elections office asking if the voter would like to receive a ballot with presidential candidates from the Democratic Party, American Independent Party, or Libertarian Party. Voters who did not return this post card will receive a non-partisan ballot without presidential candidates.”

But if residents missed that little postcard or didn’t return it in time, they may have lost their presidential vote. According to Kim Alexander, director of the California Voter Foundation, there are 2.2 million NPP voters who vote by mail and 85% of them did not return the postcards they were sent to request a crossover ballot. Therefore, Alexander estimates that 1,870,000 voters were given ballots without presidential candidates. “Some voters don’t realize they are vote-by-mail voters in the first place and aren’t aware they were sent a ballot. Or they waited until Election Day to open their ballot and only then realized that they have no presidential candidates on their ballot and don’t fully understand what options they have to get a replacement ballot at their polling place.” (full story)

More delays for California's voter registration database project

KPCC, By Mary Plummer, July 8, 2016


California's long-delayed VoteCal database was scheduled to become the official record of voter registrations statewide by June, but now the Secretary of State has pushed back that deadline to late August.

Once completed, VoteCal will allow all California voters to check their registration status online regardless of what county they live in. Plus, VoteCal will permit same-day voter registration to take effect – if the project stays on time, that's expected to begin in 2017.

But before certifying the new voter registration database, the Secretary of State's office said it needs more time for system enhancements.

"We just want to make sure we have everything right. We’d rather take the extra time,” said Sam Mahood, a spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Mahood noted the previous deadline was set by Padilla's predecessor.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, has spent a decade monitoring the database project. The state began work on VoteCal in 2006, four years after passage of the federal Help America Vote Act, which aimed to improve the accuracy of voter rolls across the country.

California has lagged behind the rest of the country in implementing its new electronic voter registration database. The project was especially challenging here because it involved coordinating all of the state's 58 counties.

"We’re moving from 58 counties having 58 individual voter registration databases to one unified statewide voter registration database," she said.

Alexander said the latest delay doesn't worry her since the lengthy project has been on track or ahead of schedule under Padilla's leadership. Work on the project has spanned four Secretary of State administrations, she said.

"I'm glad that they're taking their time to get it right," she said. (full story)

California ballot measure numbers change twice in 28 hours

The Sacramento Bee, By Jim Miller, July 5, 2016


Who knew that assigning a proposition number to California’s first advisory ballot measure in 34 years could be so complicated?

Over the span of about 28 hours, the Secretary of State’s Office released three sets of numbers for the 17 measures qualified for the Nov. 8 ballot – an initial list Friday, a corrected list later in the afternoon and a correction to the correction Saturday that mirrored the initial list.

“ICYMI: The CA marijuana legalization initiative was named Prop 64, then changed to Prop 63, but now it’s OFFICIALLY #Prop64!,” the Drug Policy Alliance tweeted its followers Tuesday morning.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said she suspects it’s the first time there have been multiple sets of proposition numbers. But she downplayed any impact on voters.

“It’s early July. There’s plenty of time to educate voters,” she said.

The source of the switcheroo? Senate Bill 254, which calls for a ballot measure asking voters if the state should try to overturn the Citizens United decision in 2010 that cleared the way for Super PAC spending in federal races.

The idea of a ballot question on Citizens United has been contentious from the start. The California Supreme Court removed a previous version from the November 2014 ballot, but later gave the Legislature the okay to put such advisory measures before voters. That led to SB 254, which passed the Legislature largely along party lines in late May and became law without Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature in early June.

Friday, the bill emerged as Proposition 59, right after another Legislature-approved measure that deals with bilingual education in schools, and ahead of propositions 60 through 67.

The secretary of state’s office, though, then found a sentence near the end of SB 254 noting that it should be placed on the ballot “following all other ballot measures.” That changed Proposition 59 to Proposition 67, and subtracted one from propositions 60 through 67. Yet upon further review of the legislation, officials realized that the last-in-order placement applied only if the bill had passed after June 30. So it was back to the original order.

Alexander, who had ballot order No. 2 with her when she headed out of cell range for the July 4 weekend, said she’s just glad she didn’t start work on this year’s version of “The Proposition Song.”

“All my rhymes would have had to change,” she said. (full story)

Election 2016: Daunting ballot awaiting California voters

The Mecury News, By Matthew Artz, July 5, 2016


Voters are in store for another thick November ballot -- one that will offer up more statewide initiatives than IHOP has pancake dishes.

With California Secretary of State Alex Padilla certifying 17 ballot measures late last week -- the most for any election since March 2000, when the state's voters grappled with 20 measures -- local residents can expect to cast upward of five double-sided pages worth of votes and receive election guides that could number more than 200 pages, said Joe Canciamilla, Contra Costa County's election chief.

"The ballot is just going to be a nightmare," he said.

As voters labor over questions about legalizing marijuana, eliminating the death penalty and making adult film actors wear condoms during sex, studies show that nearly 1 in 10 of them will likely give up before making it to the raft of local races, including a $3 billion BART bond measure.

And many more will find themselves nixing initiatives they never had the time to grasp, said Shaun Bowler, a ballot measure expert at UC Riverside.

"The conventional wisdom is the more propositions you have, the more 'no' voting you get because people say, 'I don't want to take the time to figure this out,' " he said.

But that's the price of the election business in California, where the state's century-old commitment to direct democracy is both a hallowed institution and a source of ritual bellyaching.

Many of the measures on the upcoming ballot were destined to go before voters because state law requires any constitutional amendment and nearly all general obligation bonds to receive public consent.

California also has a relatively low bar for citizens -- or well-heeled interest groups -- to circumvent the Legislature and go directly to the voters. Low turnout in the 2014 election reduced the number of signatures needed to qualify a ballot measure. And a 2011 law pushed nearly all measures to November, when voter turnout is highest.

The initiative system is hardly perfect, but it has given voters the power to exercise their will when entrenched lobbies block action in Sacramento, said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation.

"I know this will be a long and intimidating ballot," she said. "But there are a lot of topics covered in these initiatives that will get people excited and engaged and that can draw more people out to vote."

Canciamilla, a moderate Democrat from Pittsburg who served six years in the Assembly, countered that the initiative process had become just as political as lawmaking itself.

The ever-growing number of initiatives resulted in "an overall culture of cowardice" in the Legislature, he said. Meanwhile, politicians worked on measures of their own whose goals included turning out like-minded voters or advancing their own ambitions.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Oneto said his studies show placement doesn't have much impact on the success of a California measure -- money is the better indicator. Voters are far more likely to approve propositions referred to them by the Legislature than citizen-driven initiatives, he added.

Eric Zell, a political strategist working on a Contra Costa transportation tax measure, said he expected about 8 to 9 percent of voters will leave the item blank, but he said it likely wouldn't have much impact because Democrats and Republicans are just as likely to skip votes.

Alexander, whose organization defends the rights of voters, said skipping certain measures isn't a sin when confronted with a big ballot.

"It's not a test," she said. "It's perfectly fine to leave some blank if you're not confident in your choices." (full story)

November ballot crowded with weighty measures

San Francisco Gate, By Melody Gutierrez, June 30, 2016


California voters will face a long and weighty list of statewide ballot measures this November — 17 measures in all made Thursday’s fall election deadline and they include big decisions on the death penalty, marijuana use and taxes on the wealthy.

“It’s incredible the amount of substance and complexity on the November ballot,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. “It’s going to be overwhelming for voters to deal with.”

Among the issues voters will decide are whether Death Row inmates should be executed faster or not at all in two competing measures. Other initiatives would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, require background checks for ammunition sales, overturn a 1998 initiative that banned bilingual instruction in public schools and overhaul the state’s prison parole rules to allow inmates to be released earlier.

“There is something on the ballot for everyone,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. “A lot of them are on topics people have debated a long time and voters are likely to have a strong opinion on.”

Alexander said the crowded ballot will be just as difficult as ever for proponents to earn voter approval, with 1 in 3 initiatives typically passing.

“You can get on the ballot with just money, but you can’t win with just money,” Alexander said.

Baldassare said the default for many people is to vote no on a measure unless they are confident about its benefit. (full story)

California voters will confront crowded November ballot

The Associated Press, By Michael R. Blood, June 30, 2016


California is again testing how much democracy is too much, with voters facing up to 18 ballot questions in November that could end the death penalty, cut into the cost of prescription drugs and free marijuana smokers to legally light up in the nation’s most populous state.

The cascade of proposals is certain to create confusion at the ballot box, along with fresh criticism that the state’s system of direct democracy has run amok. Low voter turnout in 2014 meant campaigns needed relatively few signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Collectively, the proposals would cut into a broad swath of life in California, involving issues from classrooms to prisons, the porn industry to cigarette taxes.

Voters will ponder whether gun owners should be subject to background checks to buy bullets, if a state ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores is needed or whether adult film actors should wear condoms during shoots.

There are proposals to take on $9 billion in public debt to build schools, to repeal an “English-only” rule in classroom instruction approved by voters nearly two decades ago, and to require voters to sign off on huge construction projects financed by public debt, which could threaten the state’s unpopular and costly high-speed rail project.

Questions on either repealing or speeding up the death penalty and legalizing recreational pot use could drive voters to the polls. But dense ballots can turn off others, warned Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, which seeks to improve the way elections are conducted.

The logjam this year can be partially attributed to the Legislature, which pushed all the ballot questions to November. The list will appear alongside the presidential contest and races for Congress and the Legislature.

“People don’t like to do things they feel they are not good at, and it can be challenging for California voters to feel confident about their choices,” Alexander said.

Simply sifting through the details of the proposals can be a tricky, time-consuming task. For example, it will be a tough sell to get voters to read the fine print in the 15-page proposal to overturn a 2014 law to ban single-use plastic bags at supermarkets. (full story)

For three counties, vote-by-mail is only option

The Capitol Weekly, By John Howard, June 24, 2016


Increasingly, California voters use the mailbox, not the ballot box.

But in three of California’s 58 counties — Plumas, Alpine and Sierra — there was no other choice but mail-in voting. And they like it that way.

By the eve of California’s June 7 primary election, at least 10.3 million absentee ballots had been mailed out to voters across California, representing well over half the total number of the state’s nearly 18 million registered voters.

It’s not known – yet — how many people who received those ballots actually voted, the secretary of state’s office said. The official certification of the vote is scheduled to be released July 15.

But the trend toward more mail-in balloting has accelerated dramatically over the past 50 years. Two years ago, nearly 70 percent of California voters used mail ballots in the June 2014 primary, a non-presidential election year. In June 1966, fewer than 2 percent did.

It’s unclear if there is a positive link between the use of mail-in ballots and the level of voter turnout — although advocates say a fundamental goal in encouraging mail balloting is to improve voter turnout.

But as mail-in balloting becomes more popular, issues arise, especially in counties with large populations.

Signature verification is labor intensive and takes time, and standards vary from county to county. In some counties, mail-in ballots carry first-class, pre-paid postage, in others no. Ballots may be placed in the wrong envelopes, or sent in unsigned, or sent late In 2014, California had a rate of ballot rejection of 1 percent to 3 percent, high compared with many other states, said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation.

“It’s a good idea to get ballots to voters ahead of time, but we need to do a much better job getting them returned,” Alexander said, “and there is a huge amount of confusion among voters.” In Sacramento, for example, the registrar sent out letters to more than 900 voters who had submitted unsigned or flawed ballots, asking them to correct the ballots and return them. Nearly 480 did so.

In the sparsely populated counties of Sierra, Alpine and Plumas, almost all the voters mailed in their ballots, except for a few who dropped off their envelopes with the c0mpleted ballots at a courthouse or county office. (full story)

Stanislaus County supervisor expects CEO’s office will look into ballot blunder

The Modesto Bee, By Ken Carlson, June 22, 2016


Ron Hurst of Modesto was as confused as other voters who participated in the June 7 primary election.

Arriving at his polling place, Hurst was told by an election worker that he was an inactive voter and had to vote with a provisional ballot, which would not be counted with the election day returns.

An inactive voter? Hurst, 29, said he has voted in every election since turning 18, and certainly voted for himself when he ran for a Modesto City Council seat last November.

“I am disturbed by how much was wrong with this year’s election,” Hurst said. “I know some people who were registered as Democrats and were sent the Republican primary forms.”

Plenty of voters from across California were confused by the primary election. The nonpartisan Election Protection voter hotline, a nationwide service, received more than 1,300 calls from voters June 7, with the complaints ranging from polls that opened late to failed voting equipment, issues with mail ballots and election workers providing inaccurate information. More than half the complaints were from California.

In Stanislaus County, some elements of the state’s presidential primary didn’t make sense to residents, such as crossover voting. People registered under “no-party preference” were allowed to cross over and vote for a presidential candidate who was a Democrat, American Independent or Libertarian, but they needed to obtain a ballot for that particular party.

Crossover voting did not change their registration status. However, some nonpartisans who wished to vote for a Republican presidential candidate were upset to learn they needed to re-register as Republican.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said confusion reigned throughout California largely because of the growing number of no-party preference voters and the huge numbers who vote by mail.

“In this election, we had 2.2 million voters who are (nonpartisan) and vote by mail, and about 85 percent of them did not return the postcard asking if they wanted a crossover ballot to vote in the presidential primary,” Alexander said. For the majority who did not use that postcard, the procedures varied from county to county on how those voters should obtain a crossover ballot, she said.

Another big problem was that the deadline to register to vote or switch parties fell only 15 days before Election Day, while mail ballots are sent out 30 days before the election. A person who switched parties might end up with two ballots and not understand which one to use. It also created a rush in preparing accurate rosters for polling places, Alexander said.

A major mistake occurred in Stanislaus County when 24,000 misprinted vote-by-mail ballots were sent to Republican voters in Modesto and the Oakdale area. When the blunder was discovered in May, the county Registrar of Voters sent replacement ballots to affected voters, telling them to use the replacements and yellow envelopes, instead of the original ballots and green envelopes. (full story)

How insufficient election funding can hold back voter turnout

CA Fwd, By Amber Nelson, June 20, 2016


A recent post-election panel held by The Future of California Elections (FoCE) to assess the state’s recent primary election revealed a number of issues.

FoCE is a collaborative statewide group funded by the James Irvine Foundation and dedicated to modernizing elections and increasing voter participation.

As one might expect, the voter experience varied widely across the state but a number of problems related to potential disenfranchisement were called out including some confusion among poll workers and voters.

Voters who registered as No Party Preference should have had the option to vote using a cross-over ballot in the Democratic primary. But, not all poll workers offered the alternative ballot and many voters didn’t know to ask for it. In other cases, voters also had mistakenly registered for the American Independent Party – thinking they were independent of any party – rather than registering with no party affiliation. Those voters couldn’t vote for any of the major party candidates.

Deanna Kitamura, project director with Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, highlighted different challenges such as those posed by language barriers. While ballots are available in many languages, not all polling places visibly displayed the options. Without seeing a ballot in their language, some voters apparently simply walked away without casting a vote.

Those registered voters who may have had special needs due to disability or hospitalization may also have been overlooked, according to Fred Nisen, supervising attorney at the Bay Area Regional Office of Disability Rights California. In most places, California requires those who are disabled to pro-actively request assistance in voting and those in hospitals or otherwise unable to travel due to health issues may not have been able to vote.

The state also saw some potential voter intimidation when reports were made about the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office making house calls to certain homes in a mostly Hmong area, warning residents of the penalties for voting illegally.

The review panel also included Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, Inc., who provided a numbers review on the primary with a look to the future for California voters. The recent election cycle has seen a record number of new and reregistered voters – a good thing for the political process but one which places more pressure on a voting system already stretched thin due to insufficient funds.

California’s elections are paid for and managed at the county level, where officials are required by the state to implement voting mandates - such as vote by mail and distribution of sample ballots – since they are passed by the Legislature. But since the state’s 2010 budget crisis, the counties haven’t been reimbursed for these mandates

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” explained panelist Kim Alexander, president of California Voter Foundation. She emphasized the need to treat voters the same throughout the state, regardless of age, ethnicity, language, income or other differences. Without reimbursements from the state, each county is doing the best they can to implement the legislated mandates but there is little or no uniformity. Some counties cut reminder notices to those who vote by mail while others reduce poll worker training to make ends meet. (full story)

Primary Voting Problems Have Advocates Concerned About November Elections

Time, By Lissandra Villa, June 15, 2016


Those are just some of the problems that Democratic and Republican primary voters faced over the last few months, leaving voting rights advocates concerned about the November elections, where turnout will be dramatically higher.

“We are at a crossroads in our democracy. This is a moment that really requires that states and elected officials to explore ways to make voting easier,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
There’s no single fix to the problems, since each state runs elections in its own way. But advocates have found issues with malfunctioning voting machines, too few polling places and election workers misunderstanding state laws.

California, which voted last week, had problems with its vote-by-mail system. Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said the state’s 58 counties were not handling the process consistently. Some notified voters if their ballot was rejected, giving them the opportunity to fix the mistake, while others did not. She foresees similar problems in November.

“I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll make any significant changes to our vote-by-mail system between now and then,” Alexander said. (full story)

Advocate Sees Dysfunctional Voting System in California

KABC, June 9, 2016


The system of collecting and counting votes in California is complex and full of inconsistencies. This is compounded by the state’s increasingly diverse population. Kim Alexander, President of the non-profit, non-partisan California Voter Foundation, says the problems lead many voters to question the integrity of election results.

“I think what we’re seeing in this election is a combination of factors. One is a big increase in the number of people who are signed up as vote-by-mail voters, whether they realize it or not; and two, we have a growing percentage of people who are independents, what we call no party preference, who have the right to cross over and vote a partisan ballot in some races like the Democratic presidential primary. But those rules are not always clearly and equally explained to voters.”

Alexander admits that the vote-by-mail system appears to invite voter fraud.

“I agree that there are a lot of vulnerabilities with the vote-by-mail system. I don’t think there’s actual ballot security issues but I understand why there is the perception that there is. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at it from the election officials’ perspective and how they administer elections, I know how diligently and carefully they check signatures and that they unfortunately discard a lot of ballots for mismatching signatures, often from people who just didn’t take the time to sign carefully and are lawfully cast votes. One of the things we worry about is the high number of vote-by-mail ballots that are rejected because the voters make mistakes. They forget to sign the envelope so the signature is not able to be verified because there’s no signature there or that they don’t sign it the way that it’s signed on their registration form.” (full story)

Primary Confusion in California for 'No Party Preference' Voters

KQED, June 8, 2016


Californians went to the polls today to vote in the state's primary, but there seemed to be confusion at many locations about voters registered as 'No Party Preference,' or NPP. Some NPP voters didn't realize they can only vote for a Democratic candidate if they request a Democratic ballot. (Audio)

New Voters Confused By Primary Voting System

Capitol Public Radio, Ben Adler, June 8, 2016


Despite some scattered incidents, yesterday’s California primary election appears to have largely been run without major legal violations. But Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation says voting can still be very confusing – particularly for new voters, Californians who vote by mail, and voters registered without party preference.

For example, “no party preference” voters with mail ballots are allowed to exchange their nonpartisan ballots for some parties’ presidential primary ballots. But that rule appears to have been inconsistently enforced yesterday – and “no party preference” voters had an easier time in some counties or polling places than in others.

“In many ways, California is better than other states when it comes to voter rights,” Alexander says. “But I think in some ways, we’re worse, because we have 58 counties that are running 58 different voting systems." She says that, while each county must adhere to statewide laws, the services available to voters can be "very uneven" between counties. (full story)

California saw surge in registration, but not in voting

KBSW, June 8, 2016


Voter turnout in California's primary looked about average, despite a last-minute surge in registration and intense interest in an unusually competitive presidential contest.

Ballots counted by Wednesday morning represented only one in four eligible Californians and one in three registered voters. While likely more than a million remain to be counted, experts who study turnout say it probably won't match California's record primary participation in 2008.

They blame a variety of factors: Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination weeks ago; an Associated Press delegate count the day before the primary showed Hillary Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination; and independent voters may have been confused about how to vote in the presidential race.

"You have to dig into the psychology a little bit of some of these voters who at one point were enraged and excited ... and then later were humdrum about actually turning out," said Paul Mitchell, president of the research firm Political Data Inc. "It kind of reminds me of the person who goes into the diner starving and orders 15 pancakes, and then when the food arrives they have a cup of coffee and a piece of toast."

Just fewer than 6 million ballots had been counted by Wednesday afternoon. The secretary of state's office declined to provide a turnout projection.

"It's a disappointing number compared to what I think many people were thinking," said Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis. "A few percentage points above average is good, but it's not gangbusters."

A brief period when it looked like California could be decisive in both the Republican and Democratic presidential drove up interest in the election, but it's not surprising that some would-be voters lost interest once the races looked settled, Romero said.

California's top primary turnout was in 2008, when the state moved up its primary to early February to be more competitive and drew 9 million voters, 40 percent of registrants. Just over 30 percent of registered voters participated in 2012.

Precise turnout figures for this year won't be known for days because mail ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted if they're received in election offices by Friday. Los Angeles County alone estimated it had 570,000 ballots left to count.

Nearly 650,000 Californians registered to vote in the last 45 days before the deadline, giving the state a record primary election registration of 17.9 million.

The biggest election day problems stemmed from confusion with the vote-by-mail process, California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander said.

Many absentee voters did not realize they needed to mail back postcards if they wanted to vote in the open Democratic presidential primary. They also had the option of bringing those ballots to the polls Tuesday, but many were forced to cast provisional ballots, which are subject to extra scrutiny and are counted last. (full story)

Sonoma County voter turnout could be average

The Press Democrat, By Clark Mason, June 7, 2016


Turnout among Sonoma County voters was not expected to drop significantly despite a Democratic presidential contest that was called for Hillary Clinton the day before Tuesday’s election.

Sonoma State University political scientist David McCuan said Monday’s analysis by the Associated Press showing Hillary Clinton had locked up enough delegates to secure the presidential election would likely do little to affect turnout in Sonoma County.

“It won’t dissuade those who are feeling the Bern,” he said of Bernie Sanders supporters casting ballots for the Vermont senator, despite Clinton being identified as the presumptive presidential nominee the day before.

“Sonoma County voters tend to be high-information, high-propensity voters that are engaged,” said McCuan, noting that most county voters also cast ballots by mail and are less likely to be affected by last-minute news.

More than three quarters of the county’s 253,860 registered voters cast ballots by mail. Before Tuesday, about 93,000 ballots — representing 48 percent of the voters registered to cast ballots by mail — had been returned.

That could be a bellwether for the voting rate at the end of the day, including those voting at polls and dropping off ballots, said Sonoma County Elections manager Deena Thompson-Stalder.

Primary elections typically have a 40 or 50 percent turnout rate. Sonoma County officials said prior to the election that this year’s primary could be around 60 percent.

On Tuesday, Thompson-Stalder said a steady stream of people continued stopping by the main elections office on Fiscal Drive to drop off their ballots.

“A lot of people are really making an effort to get in and make sure their vote counts,” she said. “California kind of matters, whereas past years everything was decided before it reached the primary.”

The primary came amid a surge in voter interest stoked by the presidential race, with nearly 18 million Californians registered to vote — the highest number ever for any state before a primary, according to the California Secretary of State’s office. That compares with about 17.2 million registered voters before the state’s 2012 presidential primaries.

An early-morning computer glitch meant voters couldn’t use Sonoma County’s elections website to look up their polling place, but the problem was fixed by about 8 a.m., Thompson-Stalder said. People could get that information by calling the county registrar office or on the back of the sample ballot mailed to voters.

Chris Rudd, 33, of Santa Rosa said he is not an avid political observer but said he felt it was important to show up for this election.

“I ended up voting for Bernie Sanders after talking with my friends,” Rudd said. “I’ll vote for whoever is not Donald Trump in the general. I think it’s important for us to show up to vote.”

The AP announcement angered Bernie Sanders supporters nationwide, while also concerning nonpartisan organizations focused on increasing voter participation. Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said she was disappointed the AP released its count hours before the California primary — one of the nation’s last — because it has the potential to suck the air out of the election. (full story)

New voters, some hiccups as Californians head to the polls

The San Francisco Examiner, By Associated Press, June 7, 2016


California election workers embraced an expanded electorate totaling nearly 18 million registered voters with a few hiccups reported late Tuesday.

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A surge of 650,000 new voters less than two months ahead of the primary set up a potentially big turnaround from the historically low turnout of 2014.

Presidential elections draw more people to the polls, and county clerks expected turnout to reflect the drawn-out contest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Elections officials in San Diego and Santa Clara counties expected at least 55 percent of registered voters to cast ballots. Contra Costa planned to accommodate 60 percent of registrants, and Alameda hoped to hit 70 percent.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Hillary Clinton secured the number of Democratic delegates needed to become the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

The announcement angered Bernie Sanders supporters, but it also concerned nonpartisan organizations focused on increasing voter participation.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said she was disappointed the AP released its count hours before the California primary — one of the nation’s last — because it has the potential to suck the air out of the election. But she said a steady flow of voters at the polls seemed to indicate the call had little, if any, effect on the race by midday.

“There are a lot of people trying to participate in this election despite The Associated Press prediction that this election is over, so we’re happy to see that,” Alexander said.

A nonpartisan voter protection coalition reported late Tuesday that it was receiving calls about issues particularly in Los Angeles County.

The nationwide Election Protection voter hotline said complaints included polling locations opening after the required 7 a.m. start time in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties. Some Los Angeles County voters said they didn’t get their requested mail-in ballots. And parking was scarce near some Los Angeles County polling places.

Troubleshooters with the Los Angeles County Registrar-County Clerk address any issues, “so we don’t have any wide-ranging, overwhelming issues,” spokeswoman Cecilia Reyes said.

The coalition also reported scattered statewide problems with broken polling machines and ballot scanners. (full story)

'It was just chaos': Broken machines, incomplete voter rolls leave some wondering whether their ballots will count

The Los Angeles Times, By Matt Pearce , June 7, 2016


California voters faced a tough time at the polls Tuesday, with many voters saying they have encountered broken machines, polling sites that opened late and incomplete voter rolls, particularly in Los Angeles County.

The result? Instead of a quick in-and-out vote, many California voters were handed the dreaded pink provisional ballot — which takes longer to fill out, longer for election officials to verify and which tends to leave voters wondering whether their votes will be counted.

This year’s presidential primary race has already been one of the most bitter in recent memory. Before Tuesday’s vote, Bernie Sanders supporters accused the media of depressing Democratic turnout by calling the nomination for Hillary Clinton before polls opened in California.

Those feelings haven’t gotten any less raw Tuesday as hundreds of Californians complained of voting problems to the national nonpartisan voter hotline run by the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law

It’s difficult to get a sense for how widespread the problems are or how they compare to recent elections. But experts said the culprit for Tuesday’s voting problems seems to be a confluence of factors — old voting machines, a competitive election that has drawn new voters, plus complex state voting laws that can be hard for poll volunteers and voters to follow.

“Presidential primary elections in California are the hardest elections of all. … This election reminds me of 2008 in that regard,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “Our voter registration deadline is 15 days before election day, and that gives all the counties, and especially L.A. County, very little time to get their polling place rosters updated with all the voters.”

When Sanders supporter Brandon Silverman, 29, showed up at his polling station in Echo Park at 8:15 a.m., he said poll workers immediately handed him a provisional ballot, explaining that their machine wasn’t working yet. The full list of voters’ names for the precincts also seemed to be missing.

Silverman, an assistant television editor, quickly called a Sanders voter hotline and L.A. County voting officials. About 45 minutes later, the problems seemed to be resolved and he was able to cast a regular ballot, he said. But the chaos shook his confidence in the fairness of the electoral process a little, especially after hearing other precincts and states struggle with voting problems this year. (full story)

Contra Costa County at Odds With State Over Mail-In Ballot Exchange

KQED, By Ted Goldberg, June 7, 2016


Contra Costa County elections officials plan to resume a controversial practice involving vote-by-mail ballots after Tuesday’s primary election.

At issue are the ballots mail-in voters are given if they show up at a polling station on Election Day and want to cast a vote using a different ballot. This year many “no party preference” voters wanted to exchange their ballots so they could vote in the Democratic presidential primary.

For years the Contra Costa registrar’s office has directed poll workers to give these voters provisional ballots instead of replacement ballots — a practice state officials and voter advocates say is against California law.

After hearing reports of Contra Costa County’s practice, the Secretary of State’s Office contacted local elections officials. On Monday, they announced they would change their practice and offer these voters replacement ballots.

“This is going to make a difference for a lot of voters,” said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. “We’ve been telling voters for weeks now that they have the right to switch out their ballot at the polling place if they received a vote-by-mail ballot that isn’t the ballot they want to cast. That has been the law in California.”

But on Tuesday, Contra Costa officials wanted to make it clear: The change is temporary.

“We have not changed our policy, which we believe to be within the law and more secure than the requested practice,” Scott Konopasek, the assistant registrar of voters for the county, said in an email. “We agreed to accommodate the Secretary of State’s Office and others for this election only.” (full story)

New Voters, Few Hiccups As Californians Head To The Polls

KCAL, June 7, 2016


California election workers embraced an expanded electorate totaling nearly 18 million registered voters with few hiccups Tuesday.

A surge of 650,000 new voters less than two months ahead of the primary set up a potentially big turnaround from the historically low turnout of 2014.

Presidential elections draw more people to the polls, and county clerks expected turnout to reflect the drawn-out contest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Elections officials in San Diego and Santa Clara counties are expecting at least 55 percent of registered voters to cast ballots. Contra Costa has been planning to accommodate 60 percent of registrants, and Alameda is hoping to hit 70 percent.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Hillary Clinton secured the number of Democratic delegates needed to become the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

The announcement angered Bernie Sanders supporters, but it also concerned nonpartisan organizations focused on increasing voter participation.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said she was disappointed the AP released its count hours before the California primary — one of the nation’s last — because it has the potential to suck the air out of the election. But she said a steady flow of voters at the polls seemed to indicate the call had little, if any, effect on the race by midday.

“There are a lot of people trying to participate in this election despite The Associated Press prediction that this election is over, so we’re happy to see that,” Alexander said. (full story)

Californians vote amid rare turn in presidential spotlight

The Charlotte Observer, By Juliet Williams, June 7, 2016


Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders prepared for a final contest in California with a blitz of TV ads and hand-shaking in a state where voters have enjoyed a rare turn in the spotlight this year.

Voting in Tuesday's presidential contest came a day after Clinton captured enough commitments from delegates to become the Democrats' presumptive nominee, according to an Associated Press count.

Clinton hopes a win in California, which she carried in the 2008 presidential primary over then-Sen. Barack Obama, would be a capstone to a history-making candidacy. Sanders wants to win the delegate-rich state to bolster his case that he is the best positioned to beat presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the fall.

Sanders' campaign said it was a "rush to judgment" to declare Clinton the presumptive nominee given superdelegates can switch their support before the Democratic convention in late July.

In the other marquee contest Tuesday, California voters faced a historic choice for U.S. Senate that could for the first time pit two Democrats against one another in November. To wit: Both are women, both minorities.

Polls have shown California Attorney General Kamala Harris as the favorite, followed by U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County. Two former Republican party chairmen and a physicist-turned-software developer are among several GOP contenders for the seat, but none has polled above single digits or raised significant campaign funds in the overwhelmingly Democratic state.

The crowded Senate ticket features 34 names in all, though, and voters may have a tough time differentiating.

"There were so many names. I didn't know 80 percent of them," said Fresno correctional officer Juan Perez. He ended up choosing Sanchez.

Californians are also making choices in congressional and legislative contests statewide, narrowing the field for November.

In the state Legislature, Republicans are trying to prevent Democrats from gaining a two-thirds majority in both chambers, which would give the party a virtual lock on political power. In a further sign of the weakened state of the GOP in California, Democrats face the prospect of several same-party runoffs that have attracted millions of dollars in outside spending in a tug-of-war between the party's moderate and liberal wings.

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Some voters were surprised — and disappointed — to learn Tuesday they couldn't vote for their preferred presidential candidate.

When registered Green Party voter Christine Peterson, 59, of San Francisco asked for a Democratic ballot to vote for Sanders, she was told no.

"He's almost an independent, he's almost a Green ... even though he's on the Democratic ticket," Peterson said. "He is much more on my page." She's ended up writing in the name of a person who had previously run on a Green ticket.

Elysse Crabtree, 24, was unaffiliated and changed her registration to Democrat expressly so she could vote for Sanders.

"I'm usually not very political and I don't get very involved in elections but I feel like Bernie is trustworthy, and I feel like he's an honest candidate," she said after leaving a polling station at a Santa Ana synagogue. "I've never been able to say that before."

Partly as a result of the confusing rules, more voters than usual have been requesting replacement ballots, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

"We have a lot of confusion right now. The rules vary from county to county," she said. (full story)

Officials: California breaks voter registration record

KCRA 3, By Mike Luery, June 6, 2016


Records from the Secretary of State Alex Padilla's office shows there are 17,915,053 registered voters in California -- the most ever for a primary election.

In Sacramento, people can vote without ever leaving their car - at the drive-through ballot box located at the county elections office on 65th Street.

The convenience made it easy for Lucas Tih, an immigrant from Cameroon, to drop off his ballot.

"I just don't like the ideas that I'm hearing," he said. "They are scaring me."

For Don Neely, voting is a chance to teach his young granddaughter named Brooklyn, a civic lesson about getting involved -- and letting politicians hear his frustration with the status quo.

"They take and run everything the way they want it, which isn't right," Neely said. "They are supposed to be working for us and they don't."

Oliver Smith said he's feeling frustrated with politicians too.

"I'd like to see us not fighting wars anywhere in the world. Peace at home. Peace abroad. And just love one another," he said.

There are now 717,048 registered voters in Sacramento County, which is a new record, elections officials said.

More than 121,000 of them -- or roughly 17 percent -- have already turned in their ballots.

That's more than the entire vote-by-mail turnout for the 2008 June primary, according to Alice Jarboe, Assistant Registrar of voters for Sacramento County.

82-year-old Jessie Abrams-Hall said she has never missed an election.

"I always wait (until) the last minute," she said. "And I could not find my ballot, so I had to come all the way down here from Elk Grove to get a new ballot."

Abrams-Hall did vote and she proudly showed off her sticker proclaiming, "I voted."

One thing new for many people this year is that those registered with No Party Preference can vote for a presidential candidate in the Democratic primary, but people have to request what's called a crossover ballot.

"The burden is on voters to ask for a crossover ballot," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit voter-education project. "Not every county implements this procedure the same way. In some counties they will invite you to cast a crossover ballot if you show up at the polls and you are No Party Preference. In other counties, the burden is upon the voter to speak up and say, 'Hey I want a crossover ballot.'" (full story)

Are Californians Casting Ballots From the Grave?

KQED, By Sasha Khokha , June 5, 2016


California seems to have a problem with some voters casting ballots even though they’re dead. Take John Cenkner, who died in 2003. Records show he cast a ballot in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

“I was surprised, amazed, and then I was angry about it that someone could use my Dad’s name like that, and vote,” says Cenkner’s daughter, Annette Givens. She lives near Los Angeles’ Northridge neighborhood.

“It makes me angry, because someone is just using his name, and who knows how they’re voting,” says Givens. “He’d be rolling over in his grave, definitely, if he found out they were voting Republican. He was a die-hard Democrat.”

David Goldstein, an investigative reporter with CBS2/KCAL9 in Los Angeles, found Cenkner’s name by cross-checking the voter rolls with death records from the social security administration. His investigation found 265 deceased voters still on the rolls in five Southern California counties — including Los Angeles, and 32 of them had cast ballots in eight elections after they died.

“We found one person who died in 1988, and a vote was cast in her name in the 2014 election,” says Goldstein.

Goldstein’s sleuthing prompted the LA County Board of Supervisors to call for an investigation.

“Since we did the story, a lot of people have called,” Goldstein told me. “They volunteer at the polls, and they talk about names that are in there year after year. They know these people have passed away, and they’ve filed complaints about it. And every election year, the names are still in the books, so clearly they have a ways to go.”

In 2012, NBC Bay Area did a similar investigation looking into deceased voters on the rolls.

So what’s the problem? California is one of the states to lag behind when it comes to the federal Help America Vote Act, which requires states to streamline voter databases. The law passed after the infamous “hanging chad” debacle in Florida back in 2000.

California also has strict rules about removing voters from the rolls to help protect people’s civil rights. Elections officials don’t want to make the mistake of taking someone off the voting rolls who is entitled to vote. But it can also mean that some folks stay on there long after they’ve passed away.

The big question: Who’s signing these dead people’s ballots?

“Was this a family member that voted on behalf of another family member? Was it neighbor who went into a polling place and signed that person’s name, knowing that person was deceased?,” asks Kim Alexander, who heads up the nonprofit, nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “Those are major crimes. You can be charged with a felony for committing election fraud.” (full story)

Human Voter Guide: Vote by mail tips and where to research candidates

KPCC, By Mary Plummer, June 3, 2016


This Human Voter Guide segment is the fourth in our series on Take Two. You can also read previous segments in the series to find more questions and answers.

If you have a question about voting or the elections, you can leave a voice mail or text at 323-538-5722. You can also leave your question in the comment box below or tweet it with the hashtag #humanvoterguide.

Q: My question is if I'm registered to vote by mail and received a ballot already, but decided I want to vote in person instead, can I do so? And do I have to do anything special?

Yes, you can vote in person at your polling location even if you've received a vote by mail ballot already. One tip: when you go into your polling place bring your vote by mail ballot with you. When you arrive, you’ll surrender that ballot so that you can vote in person.

Bringing your vote by mail ballot with you will ensure that you don’t have to cast a provisional ballot (provisional ballots are ballots that are given when there are questions about a voter's eligibility).

Another tip: If you’re a no party preference voter and you want to cast a ballot for the Democratic presidential primary, remember to ask for a “crossover ballot” when you go to your polling location. If you want more information on crossover ballots, check out last week's segment.

Somewhere I thought I heard that mail-in ballots are only counted when elections are close. Is that true?

For this question, we turned to Kim Alexander, she’s the president and founder of The California Voter Foundation. (Helpful aside: Alexander has a question and answer page on her website that addresses voting quandaries.)

"You know that question goes back to the 2000 election. It was sort of this urban legend that went around that you know, if the election is not close, your vote by mail ballot won’t get counted," she said. "But in California, every vote by mail ballot that’s cast that can be counted is counted."

Alexander explained that in California ballots are counted on election day in waves. The first ballots counted are vote by mail ballots that arrive early. They're counted as soon as the polls close. Next up are ballots cast at polling places, followed by vote by mail ballots that arrive later. The last ballots counted are provisional ballots — this is done to make sure there are not duplicate votes. (full story)

Verbatim fact check: Did California election officials give independent voters inconsistent and incorrect information about voting by mail?

Ballotpedia, By Paul Brennan, June 3, 2016


Bernie Sanders has a substantial lead over Hillary Clinton in California’s June 7 primary among voters who identify as “independent,” according to polling data from Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. "Our poll has him crushing her among independents, but the question is how many of them show up, and how many of them who would like to vote for Bernie will get tripped up by the system," Hoover Institution research fellow Bill Whalen told The Mercury News.[1]

California voters who decide not to declare membership in a political party when registering to vote appear on voter rolls as “No Party Preference” (NPP).[2] According to the most recently published statistics from the California Secretary of State’s Office, 4,117,885 Californians, or 23.9 percent of the state’s voters, are registered as NPP.[3] Any of those voters who want to vote for a Democratic presidential primary candidate would have to request a “crossover ballot.” Otherwise, the ballot they receive would not list any presidential candidates.[2]

William Simpich, an Oakland attorney and Bernie Sanders supporter, claims election officials have provided inadequate and, in some cases, incorrect information about requesting crossover ballots to NPP voters who receive their ballots through the mail.

“It’s inconsistent,” Simpich told The Sacramento Bee. “Sometimes the information is there, sometimes it’s not. And sometimes the instructions are bad.”[4]

On June 1, U.S. District Judge William Alsup rejected a request from Simpich for an emergency injunction to extend the deadline for NPP voters to request a crossover ballot by mail beyond the previously set date of May 31, and to change how election officials present information about crossover ballots.[5][6]

Judge Alsup ruled that the particular examples contained in Simpich’s court filing did not constitute a violation of federal laws regarding voting. The judge also ruled the May 20 request for an injunction had not been filed in a timely manner.

But is Simpich correct that election officials have provided NPP voters who vote by mail with inconsistent and incorrect information?

Verbatim examined news accounts of incorrect information provided to NPP voters and interviewed an expert on voting in California, and we conclude that Simpich is correct.

Background: No Party Preference, voting by mail, and crossover ballots

No Party Preference has become an increasingly popular option during the past 12 years for Californians registering to vote.[7] Although the state has an open primary system, which means that NPP voters can cast a ballot for almost any candidate, in 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that political parties could place restrictions on who is allowed to vote for party nominees in primaries. In California, the only restrictions political parties have imposed is on who can vote for their presidential nominees.[2]

The Republican Party restricts voting for its presidential primary candidates to registered members of the party, as do the Green and Peace & Freedom parties. NPP voters wanting to vote for Democratic presidential primary candidate, or a candidate from the American Independent and Libertarian parties, must request a crossover ballot. If an NPP voter don’t request a crossover ballot, the ballot they receive, either through the mail as an absentee voter or at a polling place, will not list any presidential primary candidate.[2]

Along with the growth in the number of voters registered as NPP, there has been a growth in the number of voters registering as Permanent Absentee Voters (PAVs). PAVs automatically receive a vote-by-mail ballot for each election.) Two thirds of the 850,000 Californians who registered to vote between January 1 and March 31, 2016, elected to become PAVs.[7][8]

“The Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t publish the number of No Party Preference voters who are also absentee voters, but Political Data Inc., a major nonpartisan data mining firm in Los Angeles, has compiled the numbers,” Kim Alexander, president of nonpartisan California Voter Foundation told Verbatim.[9] “There are 2.17 million of those voters, and that’s three times the number there were in 2008, the last time there was a contested presidential primary in California.”

Voting instructions and confusion

California state law requires county registrars to notify by mail NPP absentee voters of their right to a crossover ballot prior to the start of early voting on May 9. NPP voters who want a crossover ballot are supposed to fill in a blank on the notification form indicating on the notification card which crossover ballot they want—Democratic, American Independent, or Libertarian—and return the postcard to the county registrar’s office. Voters who don’t return a properly filled-out notification form receive a ballot with no presidential primary candidates listed.[2]

The amount of information provided to NPP voters who vote by mail and how that information is presented vary from county to county, according to Kim Alexander.

“The mailed notifications were all different, and some had dates by which they had to be returned in order to get a ballot that were different from the actual deadline in state law, which is seven days before the primary or May 31 this year. Not all the forms made it clear that it was just a request by the registrar’s office that the card be returned by that date, or made clear that date was not the actual deadline,” Alexander said in a telephone interview. “Some voters, apparently, took the earlier date as the deadline and thought it was too late to get a crossover ballot.”[9]

“I’m a No Party Preference Voter, and in my county, Sacramento, the notification I was sent gave April 15 as the date by which it had to be returned in order to get a crossover ballot,” Alexander added.

According to figures published by Political Data Inc., Sacramento County has 89,392 NPP voters registered as absentee voters. As of May 30, only 16 percent of those voters had requested a crossover ballot.[10] That is in keeping with the overall statewide total, according to the firm’s research. As of May 28, only 15 percent of California’s NPP voters who vote by mail had requested a crossover ballot.[1]

Political Data Inc. has also conducted surveys of NPP voters who vote by mail, and according to Paul Mitchell, the firm’s vice president, “the vast majority” of NPP absentee voters “who intend to vote in the Democratic primary are still not clued into how the process works.”[7]

"The data is saying that a significant portion of nonpartisan voters want to participate in the presidential primary, but the paperwork is getting in the way of that," Mitchell told The Mercury News. (full story)

A California Ballot Primer

KCRW, By Matthew Artz, June 1, 2016


Election Day in California is just days away. But even as it looms, are there fundamental things you should know about how the election process work in the state, that you don't know? For instance, how some races on the ballot are open to members of all political parties and others aren't? With help from Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, KCRW's Saul Gonzalez offers this ballot primer. (audio)

California independents favor Sanders, but their turnout is hardly assured

The Mercury News, June 1, 2016


California's independent voters are struggling to figure out how to cast ballots in next Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary, threatening Bernie Sanders' chances to carry the state and making the race even more difficult for pollsters to handicap.

Polls show Sanders with a big lead among independents, but they can't vote for him unless they request a Democratic ballot. And that's a step that as of last week 85 percent of independents who vote by mail had failed to take, according to Political Data Inc., a Los Angeles County firm that tracks voter activity.

The prospect of poor participation among independents was just one of several bits of bad news Sanders encountered Tuesday as he continued his uphill fight against Hillary Clinton, making campaign stops in Emeryville and Santa Cruz.

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That's not much of a hassle for voters who still cast ballots at polling stations, but it's trickier for independents registered to vote by mail. Their ranks have tripled to nearly 2.2 million since the rules were put in place six years ago.

"Now you've got all these people in California who have received ballots that aren't the ballot they want to vote, and they are trying to figure out what to do," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voting Foundation.

State law requires county election offices to ask independents, officially known as No Party Preference voters, what kind of ballot they want, but voters frequently discard request forms that arrive in the mail several months before the day of the election.

Bill Simpich, an Oakland lawyer and Sanders supporter, filed a lawsuit last month asking a federal judge to force Secretary of State Alex Padilla to impose consistent guidelines for informing nonpartisan voters how they can vote in the presidential primary.

"We're talking about hundreds of thousands of votes at stake here simply because people are not able to obtain the right information," he said.

Sanders, in an interview with this newspaper, said the state should look at its rules, but he wasn't dwelling on the matter.

"What I'm mostly very happy about is there has been a huge uptick in voter registration -- mostly as I understand it among young people and Latinos," he said. "And I think that is good for us." (full story)

KCRA 3, Facebook Live Interview

KCRA Gulstan Dart and Kim Alexander, May 31, 2016

What you need to know about the upcoming election -- KCRA Gulstan Dart and Kim Alexander with have the details: (Video)

Clinton and Sanders Neck and Neck in California Poll

KQED, By Scott Schafer, May 25, 2016


As state election officials report surging voter interest in the June 7 primary, a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has closed the gap against Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Among likely voters in the Democratic primary, the PPIC poll shows Clinton and Sanders essentially tied in California, with Clinton winning 46 percent support to 44 percent for Sanders. That’s within the poll’s margin of error.

“This is clearly bad news for Hillary Clinton,” said UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser.

“Even now that she’s functionally clinched the Democratic nomination for president, she still doesn’t have Democratic voters solidifying behind her,” Kousser added.

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On Tuesday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported 1.8 million voter registrations or registration updates (such as political change of party or address) took place on the online voter registration website since Jan. 1.

Padilla calls the lead-up to the midnight Monday deadline “the most online registration activity this year, and the second-highest total in the nearly four-year history of the online registration site.”

The secretary of state’s office said Californians 25 and younger accounted for 42 percent of the voter registration activity. Assuming they follow through and cast ballots in the Democratic primary, it could provide a boost to Bernie Sanders, who does best among younger voters.

Paul Mitchell, who crunches voter data and sells the analysis to campaigns, notes the registration surge has benefited the California Democratic Party far more than the GOP.

No question all this interest in voting is great for democracy. But some worry that local election officials aren’t prepared for the onslaught of ballots likely to arrive on or before Election Day.

“If this is your first time voting, this is a tough time to make your entry into the voting process,” says Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation.

Referring to who can and cannot vote in the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries, Alexander notes that “we have really confusing primary participation rules.”

Only registered Republicans can vote for Donald Trump or one of the other Republicans on the presidential ballot. The state Democratic Party allows voters with “no party preference” to cast ballots for Clinton or Sanders, but only if they specifically request a Democratic ballot.

But analyst Mitchell says it appears most nonpartisan voters aren’t doing that.

“In Los Angeles County 91 percent of the ballots mailed to nonpartisan voters had no presidential candidates on it,” says Mitchell. “And 85 percent of ballots sent statewide to nonpartisan or independent voters have no presidential candidates on it.”

Both Mitchell and Alexander made their comments earlier this week on KQED’s Forum program. (full story)

Hey, voters: Watch the Birdee

The Capitol Weekly, By Alex Matthews, May 24, 2016


For the next six months, California voters will be bombarded with election images.

Not just soundbites, mailers, and ads for and against presidential candidates, but also campaigns for ballot initiatives: Eight have already been approved and many more are circulating.

Among the sinister attack-ad voice-overs and the political arguments engulfing social media, voters may catch a glimpse of ”Birdee,” a plump, twinkly eyed red bird, one of several animated characters in California’s political wars.

But Birdee isn’t trying to convince voters of a ballot initiative or a candidate’s merits — he’s just trying to get them out to the polls.

Birdee was the brainchild of SeePolitical, a Los Angeles-based non-profit aimed educating voters and increasing election turnout. SeePolitical was founded in 2011 by Nate Kaplan, a Massachusetts native and longtime political staffer. He was working for late Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl in 2008, when he realized that ballot measure language was so obscure, that his boss, an openly gay politician and gay rights advocate, didn’t know which way to vote on Proposition 8 to protect gay marriage.

“Something we hear a lot is ‘Why doesn’t Hollywood ever help with this problem?’” Kaplan said. “We’ve brought Hollywood’s creative firepower to voters in an unbiased way.”

Kaplan partnered with Imaginary Forces, a Hollywood production studio responsible for the opening credits of Mad Men and many other iconic scenes and advertisements. Together they created SeePolitical’s 30, videos and animated shorts that explain ballot initiatives and encourage citizens to register and get out to the polls.

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With such a huge statewide election coming up this fall, advocates of civic engagement are watching SeePolitical as a new model of improving voter turnout and education.

“A lot of voting information has been boring and very text-oriented. We really need to pay attention to design and animation and color and icons and sound,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. “It’s not just about reading words that once only lived on a page, and now they live on a web page.”

Secretary of State Alex Padilla has already requested additional funding from the state, both to help counties respond to surges in registration and to improve the format of the voter guide this fall. According to Sam Mahood, Padilla’s office has also partnered with the Center for Civic Design and the League of Women Voters to create a more plain language version of the Voter Bill of Rights.

But even with those efforts, this year’s election will be “the perfect storm,” according to Kaplan, as the voter guide is likely to be over 250 pages this November.

According to Alexander, there are six million eligible voters in the state who are not registered. The state hit a record low level of turnout in the November 2014 election, according to Mindy Romero, director of UC Davis’ California Civic Engagement Project. According to historical turnout data from the Secretary of State’s office, only special elections have seen lower rates than the 30.94 percent of eligible voters that came out in 2014.

“They’d rather vote on American Idol or The Voice because, to many people, that is more exciting and drama-filled, and they know when it’s on,” Romero said.

According to Alexander and Romero, many voters don’t feel confident enough in their understanding of candidate platforms and issues to vote. Others struggle with the logistics of voting, such as election dates and registration processes. Those obstacles are further compounded by the challenges of daily life for many Californians, like taking care of a family or putting a roof over their heads.

“A lot of people who don’t vote in California aren’t actively making a decision not to vote,” Alexander said. “It really is a luxury for people. I blame economic problems for part of the depression in turnout.”

That problem is exacerbated by the fact that campaigns are unlikely to waste valuable funds on demographics that don’t typically vote.

“If you’re part of an economic class that candidates don’t see as likely to vote, they don’t reach out to you,” Alexander said. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

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Particularly given low turnout rates among younger voters, SeePolitical could be a valuable tool as its videos get shared over social media.

“Millennials vote less than any generation in American history and volunteer more and do more community service than any generation in American history,” Kaplan said of his commitment to reach out to younger voters.

While right now, Kaplan said that SeePolitical is focused on state ballot measures and local elections, advocates are optimistic about the prospects for non-profits like it to improve civic engagement on a broader scale.

“In the bigger scheme of things, it’s in everybody’s interest to have people participating,” Alexander said. “The people who vote in our state look less and less like the people who live in our state. That’s a big concern for everyone.” (full story)

California Youth, Latino Voter Registration Surging as Monday’s Deadline Looms

KQED, By Scott Shafer, May 23, 2016


California voters have until Monday to register or to change party affiliation for the June 7 presidential primary. The primary contest has sparked a sharp increase in new voter registrations, especially among Democrats, Latinos and youth, and the newly registered are expected to number more than two million by Monday’s deadline. We discuss the implication of these registration trends and how and where to register if you’ve moved, changed your name or have just become eligible to vote. (Audio)

Activist lawyers sue California on voter rules, possibly boosting Bernie Sanders support

The Sacramento Bee, By Kevin Yamamura, May 21, 2016


As Bernie Sanders supporters fear their candidate will miss out on crucial votes from independent and crossover voters in California’s June primary, civil rights lawyers filed suit Friday seeking more time for those voters to request a Democratic presidential ballot.

The lawyers sued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of an organization trying to boost turnout for Sanders in his bid against Hillary Clinton. Additional plaintiffs include two individual voters and the American Independent Party, a conservative organization on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Sanders.

In the suit against Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Alameda County and San Francisco election officials, the plaintiffs contend that nonpartisan voters have received inconsistent and confusing instructions on how to vote in the June 7 presidential primary. They say thousands of voters will be disenfranchised.

The issue pertains to no-party-preference voters who participate by mail and began receiving their June primary ballots earlier this month. California has a semi-open presidential primary system in which the Democratic, American Independent and Libertarian parties are allowing nonpartisan voters to participate in their presidential nominating contests this year.

To do so, those voters must request a presidential ballot. If they vote by mail, elections officials must receive the requests by May 31. Those voters also can vote at their polling place or county election office up until June 7. Once they mail a ballot without presidential candidates, they can no longer vote in the presidential contests.

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So far, less than 15 percent of California nonpartisan, vote-by-mail voters have requested a presidential primary ballot, according to data compiled through May 16 from county registrars by Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, agrees the California presidential primary process is too confusing. She said the county-by-county differences exist in part because Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers do not want to require a uniform set of instructions, fearing that the state would have to pay for those election materials. Complicating matters, she said, is that California has a top-two primary for other contests in which voters can select any candidate regardless of party.

She said counties also differ on how they handle requests for mail presidential ballots. She said some encourage voters to call in their requests, some require a written statement and some suggest filing the request in person.

Beyond that, Alexander and Simpich said poll workers are given different instructions in each county on how to handle nonpartisan voters. Some counties tell their workers to avoid offering a presidential ballot for fear that doing so would inappropriately influence the election. Other counties tell workers to explain all of the options available.

“What we’ve seen since the last presidential election is that the percentage of independent voters continues to grow, and the percentage of voters who vote by mail also increase each election,” Alexander said. “That combination is a real challenge for election officials and voters alike.” (Full Story)

Making Democrats' Primaries More Open Could Be Harder Than You Think

Capitol Public Radio, By Scott Detrow, May 21, 2016


There are four basic camps that existing primaries fit into. Open and closed are self-explanatory, and there are several different variations of hybrid primaries. Some states allow independents to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary, but block party members from crossing over.

"Or, sometimes it may mean that an unaffiliated voter goes to a polling place, decides to vote in a party primary, and that choice of ballot then registers them with that party," said Dan Diorio, of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The most open format out there is the type that California has: a top-two primary.

"Every registered voter has the same ballot in the primary. It has all the candidates in all the primaries on every ballot," said Kim Alexander, who heads the California Voter Foundation.

Voters can vote for any candidate they want in every race, and the top two finishers advance to November.

While a Democrat and Republican ended up facing each other in every statewide election in 2014, Alexander said the top-two system has shaken up many local races.

"We have seen a number of contests where, in the general election, you have a Democrat vs. Democrat, or occasionally a Republican vs. Republican. And that can make those contests more competitive," she said.

Of course, if you don't happen to be a member of the party with two candidates on the fall ballot, top-two may leave you feeling more excluded than a closed primary.

There is a big catch in California — the state's upcoming presidential primary is still partially closed. That could cause confusion for independent Sanders supporters, who will have to specifically ask for a separate Democratic ballot. (full story)

Tens of thousands have left California's American Independent Party in the last month

The Los Angeles Times, By John Myers, May 20, 2016


A new analysis finds nearly 32,000 voters in California's American Independent Party changed their official registration and left the party in the two weeks after a Los Angeles Times investigation identified widespread confusion among the party's members.

The change comes after a series of stories last month about voters who had intended to be politically independent, what's known in California as having "no party preference." A poll conducted for The Times found 73% of American Independent Party members did not know they had registered with an actual political party.

Paul Mitchell, a political data specialist whose firm sells exclusive analyses of voter data to California political campaigns, worked with The Times on the stories. He conducted the new analysis for The Times on a pro-bono basis.

Using voter data from each of California's 58 counties, Mitchell found that 31,772 AIP voters left the party in the two weeks prior to May 1. The first story was published in The Times on April 17.

The party gained 10,744 new members during the same two-week period — thus resulting in a net registration loss of 21,028 voters.

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"We don't make it easy for people to check," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. Not all counties have an online tool for verifying registration. An official statewide searchable database is planned but not yet in place.

Even then, said Alexander, voter confusion could be a reflection of state voters' historically weak loyalty to political parties.

"We don't have a strong partisan tradition in California," she said of voters. "Often, they can't recall what party they're registered with."

Leaders of the American Independent Party said they believe AIP voters may simply be re-registering "temporarily" so they can cast votes in the Democratic or Republican presidential primary on June 7.

"It could be a very transitory phenomenon," said Markham Robinson, chairman of the AIP executive committee. He said he doubted the recent drop was a reflection of voters realizing that they had made a mistake.

After the initial stories were published, a number of readers contacted The Times to say they, too, didn't realize their mistake until they used the newspaper's online database to check their registration.

A definitive answer on where all of the defecting AIP voters went may still be several weeks away. That's because some county elections offices assign a re-registering voter a new internal identification number, thus making the person harder to track. (full story)

California primary election: Voter turnout may still be huge

The Santa Cruz Sentinel, By Karen de Sá, May 8, 2016


Arguing that California voters will belie the predictions of political analysts that legions of them will stay away from the polls, some voting experts say to expect a robust launch of the June 7 primary election, which begins Monday with early voting and millions of ballots being mailed to households across the Golden State.

"Any political consultant who's going around predicting lower voter turnout in this election is mistaken -- and should be fired," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "People are going to see the turnout in California as a test of all the major candidates' popularity. They want to be counted, on the record."

Roughly half of the state's voters -- more than two-thirds in some Bay Area counties -- choose to vote by mail, and beginning Monday county registrars will begin sending out ballots. Local election offices will also open Monday for walk-in voters.

Just a week ago, California was seen as the state where Donald Trump would be forced to battle for the remaining delegates needed to ensure a victory on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in July. But now Trump is the GOP's presumptive nominee after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out following the New York billionaire's landslide win Tuesday in Indiana

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Voting is about "cementing ourselves," Michelson said. "And this is one of those historic kinds of elections where voting is a statement of identity."

Last month, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said there could be a "major surge in voter turnout" based on elections in other states and surprisingly high online voter registration numbers fueled largely by new sign-ups of 18- to 25-year-olds. More than 560,000 Californians registered to vote or updated their registration information in the first three months of 2016 -- far more than for all of 2014. And those numbers have now reached 850,000, said Alexander of the California Voter Foundation.

But that was before Trump beat down his opponents and Clinton stacked up a hard-to-dispute delegate count against Sanders. That's when the banter among TV talking heads started to make California once again look irrelevant in the presidential contest. The pundits, though, might have spoken too soon, some veteran California political observers contend.

"We're seeing many first-time voters," Alexander said. And in an ultra-blue state, that includes Republicans who say they finally feel included in politics and will be drawn to the polls to say they got a chance to vote for Trump.

Bay Area counties are increasingly offering a potpourri of early-voting options. Santa Clara County, for example, in the next month will have more places than ever to cast votes to accommodate the new voters, said Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey.

Starting Monday, Santa Clara County residents can drop off ballots at 50 different sites, including city halls, college campuses, libraries, light-rail stations -- even Palo Alto's Mayfield soccer complex and the Westgate Shopping Center in San Jose.

May 23 is the deadline to register to vote or switch parties. Independents can vote in the Democratic primary, but not in the GOP primary. So, election officials say, now is the time to get it all sorted out. (full story)

Error in ballot notices affects hundreds of Sonoma County voters

The Press Democrat, By Paul Payne, April 22, 2016


Sonoma County elections officials were scrambling Friday after discovering that hundreds of notices to registered voters not affiliated with a state-recognized political party were postmarked after a deadline to request ballots for the presidential primary.

Notices received this week by about 800 voters set an April 15 cutoff to choose a mail-in ballot from one of three recognized parties allowing crossovers — the American Independent, Democratic and Libertarian parties.

However, because of a technical error, the notices hit mailboxes after the deadline, causing many people to fear they would not be able to vote June 7.

Frantic calls poured in to county election officials, who assured voters it was all a mistake and they would receive a ballot in time.

Among them were Santa Rosa residents Lynn and Leonard Riepenhoff, who received the late notices in the mail Thursday.

“I thought, ‘Something’s not right here,’” said the retired accountant.

“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. I thought I couldn’t vote.”

County elections officials urged voters to disregard the deadline and mail the purple or green cards back as soon as possible.

Deena Thompson-Stalder, election manager for the registrar of voters, said the county will send out requested primary ballots until May 31.

She said the late mailings happened because of a switch to a statewide database that caused some voters to be overlooked.

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Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, said the snafu adds stress to an already complicated system and could prevent some people from voting.

Many likely will assume they have missed the deadline, she said.

“They might think, “It’s too late for me anyway,’” Alexander said. “Especially people who are first-time voters.”

Some caught up in the error might have been attempting to register as independent voters by checking the “Other” box. The correct option is “No Party Preference.”

Meanwhile, thousands of voters statewide have mistakenly registered with the American Independent Party, a choice that could prevent them from casting votes in the June 7 presidential primary.

“It adds to voter confusion and it’s unfortunate,” Alexander said.

“There is a lot of complexity in our voting process and it makes it even more difficult to sort it out when we’re provided instructions that are out of date.” (full story)

Libertarian? Green Party? Nope. AIP is California's fastest growing 3rd party

ABC 10, KXTV, By Samantha Gallegos , April 21, 2016


Eligible voters who weren't looking to register with a party at all have likely contributed to the rapid rise in California's fastest-growing third party, according to a recent poll.

In the Los Angeles Times' random survey of 500 registered American Independent Party voters in California, nearly three in four didn't realize they had registered with a political party and indicated they didn't want to be registered with a political party.

"So, there's real cause for concern here," President and Founder of the California Voter Foundation Kim Alexander said. CVF is a non-profit, nonpartisan group working to improve the state's electoral process.


The American Independent Party (or AIP) was established during the 1968 presidential run of former Alabama Governor and segregation supporter George Wallace.

Wallace considered California to be one of the most important states to win, second only to his home state, according to the state AIP's official website.

Wallace's and the California AIP coordinators' push to get on the ballot during that election cycle established the party we still know today. California is the only state with the AIP.


"The American Independent Party gratefully acknowledges God as the Creator of all and appeals to Him for help in protecting all He has graciously given us," the party prefaces before explaining its platform, which is against women's abortion rights, opposes same-sex marriage and supports the call for a fence along the border of the United States.

The AIP is no longer in favor of racial segregation. (full story)

BROWN sells in Oakland? -- U.S. SENATE race in the shadows -- TRUMP’s Fresno stake

Politico, By Carla Marinucci , April 21, 2016



-- “Ten Things to Know About California's Primary,” by Kim Alexander, president and founder, California Voter Foundation:

Some key points: “You must be registered to vote at your current address by Monday, May 23.” Check your registration via your County Registrar of Voters

-- Unlike other elections, your presidential primary voting right “depends on the political party you are registered with.. If you are registered with a political party, you can only vote for a candidate running for President in that party.”

-- If you’re “no party preference,” you can vote in the Democratic primary, but you have to request a ballot beforehand if voting by mail.

-- If you want to vote for a Republican Presidential candidate, you must be registered with the Republican Party. Link to the full guide: (full story)

CA voters' registration mistake may block vote in presidential primary

KCRA 3 TV, By Sharokina Shams, April 19, 2016


Some California voters who don’t want to be identified with a political party are mistakenly registering with the conservative American Independent Party -- a mistake that would lead to being ineligible to vote for either Republican or Democratic presidential candidates in the state’s June primary.

More than 472,000 voters were registered as members of the American Independent Party as of Jan. 5, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. An investigation done by the Los Angeles Times found that 73 percent of voters registering as AIP mistakenly believed they were registering as independent of any party.

"I figured, American Independent Party, there couldn't be something dreadfully wrong with it,” Placer County voter Nalini Srinivasan said. “And, I saw the word, 'independent,' so I decided to go with it."

According to voters and voter advocates, the mistake is due to the way this question is asked on the current voter registration form. The hard copy of the form, called a voter registration “card,” asks, “Do you want to disclose a political party preference?” Voters can choose ‘yes,’ and then choose a political party. The American Independent Party is the first choice listed since the various parties are listed in alphabetical order.

On the other hand, a voter can choose “no,” meaning he or she does not want to disclose a party preference. To the surprise of many voters, that is the correct answer for those who do not want to be affiliated with any party.

“And normally, California doesn’t have that big of a voice in the presidential primary but this time around, for the first time in decades, we do,” California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander said. “And, we have all this voter excitement growing in California, which is great. But we’re concerned that there are going to be a number of people who have this in mind -- that we have this open primary or maybe have in mind that they’re an independent when they’re actually not registered that way.”

California normally has an open primary, meaning voters can vote for the candidate of their choice, regardless of party affiliation. The exception is the presidential primary. (full story)

Would-be independents joining the American Independent Party could blame California's voter registration card

Los Angeles Times, John Meyers, April 19, 2016


AAlthough Californians now register to vote in more places than ever, most still rely on something that's been around for generations and is increasingly seen as imperfect: the voter registration card.

"I think that it is confusing and somewhat misleading," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

Most of the card is straightforward -- name, address, date of birth -- but one key section requires both close inspection and careful interpretation. There, voters choose whether to join a political party, the equivalent of an electoral fingerprint used extensively by candidates and campaigns.

The problem arises when someone who identifies as "independent" looks for a box to check. There isn't one.

A Times investigation found widespread confusion among California voters who choose the American Independent Party, an ultra-conservative organization that's been largely invisible from most campaigns. A poll of AIP voters found 73% mistakenly thought they were "independent" of all parties. Those voters should have chosen the "no party preference" option.

Though the AIP name alone may be confusing to some, the voter registration form doesn't offer much help.

"When they use the word 'independent,' I want to clarify it," said Cathy Darling Allen, Shasta County's registrar of voters.

She and elections officials in other counties said voters routinely ask in-person questions about how to navigate the various choices. But for those who fill the cards out on their own, there's no help.

The Times analysis of registration records from American Independent Party members finds a higher percentage of forms that were mailed in rather than filled out at an elections office or other state office. That lack of one-on-one voter education could be telling.

Most voters who wish to be political free agents successfully navigate the choices. Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in an interview that elections officials are limited by what the law spells out, and they "cannot assume a voter was misinformed in checking that box" for the American Independent Party. (full story)

Youth vote boosted by online registration in California

Sacramento Bee, Jeremy B. White, March 30, 2016


Offering hope for reversing California’s slim election participation, hundreds of thousands of young Californians have registered to vote online in recent months.

Policymakers like California Secretary of State Alex Padilla are working to boost historically low voter turnout numbers. Even outside of the Golden State, young voters tend to be among the least likely to show up on Election Day.

Numbers Padilla’s office released on Wednesday offer a counterpoint. Of the 562,238 Californians who registered online from January to the end of March, 204,785 – over a third – were in the 17-to-25 age bracket. That becomes more remarkable given that 18-to-24-year olds comprise around eight percent of the registered electorate.

More generally, the statistics buoyed Padilla’s efforts to push more people to the polls. While the registrants were not all new voters – some were updating their existing registration – the total for the first quarter of 2016 already eclipses the 425,220 total online registrations in 2014.

“This surge in online voter registration suggests that elections officials throughout our state should be preparing for a surge in turnout during the June 7 Presidential Primary Election,” Padilla said in a press release.

An incendiary presidential election is likely driving young people to sign up, California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander said, particularly given the rise of outsider candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and the prospect of a rare relevant presidential primary in California.

“This election is on fire,” Alexander said. “We have this very hotly contested presidential election. We have national candidates that are really capturing a lot of peoples’ attention, especially young people.” (full story)

Why Is California’s Presidential Primary So Late?

KQED, Guy Marzorati, March 15, 2016


Tonight’s primaries in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri will be closely watched by some Californians, as a sign of whether our June primary will make a difference in either party’s nomination. The Florida and Ohio contests are especially crucial on the Republican side, and could go a long way in determining whether the race results in a brokered convention.

“I must say, I’m really looking forward to March 15,” says Linda Ackerman, a California representative on the Republican National Committee, “I think it will be interesting for California because we could actually be a player.”

No matter the result, Californians won’t get a chance to vote in the primary until June 7, the final day that states will weigh in. So why is the Golden State’s primary so late in the game?

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Whether it’s a race for the state Legislature, president or a ballot initiative, California counties are largely responsible for shouldering the cost of elections in the state.

“The state has been unwilling to pick up any election costs,” says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit that works to improve the state’s election process. “It’s something a lot of people don’t realize. It’s a real barrier to voter expansion and participation in California.”

The statewide cost of the February 2008 presidential primary was over $96 million. Neal Kelley, registrar of voters in Orange County, said the June 2008 statewide election cost roughly the same.

“We have to prepare the election the same way, whether we have one item on the ballot or 15 contests on the ballot,” says Kelley. “I always tell people we have to prepare for 100 percent turnout, even if we don’t get 100 percent turnout.”

Having to duplicate the cost of everything from ballot materials to polling place staff led California counties to support a 2011 law that consolidated the state and presidential primary and moved it back to June. (full story)

If these students get their way California college students would be automatically registered to vote

Los Angeles Times, Christine Mai-Duc, March 3, 2016


MTV has beckoned them to “Rock the Vote.” Lena Dunham and Lil Jon starred in a music video to urge them to “Turn Out for What.”

But across the nation and particularly in California, young voters mostly haven’t. A dismal 8.2% of the state’s eligible 18-to-24-year-olds voted in November 2014, the last statewide general election, making up just 4% of voters that year. Nearly half of young people statewide didn’t even bother to register to vote.

Two UC Berkeley students are looking to change that.

A new proposed law drafted by the Berkeley law students and co-authored by a pair of Bay Area legislators would automatically register students at the state's public colleges and universities when they sign up for classes online.

The state already is on the cusp of implementing its new automated “motor voter” registration law that could place millions of new voters on the rolls.

Paul Monge and Cindy Dinh
Cindy Dinh, left, and Paul Monge met with legislators last month about their proposal to automatically register college students to vote. (Paul Monge)
But this new effort is aimed at getting the youth vote — which, while much smaller, has been perennially pegged as a sort of sleeping giant — to turn out in bigger numbers.

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It's not that simple.

Young people, especially college students, tend to be the most transient among eligible voters. They move often and don’t always know to change their address, meaning voter pamphlets and other election paraphernalia might be sent to their parents’ homes or lost in the mail.

And even with the advent of California’s new “motor voter” law, expected to be fully implemented by July 2017, many college students also are relatively new drivers who may not need to walk into a DMV for years, meaning they’re less likely to be captured by the state’s new automated voter registration system than others.

But colleges rely on accurate records to send students bills and other important mail, so it's a logical place to start, advocates say.

Voting rights activists and election officials hope that catching would-be voters early may help turn around the state’s shrinking voter participation on a larger scale.

“If you can get someone into the voting process when ... they’ve just turned 18 ... you can turn them into a lifelong voter,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. “We have this window of opportunity in 2016 to engage potentially millions of Californians who have never participated before. And we should make the most of that." (full story)

All of California's voters are now in one online database

Los Angeles Times, John Myers, March 1, 2016


Asingle, instantly updated list of registered voters in California became reality on Monday, as two final counties plugged in to an electronic database mandated by a federal law enacted in the wake of the contentious 2000 presidential campaign.

In other words, a database that was long overdue.

"It's been more than a decade in coming," Secretary of State Alex Padilla said.

The $98-million project allows elections officials in each of California's 58 counties to easily track voters who move from one place to another and to quickly update their records in the event of a death or a voter deemed ineligible after conviction of a felony.

The database will allow voters to check if they are registered at their current address, their party affiliation and whether a ballot sent by mail was actually counted.

"Usually, it is the poorer or more rural counties that lack these tools," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "That creates an uneven playing field for California voters and undermines voters' constitutional right to equal protection."

In an interview Monday, Padilla said a public awareness campaign will be needed to ensure Californians know there soon will be a new tool at their disposal.

"What it means for the voters is most important," he said. (full story)

California voters: fewer Republicans, more no-party preference

San Francisco Chronicle, Melody Gutierrez, February 22, 2016


A new report by the California secretary of state shows that the number of registered Democrats remains relatively flat when compared with 2012, although the party continues its dominance with 7.4 million voters, or 43 percent of all voters. Republicans dropped by 403,000 to 4.8 million, representing 28 percent of all voters.

In all, there are 17.3 million registered voters in California, with nearly a quarter of them saying they have no party preference.

Nonpartisan voters have been on the rise over the past two decades, particularly among a younger demographic, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan group that advocates for improving elections.

In the past four years, the number of people indicating they have no party preference grew by 524,000 to 4.1 million.

“The bigger picture to consider is the electorate in California is becoming less partisan as politics are becoming more partisan,” Alexander said. “It’s a reason why people may not want to engage. They may feel there isn’t a side for them.”

The state added 231,000 registered voters between January 2012 and January 2016 when factoring in newly registered voters with deaths and people leaving the state. Secretary of State Alex Padilla said the overall change has not kept pace with the state’s population increase.

“Only 70.2 percent of eligible Californians are currently registered,” Padilla said in a statement. “If the election were held today, over 7 million otherwise eligible Californians would be left on the sidelines.”

According to the report, Los Angeles County saw the biggest increase in new registered voters, adding 456,000 — a 10.4 percent increase for the county.

Alameda County had the second-largest increase in voter registration with 38,900 new voters, representing a 5.2 percent increase.

The American Independent Party rose by 43,000 to 472,000 and the Libertarian Party grew by 27,000 people to 121,000 people. The Green Party lost 8,600 voters to fall to 103,000 people overall. (full story)

Move would let 16-year-olds vote in some California races

San Francisco Chronicle, Melody Gutierrez, February 13, 2016


Renee Revolorio-Keith, a 16-year-old Berkeley High School student, is no stranger to political fights. In a polished speech on the steps of the state Capitol, Revolorio-Keith said her activism is muted by her inability to bring change the democratic way — at the ballot box.

She’s among the students, lawmakers and youth groups who want 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in school board and community college district elections.
“We would be the first state in the nation to change our Constitution to empower young people to vote — people below the age of 18 who are affected by the very decisions being made by your school boards,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

Supporters of ACA7 by Gonzalez say studies show that 16- and 17-year-olds are mature enough to make political decisions and that allowing the younger teens to cast ballots would increase the likelihood they will vote when they are 18 and above. But opponents argue that the legislation is little more than a stunt by Democrats looking to boost their support in the state.

“If the idea is to let children vote on education policy, then let them vote for governor and the Legislature. That’s where all the policy and money decisions are made,” said Rob Stutzman, a GOP strategist. “It’s a false premise that education decisions are made at the local level. Why not then let 14- and 15-year-olds vote?”

Revolorio-Keith pointed to long-standing issues at her own school, Berkeley High, as an example of how the bill could influence school board races. She said students’ complaints of sexual harassment often are disregarded, and last year prompted a federal Office of Civil Rights investigation. If teens were constituents of school board members, it wouldn’t be so easy to dismiss their concerns, she said.

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Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan group that works to improve the election process, said she’s intrigued by the proposal, which she said could instill lifelong voting habits.

“We have a voter participation crisis in California,” Alexander said. “You look at the trends going forward and it’s easy to see the people who vote in California look less and less like the people who live in California. We need to think about how we are going to turn that around.”

Addressing that trend means engaging young people while they are still in school, Alexander said. But if the measure makes it to the ballot, she’s not sure how it will be received by voters.

“As Martin Luther King Jr. said, the people who have power rarely give it up voluntarily,” Alexander said. “People don’t want to give it to those they perceive as being less informed.”

While some Republicans have criticized the proposal as a ploy by Democrats and teachers unions to influence teens to vote their way, Alexander said she’s not so sure that would happen.

“It’s more likely to increase the number of independent voters,” she said. “Young people are more likely to register nonpartisan than they are to register as Democrats or Republicans. Plus, school board elections are nonpartisan.” (full story)

Could California’s 16-year-olds be casting ballots?'

Miami Herald, Jemery White, February 11, 2016


A bill before the Legislature would amend California’s constitution to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to cast ballots exclusively in school district and community college board elections – the very races, proponents argue, in which Californians under 18 have the most at stake. They still wouldn’t be able to sway congressional or legislative contests or help pick the next president.

“I think they’re mature enough and they have firsthand experience of what’s going on in schools – they should have a voice in it,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. “The decisions that are made at local school boards and community college boards are affecting them probably more than anything else.”

Gonzalez said her then-high-school-age daughter was frustrated that she had no say when teachers were laid off during the recession. Gonzalez noted that extra dollars flow to school districts with a large number of English language learners, many of whom have noncitizen parents who can’t vote in elections that help determine how that money will be spent.

This isn’t the first time lawmakers have sought to boost civic engagement by bringing Californians younger than 18 into the voting process. Legislation passed in 2014 allows 16-year-olds to preregister to vote.

As policymakers worry about reversing tumbling voter turnout, Gonzalez called her proposal a way to encourage more participation. California Voter Foundation head Kim Alexander agreed with that premise.

“If people can vote on something relevant to them when they’re 16 years old, they might develop a lifelong habit of voting, and if you get kids voting when they’re still in school, then you have an institution through which you can teach them how to become voters,” said Alexander, whose organization has not taken a formal position on the bill.

Because the measure would change the state constitution, it would need to win Republican support in the Legislature for a two-thirds vote in order to be placed on the November ballot, where it would then have to pass muster with voters. That could be a politically tricky endeavor, Alexander said, noting that the electorate rejected a 2002 measure to allow Election Day voter registration.

“Historically, people who vote in California have not been all that open to making it easier for other people to vote who they view as taking it not as seriously as they do,” Alexander said.

Such skepticism immediately greeted Gonzalez’s proposal. Jon Fleischman, a conservative blogger and political consultant, said enfranchising adolescents would not lead to better election outcomes. (full story)

Automatic DMV Voter Registration Won't Raise California's Turnout Yet

KQED, Mary Plummer, January 27, 2016


There are roughly 40 new laws around voting and elections that go into effect this year. Among the new laws is one that will make the California Voter Bill of Rights easier to understand, and another that will help people with disabilities vote even if they are under someone else's care. The California Motor Voter Act became official January 1, and could begin rolling out by the end of the year. It will automate voter registration when people go to the DMV.

Ballot selfies are illegal, but this Bay Area legislator says they shouldn't be

Los Angeles Times, Christine Mai-Duc, January 6, 2016


Beyonce’s done it, Sean Hannity’s done it, and we all know Kim Kardashian has done it too. Now a Bay Area lawmaker wants all California voters to be able to do it too, without the threat of arrest.

That is, take selfies in the voting booth.

A new bill sponsored by Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) would legalize so-called “ballot selfies” and allow citizens to share photos of themselves voting on social media.

“People are taking pictures of their dogs, they’re taking pictures of their dinner, so let’s take pictures of voting,” Levine said in an interview. “It’s time to make voting cool and ubiquitous, and ballot selfies are a powerful way to do that.”

The Marin County lawmaker says he took his first “ballot selfie” in 2009, right after casting a vote for himself in the San Rafael City Council race. He saw many of his own friends posting similar photos on Facebook from their polling places.

“I realized that this is something more people should be doing,” Levine said, adding that if more people posted photos of their ballots on social media, it could help turn around the state’s dismal voter turnout.

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The ban on ballot photos is meant to prevent vote-buying and voter coercion, where a photo might serve as proof of how they voted. Jessica Levinson, president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission and a clinical law professor at Loyola Law School, says while she agrees the law is problematic in the digital age, changing it might have the unintended consequence of making it easier for organizations or employers to pressure voters.

“An employer could say, ‘Oh, we’re all voting for this today, really looking forward to seeing your ballot on Facebook later,’” Levinson said.

Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation agreed altering the law could theoretically make vote buying more likely.

“But of all the ballot security issues that I worry about, it’s pretty low on my list,” she said.

And removing a barrier to getting everyday people excited about voting might not be a bad thing, she adds.

“Voting is not something people do very often, and if they’re enthusiastic about it and they take a picture of their ballot, it becomes a negative experience if they’re told they can’t. You don’t want to quash people’s enthusiasm.”

“’Ballot selfies’ posted through social media have become a form of political expression used by many citizens to show their pride for civic participation,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement. “We should not discourage citizens from engaging in political speech, but at the same time, we must protect the integrity of our elections and a voter’s right to privacy.”

Still, Levinson says, boosting voter turnout in California is going to be a heavier lift than loosening selfie rules.

“If it takes you seeing a friend posting a selfie from the voting booth to get you to the ballot box," she said, "then we still have other problems.”(full story)

Is there a federal factor in the voter records leak?

FCW, January 6, 2016


Lawmakers and the administration have for years been seeking common ground on a federal data breach law to replace the patchwork of state and local rules. But even with such a law in place, Uncle Sam may still have been shut out of any role in policing the recent exposure of a database of 191 million voter records.

The trove of personal information, complete with home addresses and telephone numbers, was briefly available on the public-facing web, due to a database configuration error. Privacy advocates and the media scrambled to investigate, but federal agencies were quiet. While voter registration information is public, it is rarely offered up for public consumption in bulk without some strings attached.

Some states bar public-facing online voter record databases, while Florida and Ohio, for instance, both run public-facing voter record look-up sites. Ohio's site returns addresses for name and county searches, while Florida's requires birthdates and contains a notice that the site is intended for use only by voters attempting to verify their own registration status. Florida's state government is considering legislation that would exempt voter information from public records rules because of the possible threat of identity theft.

"I think the federal angle is that there is no federal angle," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

The biggest federal law pertaining to electronic voting records was 2002's Help America Vote Act, which, instead of protecting individual records, may have helped set the stage for the leak by mandating that all states compile centralized, computerized voter record databases.

That helped facilitate the accumulation and trade of records by the private data brokers that supply voter records to political campaigns – the real "weak link" in the setup, Alexander noted.

And Alexander said it is "problematic" that voter registration data, in most states considered part of the public record, are governed by an inconsistent patchwork of state laws.

The FTC didn't respond to several requests for comment. Privacy advocates noted that, while the FTC regulates commercial data issues, it has long kept voter data at arms' length due to First Amendment and states' rights concerns.

"The people who should be addressing the risks that are associated with voter data are the same politicians who are using the data," Alexander said.

Ultimately, it may be up to states to address the issue.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said last week that his office was working with state Attorney General Kamala Harris to look at the case, but wouldn't confirm any official investigation. Contacted by FCW Jan. 6, a spokeswoman for Harris' office said she could not comment on any potential or ongoing investigation.

The leak may serve as a wake-up call on voter privacy, however.

A centralized database of voter records is "a whole new level of risk," Alexander said. "The big deal is it's all collected in one place on the Internet for any one scammer or terrorist to access."

Paul Stephens, spokesman for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, echoed Alexander's concerns, noting that identity thieves could benefit from such a public database.

But he warned that prior federal proposals would have preempted state laws, and offered weaker privacy protections than the state laws they would have preempted. A national privacy policy may not be the answer, he said.

Alexander differed. "It would be great if there was a federal law that set, not a ceiling, but a floor [on voter record privacy]," she said. One easy fix, she proposed, would be redacting birth days and months, to lessen the value of voter records to identity thieves.

"People shouldn't have to risk identity theft to participate in the democratic process," Alexander said. (full story)

New year changes to California voter laws aim to improve elections

Southern California Public Radio, Mary Plummer, January 5, 2016


If you’re like most people living in Southern California, one thing you probably didn't do in 2015 was vote.

But there’s a shift underway in the state that could chip away at that problem: about 40 new laws on voting and elections take effect in 2016, said Neal Kelley, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and Orange County registrar of voters.

The California changes are part of a national effort to modernize the country's voter registration system. More than half the states have taken steps to move into the digital age with improvements like online registration, according to Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

“California has really done a lot to improve the election laws,” said Weiser, who watches election reform across the nation. She said California passed more election reforms in 2015 than any other state in the country.

Many of the state's new laws fix behind-the-scene problems, but a handful will also affect voters: "Easier opportunities to register to vote, easier to make changes to your voter registration, easier to get your vote by mail ballot tracked and counted," Kelley said.

Another new law will make California's Voter Bill of Rights easier to understand. Still another will help people with disabilities to vote, even if they are under someone else’s care.

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Those who follow election reform, including Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said with more than 6 million eligible citizens in California who aren't registered to vote, the DMV law is a game changer.

"You know, one of the reasons people aren’t registered to vote is because they’re never invited to register to vote," Alexander said.

Kelley said voting behaviors have changed dramatically in recent years. As the registrar of voters in Orange County for about a decade, Kelley watched voters slip away from the polls.

"In Orange County, we operate 1,300 polling places. Traffic at those polling places has been down as much as 62 percent over the last 10 years," he said, although adding that many voters in his area have switched to mail-in ballots.

California ranks in the bottom third of voter registration nationally; some argue the state's registration problem is one of the biggest hurdles to increasing voter turnout. Los Angeles County made news in the November 2014 election when it recorded the lowest turnout in the state.

Alexander said the latest laws will bring about important changes, including who could be drawn into the election process.

"If we leave it up to the political parties to decide who to reach out to, then they are not going to reach out to people who are younger, or not as likely to vote, or people who are lower income," she said.

Kelley said the most visible change to voting may be coming soon. A bill making its way through the state legislature would allow counties to create voting centers and allow people to vote over multiple days. (full story)

State officials investigating potential data leak on millions of California voters

Los Angeles Times, Christine Mai-Duc, December 29, 2015


State election officials are looking into claims that data on millions of California voters were publicly posted online.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Tuesday that his office was working to verify media reports, first circulated Monday, that the information of as many as 191 million voters nationwide had been posted online “in an insecure manner by an unknown third party.”

Security researcher Chris Vickery said he discovered the database Dec. 20, and brought his findings to the website The data he found included names, addresses and dates of birth, Vickery told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview. The data also included whether or not voters had voted in elections going back to 2000.

“When you see these types of databases, sometimes there are a lot of entries … so seeing a large amount of numbers wasn’t that surprising,” Vickery said.

But when he noticed that the lines of data were broken up by state, and that the number of entries for Texas and California were significantly larger, the magnitude of the trove became clear to him.

“When I looked at Texas and saw my name there, that’s when it really struck me,” he said.

It’s not immediately clear who owned the database or how it ended up on a public website. As of Monday evening, Vickery said, it appeared the database was no longer publicly available.

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“There may not be very many people driving down that road, but anyone can drive to it and access those files,” Vickery said. “The company didn’t put up any walls, didn’t put up any doors, and a person driving down the road could just happen to get lucky and see it."

Voter privacy advocates say the alleged breach highlights how ubiquitous the collection of detailed voter data has become in American election campaigns -- and how security systems have failed to evolve to protect such data.

“This is one of the best-kept secrets of American politics, that all this data is being collected,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, which has studied voter privacy in the past. "It’s the kind of sausage-making of the political system that is integral to so many campaigns but hidden mostly from voters.”

Alexander says incidents like this help make voters aware of the big business of political data, which might ultimately turn some off from participating.

“All this behind-the-scenes profiling of voters makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and once they get a whiff of it, people may say they don’t want to be a part of it,” she said. The information could have been available to anyone, including terrorists and scammers, she added.

Vickery says he has no way of knowing how many people may have accessed the database before he found it last week. Since the news broke, he said, he believes at least one other party has been able to access the database and may have been able to partially download it.

The information was not posted online by the secretary of state’s office, Padilla said, adding that his office is working with state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris’ office on the potential breach

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In a statement released Monday, Nation Builder Chief Executive Jim Gilliam said the leaked database was not Nation Builder's, but that some of the information might have come from data the firm makes freely available to campaigns.

“From what we’ve seen, the voter information included is already publicly available from each state government, so no new or private information was released in this database,” Gilliam said.

Alexander says it’s disingenuous to refer to voter data as “publicly available” because various state laws dictate what, if any, voter information can be released and how.

California law says that unauthorized use of voter information for commercial or other purposes can result in a fine of 50 cents per name on the list. With more than 17 million registered voters in the state, fines could reach $9 million.

The state attorney general’s office declined to comment, citing the need to protect the integrity of any potential investigation. The FBI also would not comment.

Vickery says he is cooperating with authorities to determine how the breach happened, but he would not say which, if any, agencies were investigating. (full story)

Lessons from the Year in Development Battles

Voice of San Diego, Maya Srikrishnan, December 28, 2015


You’ve probably heard it before, when you’re coming out of the grocery store: “Sign this petition to _________” or “Sign this petition if you want/don’t want ______.”

It’s difficult to sort out whether these claims are accurate. Signature gatherers often have to explain complex measures in the span of a few seconds or minutes.

The most recent claim we’ve been hearing from signature-gatherers is that a signature will go toward an effort to keep Comic-Con in San Diego. The petition is for a hotel tax initiative, “The Citizens’ Plan for the Responsible Management of Major Tourism and Entertainment Resources.” It was written by environmental attorney Cory Briggs and former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye.

KPBS dug into the validity of the claim. The initiative includes a measure that would allow hotel owners to pay a fee that would go toward expanding the Convention Center, which Comic-Con supports.

But Comic-Con sent out a statement saying, “Signature Gathering Will Not Keep Comic-Con in San Diego.”

The signature-gatherers aren’t outright lying. If the measure goes to the voters and passes, it could help Comic-Con. But they’re leaving out information.

The hotel tax initiative measure is 77 pages – short compared with other measures we’ve seen (both Caruso’s mall and One Paseo had more than 300 pages). The Citizens’ Plan campaign said the measure isn’t complex and its provisions are fully and fairly disclosed on the plan’s website. Claims that the signature-gathering explanations are unfair “assume the voters are less capable than the politicians,” according to the campaign.

“Most voters aren’t going to read all those pages to sign or vote yes or no,” said Kim Alexander, president of The California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit that works to improve the state’s election process.

Alexander said voters tend to shy away from complex measures, unless there are big ad campaigns that constantly simplify the message for them.

During the campaigns around the One Paseo project, the developer, Kilroy Realty, actually started a signature-gathering campaign aimed at blocking an opposing measure. Signature-gatherers were paid $2 per signature for a meaningless Chargers petition – the goal was simply to draw people away from signing a petition aimed at killing the project.

It’s hard to force signature-gatherers and campaigners to be straightforward and honest. Anyone who tries to challenge the validity of gathered signatures must meet a very high bar in court to show that deceptive campaigning should keep something off the ballot.

The Environmental Health Coalition sued the opponents of the Barrio Logan community plan for misleading the public while gathering signatures for their referendum.

The judge ruled that yes, some of their statements were misleading, but even then, she couldn’t keep the measure off the ballot. (full story)

Civics instruction supports public health and safety

Cabinet Report, Kimberly Beltran, December 9, 2015


There’s a problem in California when it comes to civic participation and many experts agree that one of the best places to start turning that around is in public school classrooms.

But there are also barriers to fully incorporating quality civics education into the K-12 curriculum, not the least of which are time and money.

“I realize it’s a big challenge to consider changing these two factors – that it would be hard to mandate civic education in California and to work out all the interests and concerns – but we should try,” Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, told the Assembly Select Committee on Civic Engagement Tuesday morning.

Referencing recent acts of violence, from the terrorist attacks in Paris to shootings at a Colorado Planned Parenthood and a southern California developmental disabilities center, Alexander said the perpetrators of those crimes all had one thing in common: They chose not to express their opinions in a civil way but in a violent way.

“Civic engagement isn’t just a nicety. It’s a matter of public safety and public health,” she said. “There should be funding built into the budget to give schools incentive to teach civic engagement.”

While there is a clear question whether civics education would have had any impact on those recent criminal acts, there is evidence that students who learn about and participate in government and community service while in school tend to continue doing so into adulthood.

With record-low voter turnout at the California polls in 2014, state officials and public service advocates attending Tuesday’s hearing said the state is in “a little bit of a crisis mode” in terms of voter participation.

Just 31 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the November 2014 general election, meaning 16 million citizens chose not to participate, according to James Schwab of the California Secretary of State’s office. Even in 2008 – an election which drew one of the highest rates of voters to the polls, said Schwab, 10 million eligible citizens still did not vote.

Lawmakers, state officials and advocates have all taken steps recently to create incentives for people to vote, or to break down barriers that keep people from voting, such as approving online voter registration, creating community awareness campaigns and allowing California’s two million service veterans to publicly dedicate their vote to a friend or family member. Both the Secretary of State’s Office and several non-profit groups are working to provide easy-to-understand online election information as well. (full story)

Big Pharma spending millions to defeat effort to slash drug prices

STAT, Charles Piller, November 19, 2015


Pharmaceutical companies have amassed an eye-popping $23 million war chest to defeat a California ballot question aimed at slashing drug prices, even though Election Day 2016 is a year away.

The measure would require drug makers to give big discounts to state agencies serving HIV patients, retirees, inmates, and low-income people, which could bring welcome relief to taxpayers. Its backers submitted more than 540,000 signatures earlier this month, virtually ensuring that the proposed law will go before voters next November.

But the drug industry didn ’t even wait for the referendum to be certified for the ballot — expected several weeks from now — to mobilize against the “California Drug Price Relief Act.”

Drug firms might see “strategic benefits to making public their commitments early to show the supporters of the measure the financial strength of the opposition,” said Dan Newman, president of MapLight, a Berkeley nonprofit that tracks campaign finance. It’s a kind of financial intimidation, he said.

The companies also have cause for concern that if the measure passes in California, it could inspire similar ballot proposals in other states as a response to mounting anger over high drug prices.

Kim Alexander, president of the Sacramento nonprofit California Voter Foundation, has studied California ballot measures for decades. Several have been widely imitated by other states, she said, including Proposition 13 in 1978, which substantially froze property taxes, and a 1990 legislative term limits measure.

Already, referendum proponent Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a large service provider and activist group, has begun a similar effort in Ohio. “We want to start a brushfire,” he said, “a movement to take the sentiment that’s out there and run with it as far as we possibly can.”

The California ballot measure would require state agencies to negotiate drug prices at least as low as those paid by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA keeps its costs down both by statute and by using its massive purchasing power to obtain steep discounts. Weinstein said the VA pays 20 percent below the lowest pricing now available to state agencies.

If the law passes, programs that supply prisons, AIDS patients, many recipients of Medi-Cal – the state Medicaid program – and many state-government retirees could reap huge savings, reducing California’s health care costs. The programs cover at least 5 million patients, according to the proponents. (full story)

Is Voting In Costume Legal In California?

Capitol Public Radio, Ben Adler, October 30, 2015


It’s the latest viral Internet video: Ukranian police arresting someone dressed as the Star Wars character Chewbacca, who drove Darth Vader to the polls. With Halloween on the horizon, we couldn’t help but wonder: Can Californians wear costumes to vote?

The best way to describe the video may be to quote the Ukranian police Instagram: “Nothing unusual here,” the caption reads. “Just Chewbacca detained for being without documents while driving Darth Vader to the elections in Odessa.”

Chewbacca is the large, furry – and fictional – animal known as a Wookie.

Now, the police arrested “Chewy” because he or she didn’t have identification – not for wearing a costume to vote. But it does raise the question: Could I dress up as a Wookie the next time I go to the polls?

The answer is yes, says Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation – as long as Chewbacca, or another Star Wars character, isn’t running for office.

So you know all those Donald Trump costumes popping up these days? “If somebody showed up in one of those next year if he’s on the ballot,” Alexander says, ”that would be considered electioneering and that would be illegal” – same as if you wore a campaign t-shirt or button to the polls.

You also can’t use your costume to intimidate other voters. Beyond that, you’re good to go.

And just possibly, you’ve found the solution to California’s abysmal voter turnout.

“Maybe if people put as much creativity into costumes on Election Day as they do on Halloween,“ Alexander says, “we’d have more people turn out to the polls and want to see how everybody else is dressed up.”

Until then, there’s always Ukraine. (full story)

What You Need to Know About San Mateo’s New All-Mail Elections

KQED, Kelly O'Mara , October 13, 2015


If you’re a registered voter in San Mateo County, you won’t head to your usual neighborhood polling place on Nov. 3. And chances are you already got your ballot in the mail — whether you registered for vote-by-mail or not.

That’s because San Mateo County has launched an all-mail election effort. More than 353,000 official ballots have been sent out to all registered voters in the county, according to Mark Church, chief elections officer for the county. Voters have until Nov. 3 to put those ballots in the mail, or drop them off at any city or town hall in the county, at a 24-hour drop box or at one of 32 voting centers. (Check San Mateo’s election website for a full list of locations.)

“This election is already underway,” said Church. “Voting is now taking place.”

While San Mateo is not the first county in California to institute countywide mail ballots — both Alpine and Sierra counties have long had all vote-by-mail elections, according to the Secretary of State’s Office — it is the biggest county to do so. Alpine and Sierra both instituted their programs because of their rural and sparsely populated nature.

San Mateo, on the other hand, has a number of characteristics that make it more of a true test program for the large urban areas in California, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

“It is a large county. It is a diverse county. This is going to give us a good idea of whether this is going to be a feasible option for local elections,” said Alexander.

The appeal of an all-mail election is twofold, said Alexander. It could make it more accessible to voters who find it easier to drop a ballot in the mail than to find their way to a traditional voting booth on Election Day. And it may be more cost-efficient for local governments.

But that’s still not certain.

Generally, said Alexander, people who vote by mail are typically wealthier, whiter and older than the average voter, but that would likely change when mail-in ballots are delivered automatically to all registered voters. The all-mail elections in Sierra and Alpine have also correlated with some of the highest voter turnout in the state, but “we’ll have to see how it turns out [in San Mateo] to know for sure,” said Alexander. (full story)

State panel outlaws 'dark money' in California political campaigns

Los Angeles Times, By Patrick McGreevy , September 17, 2015


The state’s campaign finance watchdog agency on Thursday adopted new requirements that nonprofit groups that contribute through a federal political action committee to support or oppose ballot measures or candidates in California must disclose their donors.

“The amendment to this regulation clarifies that so-called 'dark money,' originating from nonprofit or other organizations whose donors are not disclosed, is not permitted in California elections,” said Hyla P. Wagner, general counsel for the state Fair Political Practices Commission in a report to the panel.

Legislation and previous action by the commission had generally required disclosure of donors where money went to support or oppose candidates and ballot measures in California.

But state officials were concerned about a possible loophole that would allow nondisclosure of donors if nonprofits make contributions through federal or out-of-state political action committees, rather than in-state PACs.

“It is significant that dark money will not be coming into California,” said Jodi Remke, the commission’s chairwoman, after the vote. “We heard rumblings from various federal PACs and out-of-state committees about this rule not applying to them. This closes a major potential loophole in California’s reporting requirements to stop any kind of undisclosed donors and dark money.”

Great move as long as the requirement means that the actual donor is disclosed. Full transparency is at least some antidote to the big money.

The action implements a change authorized last year by the Legislature in response to an FPPC investigation into the dark-money issue.

That probe resulted in fines against two Arizona nonprofits for hiding the true source of funds they put into a campaign to fight Gov. Jerry Brown's 2012 tax-hike campaign and to promote a measure intended to curtail unions' political influence.

With several initiatives expected to be on the 2016 ballot, the FPPC’s action is timely because it will allow voters to better see which donors are trying to influence the election, according to Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which works to improve voter participation. (full story)

Nine Years Later, California Gets New Voter Registration System

Capitol Public Radio, By Ben Adler , July 22, 2015


California is getting a new statewide voter registration system after nearly a decade of development and delay.

The state's existing voter registration system is aging, and isn’t compatible with modern technology. So as far back as 2006, the state started looking to modernize.

A failed contract and other delays plagued the “VoteCal” project through the administrations of four different Secretaries of State. But now it’s ready for implementation.

Once it's in place, the state will be able to offer Californians several new programs, including same-day voter registration.

“It’ll allow counties to check in real time whether those voters might have voted somewhere else,“ says Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation, who's been monitoring the project and released a policy brief Wednesday. “We need to be able to make sure that people aren’t voting twice, and this technology’s going to enable that.”

Voters will also be able to check their registration status online. And the system will retain voters’ history and preferences – such as whether they like to vote by mail – when they move from one county to another. (Audio)

‘Crazy’ initiative ideas spur calls for higher threshold

San Francisco Chronicle, By Melody Gutierrez , June 29, 2015


California would consider becoming its own country. Spousal support would be axed. Water bottled in California would contain warnings that it’s “not drought friendly.” And, in an attempt to make a political point, shellfish would be outlawed for being a “monstrous evil.”

These are a few of the 26 measures whose authors are gathering signatures to try to qualify them for the November 2016 ballot. Another nine are awaiting title and summary from the state attorney general’s office, which is required before collecting signatures, and more measures will probably follow in the coming weeks.

Most are long shots. At least two are tongue-in-cheek. And one calling on the state to kill gay people was deemed unconstitutional, not to mention offensive, and was booted from the list by a judge.

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The sheer number of initiatives — and the cost to taxpayers to process them all — is enough to have some politicians questioning whether California’s initiative process is broken. From 2010 to 2014, the state spent $1.8 million evaluating 226 initiatives. Of those, 18 were successful in landing on the ballot. Six were approved by voters.

“Surely the low threshold has invited a lot of crazy ideas to be tossed into the mix with no possibility that they are going to be qualified,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan group that advocates for improving elections.

Two initiatives have already qualified for the November 2016 ballot: one to overturn the state’s plastic bag ban and another to limit lawmakers’ ability to change a Medi-Cal fee that hospitals receive. Others being closely watched are competing initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana and expand medicinal marijuana, a requirement that actors wear condoms in porn, and a school facility bond.

This month, state Attorney General Kamala Harris persuaded a Sacramento judge to toss out the Sodomite Suppression Act, a proposed initiative filed by Orange County lawyer Matthew McLaughlin that called for the state to execute gays and lesbians. The judge ruled the measure was “patently unconstitutional” and did not have to be approved for signature gathering. (full story)

Harris can block gay murder initiative, court rules

Sacramento Bee, By Jeremy B. White , June 23, 2015


California Attorney General Kamala Harris does not need to advance a widely reviled ballot initiative authorizing the murder of homosexuals, a Sacramento Superior Court has ruled.

The Sodomite Suppression Act has been condemned across the political spectrum. It has prompted both legislation seeking to raise the initiative filing fee and a debate about whether the attorney general can halt clearly unconstitutional ideas contained in citizen initiatives.

Saying she did not want to be “in the position of giving any legitimacy” to the initiative, Harris asked to be relieved of her official duty of preparing the measure’s title and summary, a necessary step before proponents can collect signatures. Judge Raymond M. Cadei granted that request in a Monday decision that became public on Tuesday, effectively halting the initiative’s progress.

The proposed initiative “is patently unconstitutional on its face,” Cadei wrote, and forcing Harris to clear it for circulation “would be inappropriate, waste public resources, generate unnecessary divisions among the public, and tend to mislead the electorate.”

The initiative’s proponent, Huntington Beach attorney Matt McLaughlin, did not defend the measure in court and has not commented on his motivation amid intense media coverage.

In a statement, Harris lauded the judgment.

“This proposed act is the product of bigotry, seeks to promote violence, is patently unconstitutional and has no place in a civil society,” Harris said in a statement. “I applaud the court’s decision to block its title and summary. My office will continue to fight for the rights of all Californians to live free from hatred and intolerance.”

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“I do worry that it opens the door for another attorney general to decide another issue they don’t like is unconstitutional, be it campaign contributions and the First Amendment or what happened in Proposition 8,” which outlawed same-sex marriage, Carmen Balber said. “It’s a disturbing slippery slope.”

Far better, Balber said, would be if Harris had issued the title and summary and then courts had invalidated the proposition after a private citizen launched a legal challenge.

“The attorney general is supposed to do her job,” Balber said, “and someone else can sue to stop it.”

But letting the initiative proceed would have been misleading or aggravating for voters and wasted public resources, argued California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander.

“Asking voters to vote on something that is not legal in the first place is a waste of everybody’s time,” Alexander said. “Voters are very protective of the initiative process and don’t, I think it’s fair to say, want to see it abused. This episode, to everyone, was a clear case of abuse.”

Similarly, others who backed Harris’ decision argued the initiative was so egregious that it compelled the attorney general to act. (full story)

Bill Would Overhaul California Voting System

Capital Public Radio, By Katie Orr , June 10, 2015


Nationally, California ranked 43rd in voter turnout for the 2014 General Election. A new bill in the state Legislature seeks to increase turnout by giving voters more options. It would allow counties to opt-in to a new system in which every voter is mailed a ballot. It would also expand early voting and allow people to cast ballots anywhere in their county.

The voting system is modeled after Colorado’s, where voter turnout tends to be higher. Democratic Senator Bob Hertzberg is a joint author of the bill.

"What we’ve done is flip this on its head and focused on the voter," he says. "On who the voter is and their life, by giving them time by making it convenient for them, rather than convenient for the people in government."

Secretary of State Alex Padilla says every county in California needs a new voting system. And he says this bill gives them an opportunity.

"There’s some counties that are ready and eager to do that sooner rather than later," he says. "Others will take maybe a couple more cycles to make the transition."

Counties could opt-in beginning in 2018. And Padilla says the state will work with them over the next few years to create a funding formula.

The lack of funding concerns Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation.

"I’m concerned that the state is not paying its fair share of election costs," she says. "And I hope that these reforms provide an opportunity to discuss what the state’s fair share should be for supporting elections."

In 2011, California stopped reimbursing counties for election costs the state is legally supposed to cover. (full story)

California Assembly OKs bill to raise ballot initiative fee from $200 to $8,000

Los Angeles Times, By Patrick McGreevy, May 26, 2015


Amid outrage over a proposed initiative that calls for the execution of gays and lesbians, the California Assembly on Tuesday approved legislation that would increase the filing fee for a ballot measure from $200 to $8,000.

The proposed increase would discourage outlandish ballot initiatives, proponents say, though others opposed the legislation as an attack on California’s system of direct democracy, in which citizens can petition for law changes if their lawmakers refuse.
Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), a co-author of the bill, said the current fee paid to the attorney general to prepare the title and summary of initiatives has failed to keep pace with the actual cost, which he said averages $8,251.

“The $200 fee was first set 72 years ago,” Low told his colleagues. “This reform is overdue, but more importantly it will also deter frivolous proposals from being submitted."

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) said the higher fee would make it difficult for individuals and nonprofit groups to file for an initiative. She said that if the increase in the cost of living since the fee was implemented was figured in, it would now be $2,700.

Some increase is warranted, but setting the fee at $8,000 is “wrongheaded,” according to Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which works to improve voter participation.

“Californians are very protective of the initiative process and they will likely view an absurdly high increase in the filing fee to be an attempt by the Legislature to thwart they public' access to that process,” Alexander said. She said a $1,000 fee would be reasonabl

Grove said she agreed that the anti-gay measure should never have been filed. “But we still have to stand and allow people of this state to have the freedom to file an initiative without the overburden of expense to do that. (full story)

Your Call: What will it take to increase voter turnout and why is it so low?

KALW, By Ngoc Nguyen, April 23, 2015


On the April 23rd edition of Your Call, we’ll have a conversation about policies that could get more people to cast ballots. In the 2014 midterm US elections, we saw the worst voter turnout in 72 years. Oregon is tackling this problem by becoming the first state in the country to automatically register voters who go to the DMV. California is considering a similar law. What are other states doing to make voting easier? It’s Your Call with Rose Aguilar, and you.


Dr. Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the Center for Regional Change at UC Davis

Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation

Dr. Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University in Oregon (Full Audio)

Measure aims to automatically register eligible voters, April 1, 2015


We're learning more about a system that would automatically register people to vote in California.

The measure is modeled after a new Oregon law that uses the DMV to automatically register eligible voters. Supporters say it will increase voter turnout. According to the state's elections office, California has nearly 7 million eligible but unregistered voters.

"It could be a game changer in the way that all these people who currently are not being courted by anybody. Not being invited to participate by anybody will suddenly have the door open for them," Kim Alexander, President of the California Voter Foundation, said.

The idea is being pushed by California's Secretary of State. (full story)

How would automatic voter registration work in California?

News 10, March 31, 2015


Proponents of automatic voter registration believe it will increase voter turnout. California saw a historically low voter turnout in the November 2014 election with 42 percent of registered voters voting and that number was only 31 percent of eligible voters, according to the state's elections office.

California has nearly 7 million eligible but unregistered voters.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, addressed some of the questions and issues about automatic voter registration.

How would automatic voter registration work in California?

"As I understand it is that someone who comes to the DMV to get a driver's license for the first time, they're turning 18. The DMV knows how old they are and they can tell the Secretary of State: Hey, we have this Californian who came into our system. Here's their address. Here's their birthdate. Here's the date that you need to get them on to the voter rolls. Now you also need to know that party's … that person's party preference. We also want to know do you want to vote by mail ballot? We'd like to know if you want to vote in the polls. We want to know if they have a language preference," Alexander explained.

Does automatic voter registration increase voter turnout?

Alexander said computer and political scientists looked at that after the 2012 national election and based on search engines they studied, "they estimated there were anywhere from 3 to 4 million Americans who would have voted in the 2012 presidential election had they had the opportunity to register on Election Day if they hadn't already missed that deadline." (full story)

California’s Severe Voting Drought

San Diego Free Press, By Anthony York, March 31, 2015


A record-low percentage of Californians bothered to cast ballots last November, and there is no shortage of explanations being offered. Everything from voter apathy to sophisticated micro-targeting by political campaigns has been cited as the reason for the abysmal 42 percent turnout among registered voters.

But a new analysis of voting statistics and economic data suggests that California’s surging poverty and inequality rates are also partially to blame for the poor turnout.

“As home prices soar throughout the state and the middle class shrinks, we are increasingly creating a democracy where a growing number of people on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder are not participating,” says Mike Madrid, president of GrassrootsLab and author of a forthcoming study on poverty and voter turnout. “The result is a political system that increasingly ignores the political needs of poor people.”

Socioeconomic status has long been a good predictor of voter-participation, Madrid adds. Wealthy Americans vote at much higher rates than those of lower socio-economic status. During the 2008 presidential election, only 41 percent of eligible voters making less than $15,000 a year voted, compared to 78 percent of those making $150,000 a year or more.

“Poorer people by and large vote in smaller numbers than more affluent people,” he says. “It is no accident that turnout has decreased as our underclass grows.”

The record-low participation comes as California’s poverty rate is surging. About 24 percent of the state’s 38 million residents live in poverty, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau report.

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The Central Valley is also the heart of Purple California, where more competitive races and cheaper media markets lead to more voter contact in down-ticket races. But in many ways, the region is a different animal than Los Angeles and San Francisco — the two urban centers and economic engines of the California economy.

What else is contributing to the decline?

Some voter-participation advocates, such as Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, say more sophisticated micro-targeting of voters by political campaigns is also part of the problem. Data companies offer likely “turnout universes” and give campaigns the ability to speak to a refined universe of likely voters.

But even the most sophisticated analysis boils down to a basic fact — economic status is one of the major determinants of a person’s propensity to vote.

“You can do 85 percent of voter targeting by age and home ownership,” says Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., which provides data and turnout models to hundreds of political campaigns. “If you were to create a universe of older homeowners and line that up to the most sophisticated voter-targeting universe, they’d look remarkably similar.”

But overlaying those facts with the current trends in the state’s economy paints a bleak picture, says Madrid.

It is a problem that is vexing to California’s elected officials. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said she will try to address some of the problems through the legislative process this year. Secretary of State Alex Padilla said boosting turnout is also a priority for his new administration.

“We have our work cut out for us to get more people to cast ballots,” said Padilla in an interview. “[Last] year’s turnout rates were very disappointing.” (full story)

Calif. Lawyer Proposes Ballot Initiative To Kill Gays And Lesbians

NPR, By Richard Gonzales, March 24, 2015


California's system of direct democracy — the voter initiative process — has produced landmark laws reducing property taxes, banning affirmative action and legalizing medical marijuana.

Now there's a bid to declare that "the people of California wisely command" that gays and lesbians can be killed.

You read that right.

The "Sodomite Suppression Act," as proposed, calls sodomy "a monstrous evil" that should be punishable "by bullets to the head or any other convenient method."

The act would punish anyone who distributes "sodomistic propaganda" to minors with a $1 million fine, and/or up to 10 years in prison, and/or the possibility of a lifetime expulsion from California.

The proposal comes from a Huntington Beach-based attorney, Matt McLaughlin. He did not return calls for comment, and his voice mailbox is full.

Now maybe you're thinking there's no way such a blatantly illegal measure would ever be approved by California voters.

But here's the rub: We might get a chance to find out, because it appears that there's no legal way for state officials to stop the author of this proposal from collecting enough voter signatures to put it on the ballot.

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One, given that it costs only $200 to submit an initiative and start the signature-gathering process in California, perhaps the fee should be higher to discourage people from abusing the process. (On the other hand, that could make it prohibitive for legitimate grass-roots petitions to gain traction without well-off backers.)

Two, some advocate that the state attorney general, the official whose job duties include writing a title and summary for any proposed initiative, should have the authority to kill a proposal that would conflict with superseding law — like murder. (Of course, then elected partisan officials with their own political agendas would be the filters.)

But both of those ideas raise their own problems, Amar said.

"Anyone who has 200 bucks for an initiative, probably can raise 2,000 bucks," he said. "But raise it to something meaningful like [10,000] or 20,000 bucks, then you're sending a message about the accessibility of direct democracy."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, favors raising the fee, even though she said, "It won't stop people from submitting crazy ideas."

Like Amar, Alexander does not favor the idea of allowing an elected official, in this case Attorney General Kamala Harris, to block the measure outright by calling it illegal.

The initiative process "needs to be kept at arm's length from the Legislature and the politicians who frequently want to usurp its power," Alexander said.

The initiative's author has provoked discussion and controversy. In fact, there have been calls for McLaughlin to be disbarred for advocating murder. (full story)

Odius initiative shows system's pitfalls

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, March 19, 2015


For less than the cost of an Apple iPad, Matt McLaughlin started a statewide legal conversation.

An attorney from Huntington Beach, McLaughlin in late February spent $200 to propose a ballot measure that authorizes the killing of gays and lesbians by “bullets to the head,” or “any other convenient method.”

McLaughlin’s “Sodomite Suppression Act” now is testing the limits of free speech and raising the question: Why can’t the state’s initiative process screen out blatantly illegal ideas?

The Legislature’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus wrote a letter to the State Bar, asking for an investigation into McLaughlin’s fitness to practice law. More than 3,800 people signed a petition to State Bar President Craig Holden asking that McLaughlin lose his law license for advocating to “legalize the murder” of gays and lesbians.

Yet the measure is likely to proceed to the signature-gathering stage. At the moment, its fate rests with state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is charged with writing a title and summary for the proposal. Legal experts say she has little choice but to let the process continue and that McLaughlin is unlikely to face professional repercussions.

Over the years, the $200 price tag for submitting an initiative has enabled California political activists to draft and submit thousands of orphan causes: eliminating divorce, requiring public schools to offer Christmas caroling, making criminals of those who lie during political campaigns.

Carol Dahmen, a media consultant in Sacramento who started the petition to disbar McLaughlin, argues that this one is different. Along with disbarment, Dahmen wants to draw attention to reforming the system, calling McLaughlin the “poster boy of what is still wrong with the initiative process.”

“It’s an interesting discussion about free speech, and I get that,” Dahmen said. “But this is a lawyer, and he’s advocating for murder.”

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The growing number of proposed initiatives – from 47 in the 1960s to nearly 650 in the 2000s – prompted lawmakers to revisit the issue in recent years. They contended that raising the fee would help defray the average $8,000 in administrative costs for state officials to prepare the title and summary for each proposal. It could also dissuade people from pitching multiple variations of a plan, or from turning in what would generally be viewed as a frivolous proposal.

Kim Alexander, an expert on ballot measures, said she believes raising the filing fee is a good idea. Alexander said while she generally opposes changes that make the initiative process more restrictive, those serious about advancing a successful measure are going to need considerable resources.

“Increasing the fee, even to $500 or $1,000, would help ensure that those who put initiatives into circulation are sincere in their efforts,” said Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. “I don’t think the fee should cover the costs, but it should provide more of a disincentive for people to submit initiatives for which they have no serious intention of attempting to qualify, which seems to happen a lot if you follow initiatives in circulation that fail.”

The most recent legislation, in 2011, would have raised the fee to $2,000. The language was stripped from the measure and it became a vehicle for requiring that all initiatives appear only on general election ballots.

Before that, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a pair of similar bills by Democrat Lori Saldaña in 2009 and 2010, writing he “cannot support increasing the fee ten-fold,” and adding that “while well-funded special interest groups would have no problem paying the sharply increased fee, it will make it more difficult for citizen groups to qualify an initiative.”

Jennifer Fearing, the president of Fearless Advocacy and a veteran of lower-wattage campaigns, said she isn’t sure “there’s a price that stops crazy.” (full story)

L.A.'s low voter numbers push state officials toward easing process

Los Angeles Times, By Patrick Mcgreevy, March 14, 2015


Alarmed by the dismal voter turnout in this month's Los Angeles city election, California lawmakers are considering a massive expansion of vote-by-mail balloting and legalizing pop-up polling stations at shopping malls to help increase the convenience and appeal of voting.

Opening polling stations weeks early and allowing teenagers to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the general election, strategies already being used in Colorado and Oregon respectively, also are being debated.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) said he felt compelled to take action after California saw a record low turnout in the November 2014 state election. His commitment to change the system took on new urgency after only about 10% of eligible voters in Los Angeles participated in the March 3 municipal election.

"My heart sinks. It's just horrible. It's embarrassing," Hertzberg said. "It just puts a lot less meaning on the democratic process. We've got to do something to change the game."

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And then Los Angeles held its election.

"Here we were complaining about the 31% [statewide] turnout in November, and then just when we thought tsporthings couldn't get worse, it drops down" to 10.3% for Los Angeles, said Sen. Benjamin Allen (D-Santa Monica). "How sad."

Experts believe some help will come for Los Angeles elections from a newly approved measure to align city votes with state and federal elections.

But the state has been slow to respond to low voter turnout, said Kim Alexander, president of the non-profit California Voter Foundation, which advocates for the use of technology to promote the democratic process.

A new computer system called VoteCal, which would allow voters to register at satellite polling stations on the same day they vote, was supposed to be operating in 2009 but has been delayed until 2017 by problems that include ballooning costs and the firing of the original contractor.

In addition, the governor and Legislature have underfunded counties' voter registration and vote-by-mail programs by up to $100 million, Alexander said.

She said newly elected state officials, from Allen to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, appear to be bringing new energy and momentum to the issue.

Many of the bills are likely to make it through the Democrat-controlled Legislature, but money could become an issue for some of the more expensive proposals. (full story)

Security not yet available for online voting

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


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

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

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

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

Pam Smith, Carlsbad
President Of Verified Voting

Kim Alexander
President & Founder,
California Voter Foundation

The Riggs Report: A troubling turnout trend

KCRA, By Kevin Riggs, December 10, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Across California, Many Politicians Picked By Few Voters

KQED, By John Myers, November 28, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Law May Prolong Vote Counts

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


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

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

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

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

California officials ponder all-mail voting

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, November 14, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verifying ballots is key to making them count

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ose leads Bera by 530 votes in Sacramento-area race

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Still Counting

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

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

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

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

Voter Group Concerned Over Bera/Ose Race Vote Count

FOX 40, By Lonnie Wong, November 7, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballot counting closely watched in District 7 race

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


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

Abysmal turnout marks 2014 vote

Monterey Hereld, By Jason Hoppin, November 5, 2014


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California’s election may set record for apathy

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, November 4, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaign mailers clog Sacramento mailboxes

Sacramento Bee, By Bill Lindelof , November 3, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KPCC, By Alex Cohen , November 3, 2014


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

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

Mailed ballots suggest low turnout in California

Fresno Bee, By Fenit Nirappil , October 31, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election 2014: Propositions And Campaign Finance

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving voter turnout a priority for secretary of state candidates

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporations, Advocacy Groups Spend Big on Ballot Measures

Time Magazine, By Liz Whyte, October 23, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPR Radio, By Pam Fessler, October 22, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KQED Radio, October 16, 2014


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thousands Of Mail-In Ballots Going Uncounted

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Voting Machines Are About To Wreak Havoc On Another Election

Think Progress, by Lauren Williams, September 26, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major challenges await Bowen's successor in California

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secretary of state candidates face off in debate

KCRA-TV, September 11, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s Depression

KCRW, September 8, 2014


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

Depression of elections chief raises concerns

Modesto Bee, by Fenit Nirappil, September 8, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others said they are not concerned.

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

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

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

Bowen vows to press on as election nears

Fresno Bee, by Jim Miller, September 8, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KQED, Lisa Pickoff-White, August 21, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insight interview: Mail-In Ballot Study

Capital Public Radio, August 20, 2014


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

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

Sacramento Bee, by Jim Miller, August 20, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recount in the controller's race: A fine mess

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBS13-TV, July 14, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recount in Controller's Race Takes State Into Uncharted Territory

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controller recount highlights concern about California election law

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


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

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

They will do this thousands and thousands of times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacramento County inches toward campaign finance disclosure

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacramento voters send media a message

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viewpoints: Voters had reasons to skip California primary

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California primary election turnout headed for record low

Sacramento Bee, By Christopher Cadelago, June 6, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander said that worries her most.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picking and Choosing in Tomorrow's Statewide Election

KCRW, June 2, 2014


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

Primary turnout could be record low

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low Turnout Expected in Today's Primary Election

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


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

Vote-By-Mail Voters Face 8pm Deadline

KFBK, by Mike Simpson, June 3, 2014


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

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

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

Dominant political parties losing voters in California

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To win a state Senate seat is even more costly.

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

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

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

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

Equally frustrating for voters is the length of the ballot.

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

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

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

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

Secretary of State Race Draws Crowded Field

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millions of Californians missing from the registration rolls

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candidates say they would represent a break from Bowen

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Maybe even you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacramento County's SACVOTE Mobile Application

April 1, 2014

Results from independent redistricting are mixed

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


A few states have turned to independent or arms-length commissions to limit political influences when redrawing congressional and legislative districts.

The results have varied, but supporters point to more competitive contests and new faces replacing incumbents as evidence of reduced gerrymandering, the delicate drawing of often misshapen districts to benefit one party or the other - or officeholders of either party seeking re-election.

In California, a 14-member citizen panel of Republicans, Democrats and people who are not affiliated with either party redrew the state's 53 congressional and 120 legislative maps in 2012. The realignment of political boundaries produced some of the most competitive congressional races in decades. Fourteen House incumbents either lost their seats or opted not to run under the new lines.

Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey and Washington also have set up commissions to redraw district boundaries after the new census every 10 years. A handful of others have formed panels to redraw only state legislature seats.

States set up their panels with different outcomes in mind, said Justin Levitt, an associate professor of law at Loyola University in Los Angeles, the creator of a website that tracks state redistricting efforts, .

Some states wanted to speed up an inherently political process often delayed for years in court; others sought to form districts that preserve like-minded voting blocs.

"There is no one perfect type of body," Levitt said. "I don't think that one state's model should just be dropped into another state. Every state is a little bit different, and so it makes sense to think of institutions that really fit into the nature of those states."

Washington state's redistricting process is "probably one of the most clean in the country. It has a track record of producing competitive state legislative districts and competitive congressional districts," said Todd Donovan, a Western Washington University political scientist. Races in two of the state's 10 U.S. House districts are expected to be competitive this year. The two leading political parties select four members and a nonvoting chair of the redistricting group.

Idaho also uses an "arms-length" political appointment process to select its bipartisan commission. Its two congressional districts were redrawn in 2011 on what has been a steadily westward-moving axis to accommodate growing Boise. The shift has had little impact in the heavily Republican state.

In California, the citizen panel held months of public hearings on how to draw the boundaries. Its members - five Republicans, five Democrats and four members with no political affiliation - are drawn from a pool that cannot include lobbyists, recent state officeholders or their staff.

"Having the lines drawn by citizens who had their eye on what was in the best interest of voters rather than politicians resulted in more choices for voters and more competition in our election process," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation... (full story)

California unique with independent citizens panel

San Jose Mecury News, by Juliet William, March 30, 2014


In the decade before the 2012 midterm congressional elections, only one of California's 53 congressional seats changed party hands, despite elections every other year in a state with rapidly shifting demographics.
This year, at least five congressional districts are in play, and both Democrats and Republicans are throwing money at the races.

Credit for the shake-up goes to the state's unique independent redistricting commission, a voter-created, 14-member panel of average Californians who redrew the district lines for congressional and legislative seats in 2012. Democratic leaders and some Republicans opposed creating the nonpartisan panel, which has since succeeded in shaking up the electoral status quo and establishing what could be a benchmark for other reform-minded states.

"This is a reform that voters deserve. It's such a blatant matter of self-interest for politicians to have the power to draw their own district lines," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation...

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Alexander noted that in 2012, the first year the new district lines were in place, 14 House incumbents were swept from office or opted against running. The change, coupled with California's adoption of a top-two primary system that allows members of the same party to advance to a general election, means California politicians no longer have the ironclad assurance of a safe seat, she said.

"It's created an environment where our elected representatives do need to keep looking over their shoulder to make sure that they're following the will of the voters," Alexander said.

California's independent panel makes it an anomaly. Other states have established non-legislative commissions, but California's is widely seen as one of the most independent and effective.

Gerrymandered districts nationwide helped Republicans hold on to a 33-seat majority in the House in 2012. Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives received 1.4 million more votes nationwide than their GOP opponents, yet Democrats are still in the minority.

Because it is the nation's largest congressional delegation, California's changes play a role in the makeup of Congress. Democrats picked up five additional seats here in 2012, bringing the state's delegation to 38 Democrats and 15 Republicans. (full story)

Pavley Bill to List Ballot Measure Donors Advances, March 18, 2014


The Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) that would arm voters with lists of the largest contributors for and against California ballot propositions.

Senate Bill 844 would increase transparency by creating official online lists of the top 10 contributors for or against each proposition on every California ballot.

“This is a simple approach that can be implemented to fulfill the public’s right to know who is funding or opposing each ballot measure,” Senator Pavley said.

California began posting online financial information for propositions campaigns in 2000, a major step toward greater transparency. However, finding out the top contributors for or against a proposition requires gathering and re-formatting the data from multiple reports from each of the various committees connected to a proposition. This difficult and time-consuming endeavor makes the information inaccessible to many voters.

For example, compiling a complete list of contributions for and against Proposition 30 – the 2012 initiative to fund schools and close the state deficit – requires 460 mouse clicks, according to an analysis by the nonprofit research organization, MapLight. Third parties such as MapLight have created more user-friendly lists on their own websites, but these websites do not bear an official government seal.

SB 844 instructs the California Secretary of State to convert existing data into lists of top donors that can be easily accessed by all voters. The bill was developed in collaboration with the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving the election process.

“Providing voters with convenient and timely access to top donor lists will give voters exactly the kind of straightforward information they need and, according to repeated public opinion polls, very much want,” said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation. (full story)

Same-Day Voter Registration Law Delayed Until 2016, by John Hrabe, Februay 6, 2014


Californians can expect to wait at least two more years for the state’s same-day voter registration law to take effect. Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the state’s chief elections officer, says that the state won’t meet the legal requirements to implement the law until 2016 or later.

It’s been frequently ignored, but a late amendment to Assembly Bill 1436 required officials to conduct a statewide voter review before California’s same-day voter registration law can be implemented. According to the Legislative Counsel’s digest for the bill, it becomes operative “on January 1 of the year following the year in which the Secretary of State certifies that the state has a statewide voter registration database that complies with the requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.”

The law was expected to take effect in 2014. However, to be operative for the 2014 general election, the Secretary of State needed to complete its HAVA compliance by December 31, 2013. Last month, Bowen took to Twitter to explain why the state won’t be adopting California’s landmark same-day voter registration law anytime soon.

“That law (CA Elections Code section 2170) will likely take effect in 2016 or later,”

VoteCal: Voter registration database debacle

The state’s HAVA compliance has been illusory, and the statewide voter registration database project nothing short of a debacle. VoteCal, the project for a new statewide voter registration database, began in 2006 as a replacement for the system built in 1995.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, has been critical of the project and worries the technology will be out-dated by the time it’s completed.

“VoteCal has been in development since 2006 and already failed once,” Alexander wrote in a November 2013 blog post comparing the project to the federal government’s troubled Obamacare website, “It is not scheduled to be in operation until 2017. It’s hard to imagine the technology they are planning for today will still be state-of-the-art by 2017 and that assumes the project is not further delayed.” (full story)

In The Mailbox, An Uncanny Postscript from Pete Seeger

NPR, All Things Considered, by Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish, January 31, 2014


Months ago, Kim Alexander sent a letter to folk musician and activist Pete Seeger, professing her gratitude for his music and asking his advice. One day after Seeger's death, Alexander found his response waiting in her mailbox.


Kim Alexander got a message in the mail this week from Pete Seeger, the day after he died.

KIM ALEXANDER: I screamed. It was really a magical moment, but in some ways it was not entirely surprising because of the kind of person that Pete Seeger was and what he meant to all of us.

SIEGEL: The letter she received had been posted just a few days before the folk singer and activist died on Monday at the age of 94. Alexander runs a nonprofit in Sacramento, California, and in her spare time she coordinates a weekly music jam there, and she'd written Seeger in August.

ALEXANDER: I wrote to him because I wanted to tell him while he was still with us what an impact he'd had on me and how I had used that inspiration to impact others.


Kim Alexander, a self-described jamvangelist, also shared with Seeger an article about how to get people to relax and join in with these kinds of public music jams.

ALEXANDER: And so he wrote back a note to me, in the margins as he was known to do in his letter-writing, and he wrote: Dear Kim, I've read this article several times. I think your article on jamming is wonderful and should be printed not just in Sing Out but in other magazines, as well, and issued as a lovely pamphlet on good paper with good drawings on the cover.

But I'm now 94, and I can't help much. My health is not good. You stay well. Keep on, 94-year-old Pete. With a little drawing of a banjo, and then it says January 2014.

SIEGEL: Kim Alexander, reading a note she received from Pete Seeger. It arrived in her mailbox Tuesday of this week, the day after Seeger died.

PETE SEEGER: (Singing) So long, it's been good to know 'ya. So long, it's been good to know 'ya. So long, been good to know 'ya, this dusty old dust is getting my home. And I got to be drifting along now it's so long, been good to know 'ya, so long, it's been good to know 'ya, so long, been good to know 'ya, the dusty old dust is getting my home. And I got to be drifting along.

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. (full story)


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