I. In Focus This Week
California comes online…sort of
Governor signs legislation allowing for online voter registration
With the stroke of a pen from Gov. Jerry Brown, California recently once again legalized online voter registration providing an additional opportunity for more than six million residents of voting age to register to vote.
California law already allows for online voter registration, however the process on the books before the new legislation was approved was contingent upon the completion of the state’s federally approved voter registration database — VoteCal.
While the state does have a statewide voter registration database, the current system does not make it possible to fully register to vote online. Tired of waiting for the state’s fully federally compliant statewide voter registration database to come online San Francisco Senator Leland Yee introduced SB 397 which would allow counties to offer online voter registration now.
“This is an important first step toward fully upgrading California’s voter registration, making use of better technological tools to make the voter registration process more accurate, less expensive, and more efficient,” said David Becker, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Election Initiatives.
Under SB 397, citizens will input their voter information online and the county elections office would use the voter’s signature from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to verify authenticity. That signature can be matched against the voter’s signature at the polling place.
Currently voters can input all of their information online but instead of hitting send, they must hit print and send the completed form into their local county election office.
“At this time, Secretary of State Bowen has taken online voter registration as far as she can with the resources available,” explained Nicole Winger, a spokesperson for the secretary’s office.
Although no exact timeline has been given for the implementation of online voter registration, Yee and others are hopeful that it will be in place in advance of the June 2012 primary. The new law does have several contingencies in it though.
“It is my understanding that there are a few issues left to resolve: One, EAC [U.S. Election Assistance Commission] needs to confirm use of some federal funds (HAVA) to implement; two, county vendors for voter registration need to be able to receive digital signatures; and three the interface between DMV to SOS and SOS to counties needs to be established,” explained Gail Pellerin, Santa Cruz County clerk and current president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.
When online registration is finally available in California, there will be multiple benefits. In addition to getting more people accurately registered to vote, one of the biggest impacts of the new law will be cost savings. Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation said that the cost savings are “potentially enormous.”
Research by the Pew’s Election Initiatives indicates that there are substantial cost savings that result from online registration.
“For instance, in Maricopa County, Ariz., where they’ve had online registration for almost a decade, it costs them only an average of 3 cents to process each online registration, as opposed to 83 cents to process a paper registration, and they’ve reduced their printing costs by 75 percent,” Becker said.
According to Becker, as a result of these kinds of savings, jurisdictions that have implemented online registration have recouped their initial investment in around two years or less.
Alexander said another cost savings may be found on provisional voting.
“California has more provisional voting than any other state - in 2008 it accounted for one third of all provisional ballots cast nationwide! One fifth of those ballots [issued in California in 2008] were not counted because those voters were not properly registered,” Alexander said.
One area of concern about the new online voter registration law is what impact not having a statewide voter registration database could have on the registration process.
Alexander said that California is one of only nine states that lacks a registration status look-up tool for voters and without that tool, there could be problems with the new online system.
“I'm concerned if we implement online registration without an accompanying registration status lookup tool then many people will end up reregistering when they actually don't need to, and this will lead to extra, unnecessary work for counties processing those registrations,” Alexander said.
The state has already applied for a federal grant to help pay for the process and representatives from the secretary of state’s office are working with their counterparts in the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to create the new online process.
“There is a lot of infrastructure that still needs to be modified or developed,” Winger said.
II. Election News This Week
- The Pew Center on the States has named David Becker the new director of Election Initiatives, overseeing its entire portfolio of work on election administration. Since 2008, David has managed Pew’s efforts to upgrade voter registration systems. He will now also manage efforts to improve military and overseas voting, assess elections performance through data, and use technology to provide voters with information they need to cast a ballot. David brings more than a decade of experience working to strengthen America’s election system, including seven years as a senior trial attorney in the Voting Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
- Late last week, Denver District Judge Brian Whitney denied a motion for a preliminary injunction — filed by Secretary of State Scott Gessler — to prevent Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson from mailing ballots to inactive voters. According to The Denver Post, following the decision, Johnson and Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz said they will proceed with plans to mail ballots to those voters — about 54,000 in Denver and 17,000 in Pueblo. While Denver, Pueblo and Pitkin counties will be mailing to inactive voters, others counties such as Garfield, Mesa, Summit and Larimer will not. Gessler told the paper that he will proceed with the lawsuit and that the decision was “merely the first salvo in a long election year to come.”
- Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Kurt Browning are challenging federal oversight of the state’s election laws. In an amended complaint to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the officials contend that federal approval of state election laws is no longer necessary because times have changed since 1972 when racial and ethnic discrimination were confirmed in five Florida counties. According to the Associated Press, Browning said in a statement that he supports most provisions of the Voting Rights Act. "But there is no constitutional basis to arbitrarily single out five Florida counties and a few other covered jurisdictions, based solely on information from decades ago, and subject them to procedures that don't apply to the rest of the country," Browning said.
- Someone’s at the door: Thanks to a computer glitch, a private home in the Ingleside neighborhood of San Francisco could be getting some unwelcome guests next month for the mayoral election. A contractor incorrectly listed the information for a polling place on 133,00 voter pamphlets. “I was not pleased when we found out about the problem Friday night, but we managed to catch about 18,000 of the pamphlets before they were mailed,” John Arntz, the city’s elections director, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But that still means there are 115,000 we have to fix.”
- The New York Post has an interesting piece about three employees of the Queens Board of Elections being accused of snorting cocaine in the voting-machine warehouse during Sept. 13’s primary. According to the paper, the incident was reported to a supervisor and subsequently to Chief Clerk Barbara Conacchio. The paper reports that the incident, while reported to Democratic Commissioner Miguel Araujo, but not the police. The Post reports that Araujo conducted a hearing where the accused denied the accusation and the eyewitness refused to testify.
- Personnel News: Philadelphia’s long-time voter registration administrator Robert Lee, Jr. retired last week. During his tenure, Lee oversaw the city’s transition from mechanical to digital voting machines and he spearheaded the new system to keep track of voter signatures. Charlton County Election Supervisor Sheila Cason was recently chosen to serve on statewide committee designed to advise on a new electronic elections system for Georgia.
- Get Well: electionlineWeekly would like to wish a speedy recovery to Kentucky Secretary of State Elaine Walker who this week announced that she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Walker said she will complete the remaining 2 ½ months of her term.
- In Memoriam: Pat Crippins, former head of the Knox County, Tenn. election office died last week. She was 64. Crippins oversaw the office from 1997 to 2003. "She was a fine woman," Greg Mackay, her successor and a former election commissioner told the News Sentinel. "She was a real sweetheart." Norwich, Conn. Republican Registrar of Voters Gerald Kortfelt died on Monday. Kortfelt served as registrar for 11 years and according to his Democratic counterpart JoAnn Merolla-Martin, Kortfelt worked right up till the end, coming into the office when he could and calling in when he couldn’t.
III. Research and Report Summaries
2010 Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act Report – U.S. Election Assistance Commission, October 2011: The Election Assistance Commission released its survey of states related to voters covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986. The findings include:
- 611,058 ballots were transmitted to UOCAVA-covered voters;
- Of these, 211,749 ballots or 34.7 percent, were returned and submitted for counting;
- 197,390 ballots, or 93.2 percent, were counted; and
- 14,824 ballots were rejected, most commonly because the ballot was not received on time or missed a deadline.
California: Instant-runoff voting
Georgia: Primary date
Kentucky: Voter ID
Maine: Instant-runoff voting
Maryland: Voter ID
Michigan: Election reform
New Mexico: Vote centers
Ohio: Mahoning County
Tennessee: Voter ID
Texas: Election laws
V. Job Openings
Electronic Voting System Expert/Examiner, Harrisburg, Pa.—the Pennsylvania department of state has issued an invitation for a bid for an electronic voting system expert/examiner to examine, re-examine, and approve electronic voting systems pursuant to section 1105-A of the Pennsylvania Election Code. Deadline: Oct. 19.