Despite Vetoing Initiative Reform Measure & Bill to Make it Easier for Students to Work at the Polls, Governor Signs Four Measures to Improve Transparency of the Electoral Process
Beginning next year, elections in California will be subjected to more stringent auditing requirements and the electoral process as a whole will be significantly more open and transparent thanks to four measures by Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee that the Governor signed into law shortly before the September 30th deadline to act on bills.
"By improving the auditing requirements and opening up the process, these measures should begin to restore voters’ faith in the electoral process," said Bowen.
The measures signed into law by the Governor include:
• SB 1235, which requires:
1. Elections officials to include absentee and all other ballots cast before Election Day or at satellite voting centers in the 1% post-election manual audit required by law; "Nearly half of California’s voters use an absentee ballot to vote and thousands of others take advantage of in-person early voting opportunities before every election, so the fact that some of these votes aren’t included in the auditing process undermines the integrity of the audit and the election itself," said Bowen. "The 1% manual audit is designed to ensure that that electronic voting machines and ballot counters tallied the results correctly, but there’s no way to conduct a meaningful review if nearly half of the ballots cast aren’t subject to the 1% audit requirement."
2. Audited precincts to be selected at random;
3. A five-day public notice to be given before the precincts to be audited are selected and before the audit itself will be done, and requires both events to be open to the public; and
4. The results of the audit to be made public, complete with an explanation of how discrepancies between the machine count and the hand count were resolved.
Under California law, elections officials are required to conduct a public manual tally of the ballots cast in at least 1% of the precincts to check the accuracy of the votes tabulated by the electronic or mechanical voting systems. The law also requires the precincts subject to the audit to be randomly selected by elections officials, but it doesn’t define "random".
"At a time when the public’s confidence in our electoral system is dropping and 92% of those asked in a recent survey said voters should have a right to watch ballots being counted, improving and opening up the auditing process to ensure the accuracy and integrity of our elections is the obvious thing to do," continued Bowen. "The mandatory manual audit law was created forty years ago when fewer than 4% of the state’s voters used an absentee ballot. Now, more than 30% of California’s nearly 16 million voters are registered as permanent absentee voters, 47% of the people who voted in the June primary election did so by absentee ballot, and it won’t be long before a majority of the state’s voters are mailing in their ballots from home."
SB 1235 is a follow-up to last year’s SB 370 (Bowen), which requires elections officials to use the paper produced by the accessible voter-verified paper audit trail (AVVPAT) on all electronic voting machines to conduct the 1% manual audit and to use the AVVPAT in the event of a recount.
• SB 1519, which requires the Secretary of State to establish recount procedures for every voting system in the state and requires each county to follow these statewide procedures.
• SB 1725, which requires each county to develop an online system (if it currently has a Web site) or provide a toll-free phone number (if it doesn’t have a Web site) so an absentee voter can check to see if his or her ballot has arrived at the county elections office in time to be counted.
"Nearly 47% of the people who voted in the June primary did so by absentee ballot, yet unless they dropped their ballot off in person, they have no idea if it arrived by the 8:00 p.m. Election Day deadline," noted Bowen. "Nearly every county already puts bar codes on absentee ballot envelopes so they can sort and track them more easily, so using that existing system to let voters find out if their ballot arrived in time to be counted is a cost-effective way to keep voters involved and informed."
• SB 1747 Under current law, the only people who can observe the county testing of voting machines and vote tabulation devices before an election are engineers and data processing specialists employed by county political party central committees. This bill allows any political party, bona fide citizens’ association or media organization to send a representative – who doesn’t have to be an engineer or a data processing expert – to observe this testing and other phases of the election.
"At a time when 52% of voters aren’t confident that people’s votes are counted accurately, we shouldn’t be limiting who can examine this piece of the elections process to engineers or data processing specialists employed by the Democratic or Republican parties," said Bowen. "If we want people to believe in the system, we need to invite them in and show them how it works, instead of slamming the door in their faces and telling them they can’t see how the wheels of democracy actually turn."
In August, the Governor signed a fifth Bowen reform bill into law, SB 1760. Current law requires elections officials to retain ballots and other items – including the paper record copies produced by a touch screen’s AVVPAT – for 22 months after an election. SB 1760 precludes the Secretary of State from approving an electronic voting system for use in California unless he or she ensures the paper used for the machine’s audit trail is of sufficient quality to maintain its integrity and readability throughout the required 22-month post-election retention period.
The Governor vetoed two of Bowen’s other election reform-related measures, SB 1193 and SB 1598.
• SB 1193 sought to allow high school students to work as poll workers on Election Day as part of a one-day “independent study” project, which would have entitled schools to receive the average daily attendance (ADA) money they normally receive when students are in the classroom.
"Encouraging young people to lend a hand at the polls lets them know voting is one of their most important civic responsibilities," said Bowen. "Taking money away from schools and actually discouraging them from allowing students to work at the polls one or two days every couple of years doesn’t teach students about democracy, it teaches them about short-sighted decision-making. It’s hypocritical to prevent schools from receiving their ADA money when a student misses a day of class to be a poll worker, while at the same time allowing schools to keep their ADA money when a student signs up for 'independent study' and takes a two-week vacation."
• SB 1598 would have required people circulating initiative petitions to disclose the measure’s five largest contributors and to update that list of contributors within 14 days of any change. It also would have required an initiative petition to state whether it’s being circulated by a paid signature gatherer or a volunteer.
"The Governor’s argument that voters shouldn’t be told who is financing a multi-million dollar signature gathering effort because it might be 'too expensive' for the proponents to list the top five contributors on a piece of paper doesn’t pass the laugh test," continued Bowen. "There’s plenty of information on who is financing an initiative once it qualifies for the ballot, but there’s virtually nothing available to help people decide whether they want to support putting a measure on the ballot in the first place."
"The Governor has it backwards," concluded Bowen. "Californians don’t want to be kept in the dark when it comes to money and politics. They want their government to be more transparent and they want more information, not less, about where the money comes from to put initiatives on the ballot."
The bills signed into law will take effect on January 1, 2007.
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