Registrar of Voters
Election Advisory Committee Meeting
Friday, March 18, 2011, 9:30 a.m.
Room 324A, Marin Civic Center
A meeting of the Election Advisory Committee was held on Friday, March 18, 2011. Members present were: Present were: Steve Burdo, Greg Brockbank, Suzanne Crow, Barbara Gaman, Marcia Hagen, Anne Layzer, Sean Peisert, Jeanne Leoncini, Pashia Lord, Bob Richard, Eva Waskell for Linda Bagneschi Dorrance. Present from the Registrar of Voters’ Office were Elaine Ginnold and Melvin Briones.
Proposed June statewide special election
The Governor has not yet called for a special election. Two bills (AB107 and SB83) have been introduced and call for a special election for June 7 for tax measures. Initiatives that have qualified would also be on this ballot. The Secretary of State has voiced concerns to both the Governor and the Legislature about the shorter than normal lead times for county election officials to prepare for a statewide election.
Paperless sample ballot
A new law allows voters to opt to receive their sample ballot on line and opt out of getting it on line if they decide they would rather have the paper version. The ROV office is looking at ways to implement this law (which is optional for counties) and asked committee members for input.
Committee members made suggestions on how a program could be set up to manage the distribution of electronic sample ballots. One suggestion was to set up an FTP site with the sample ballots on our webpage and direct voters to our website. Another suggestion was to set up twitter and Facebook to communicate with voters that use these social networks to direct them to the on-line sample ballot. A third suggestion was to see if Smart Voter could be used.
Members then reviewed and suggested changes to draft language that could be printed in the sample ballot letting voters know about the program and how to get their voter information on line. The ROV office will determine whether or not to implement this new law once more is known about its cost and ease of implementation.
Humboldt transparency project
Ms. Ginnold explained that the Humboldt Transparency Project originated in Humboldt County in 2008. After every election, the ballots are scanned with an off-the-shelf digital scanner using open source software and then are posted on the internet. This program allows voters to see the ballots and count them independently.
Ms. Ginnold explained that she is reluctant to use such a program because there is nothing in either law or regulation that provides guidelines for this type of post-election process. On the other hand, the law is clear that ballots must be sealed after an election and only opened by the election official as part of the canvass or in the event of a recount.
Ms. Ginnold reported that Marin County plans to focus its attention on risk limiting audits and plans to participate in a pilot program after elections held in 2011. This program has enabling legislation that was passed last year and the research will be conducted by UC Berkeley statistics professor Philip Stark and the Secretary of State. Ms. Ginnold stated that this program could lead to a more rigorous audit requirement than the current one percent manual tally. She suggested that counties might be more willing to try the Humboldt project if there was enabling legislation that provided guidelines for a pilot project; however, for counties that are larger and have a higher turnout than Humboldt, rescanning all of the voted ballots requires a significant investment of time and personnel.
Eva Waskell reported that the voters in Humboldt County liked the program and now have much more confidence in the election results. One of the factors of its acceptance in Humboldt is that when it was used in 2008, it revealed a flaw in the vote count program that the county was not aware of. The Registrar was open about acknowledging it and has used the program ever since. The Secretary of State conducted an investigation and wrote a report about it. The events in Humboldt County led to the passage of a new law that requires voting system vendors to report flaws and malfunctions to the Secretary of State, who then reports them to the Election Assistance Commission.
Ms. Waskell suggested that Mitch Trachtenberg, the creator of the program used to recount the ballots in Humboldt, be invited to give a demonstration of his program to the Election Advisory Committee. After discussion, Bob Richard volunteered to read the written material about the program and bring questions about it back to the committee which would then decide if they would be interested in seeing a demonstration of the project.
Election legislation proposed for 2011
The Committee discussed the following election related bills that that have been introduced in the current session of the Legislature:
SB 109 - Allows counties with populations of less than 400,000 to conduct special vacancy elections and special statewide elections by all mail ballots. This would apply to Marin County and would be for special elections called by the Board of Supervisors and for a special election called by the Governor.
SB 348 – Allows counties to count VBM ballots postmarked and received within 6 business days after election (AB447, AB896 and SB802 similar). Ms. Ginnold reported that most of the VBM ballots that are too late to count come in within the first few days after the election. Committee members discussed the question of whether an extension of the deadline would give voters a false sense of security by assuming that if they put their ballot in a mailbox on Election Day, it would be postmarked and received by the deadline.
SB 304 – VBM pilot and study for San Diego County – this bill is only for San Diego County. Provides for drop-off sites in each supervisory district in VBM elections beginning 2 weeks before election day and until 8:00 p.m. on election day. Provides for pre-paid postage for ballot return envelope.
AB 413 – VBM pilot and study for Yolo County. Requires one site per city to be open during business hours beginning 28 days before an election to receive ballots and one voting site per city where voters can request a ballot on election day if they have not received one in the mail. Provides for pre-paid postage for ballot return envelope.
AB 867 allows voter to authorize any person (with some exceptions like candidates and campaigns) to receive or return VBM ballot.
AB 663, AB 945 and SB 802 – requires ID at polls. These bills are unlikely to pass given the current composition of the Legislature.
AB 1357 – allows counties to have on-line voter registration without waiting for CalVoter to be in place. (SB397 includes getting signatures from DMV). These bills are most likely a response to the delay in implementation of the statewide database, CalVoter, which is currently a pre-condition for on-line voter registration.
Agenda items suggested for the next meeting include the budget, redistricting and the risk limiting audit.
Eva Waskell asked about the costs of maintenance of voting equipment listed in the budget. Ms. Ginnold explained that these costs included the software maintenance for the Election Information Management system, the GEMS ballot counting system and the Accuvote and Automark hardware maintenance. Bob Richard suggested that the term used to describe this item on the budget spreadsheet be changed to cover licensing, software and hardware maintenance.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 11:25 a.m. The next meeting will be on Friday, April 15, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.