SB 450 Amendments

The following is a list of amendments we are suggesting be made to SB 450. Information about the bill is here:

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Dear Senators and Assemblymembers:

We are writing to express our thoughts about SB 450. In general, we like that more dropoff locations and early voting opportunities at vote centers will be available for voters. We like that that they will be able to update their registration at the vote centers. This flexibility is a plus. We applaud the attention paid to ensuring that the election process is accessible to citizens with disabilities, and to citizens who speak a primary language other than English. Public review periods and meetings will help to inform the public and reduce the number of problems we are seeing across he state and country. Finally, we appreciate the fact that extending the operating time of polling places from 1 day to 11 will give workers time to learn their jobs well, and for the counties to work out the kinks in the system.

We like the convenience of vote by mail. Expanding it has some pluses, so long as people who never asked to vote by mail are not forced to vote provisionally when they go to vote, as can be the case today. It also comes with some downsides, some of which we would like to see addressed sooner than later.

In general, we would like to support SB 450, but with the following amendments:

Vote by Mail

The vote by mail process is a large scale undertaking in California. SB 450 has the potential to expand it to every Californian by 2020. However, there is a bipartisan consensus that voting by mail, whatever its impact, is more easily abused than other forms. As opposed to in-person voting, there is no chain-of-custody system in place, especially with the post office. In addition, we are hearing many reports of voters receiving the wrong ballots, not receiving them at all, their ballots not being received by the county, or ultimately counted. This requires a thorough feedback-loop, so that the voters can learn quickly when their votes are not being counted, and why. We would like to see the following amendments:

  • Insecure return of voted ballots
    • Note: (August, 2016) Note that we have learned that SB 450 is being amended with respect to section 3017. We believe that the (yet unpublished) amendments will resolve most of the issues listed in this secion.
    • Current law states that only family members or people living in the same household may return to the county someone else’s voted VbM ballot. Section 3017 would let anybody, including paid operatives, collect thousands of ballots and bring them in. This is an open invitation to large-scale vote buying. Give me your blank ballot. Sign the envelope. Here’s $50. There is a very long, well-documented history of vote buying in the United States. It’s the reason why they invented lever voting machines. You can’t hand your blank lever machine to someone else.
    • In a 2005 report signed by President Jimmy Carter and James A. Baker III, the Commission on Federal Election Reform concluded: “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.” This evaluation is supported by the Brennan Center, Charles Steward III of MIT, and other experts. It remains very true today. Section 3017 is also an open invitation to voter fraud, through the use of forged signatures. Large organizations already have copies of millions of signatures. They know your address, and they know who has not voted, either in the past, or this election via GOTV campaigns. Thus, vote by mail fraud can be automated, and perhaps already is. With anonymous forgeries, it’s hard to spot them, and very hard to prove who did it. We know that VbM forgeries happen.
    • We therefore urge the legislature to limit the number of ballots an individual may bring in to five a day. Beyond that, any “courier” bringing in more than five voted ballots must have given each voter a receipt for their ballot, signed, dated, numbered and recorded, much as any professional courier service would. Counties shall record who brought in the envelopes, their serial numbers, and at what time. The receipts and the records thereof shall be considered public documents. This is to allow tracking of the envelopes, and to provide accountability in what otherwise is a mostly hidden system.

  • Alerting the voter
    • Counties shall make reasonable efforts to contact voters quickly by phone, email or regular mail concerning problems with vote by mail ballots. AB-2089 (Quirk) partially addresses this issue, if it passes. But with everybody in the county receiving VbM ballots, and it being new, it should take days, not two months, for voters to learn that their votes will not count, and what they can do to correct the situation.
    • Section 4006 states:
      “For any election conducted pursuant to Section 4005, the county elections official shall make a reasonable effort to inform a voter of either of the following:

      • (a) If the voter’s vote by mail ballot envelope is missing a signature.
      • (b) How the voter can correct the missing signature.”
    • In addition, we believe that the county elections official must make a reasonable effort to inform a voter if:
      • the signature did not match
      • the ballot was returned as undeliverable, but for which the official has other means of contacting the voter, such a by email or telephone
      • there is no date on the envelope, but the postmark is by election day
      • any other reason for which the ballot was not accepted, which can be rectified by the voter

  • Voters who wish to vote in person on election day will have the right to do so with a regular ballot, and not provisionally, even if they do not bring in a vote by mail ballot (that they did not ask for). This means that the processing of vote by mail ballots cannot start until all votes at vote centers have been counted. A vote at a vote center as late as 7:59 PM on election day should override a VbM ballot. This should be obvious, but it should also be explicitly stated, perhaps in section 4005 (7).

Vote Centers

We are concerned that a drastic cut in the number of vote centers to roughly 1/10th the number of precincts on election day will create confusion, long lines, and many thousands of disenfranchised voters. We saw this happen in Arizona this year, and in targeted precincts in Ohio in 2004, albeit without early voting. Accessibility also means being able to reach the vote center. Traveling longer distances is especially difficult for low income, and rural citizens. We applaud the several provisions in the bill addressing this.

  • We suggest that Secretary of State should be able increase the number of vote centers and dropoff locations required as California gains experience with this new way of voting. This would at least in the first years, and with proper discussion and timely notification. Fixing the exact ratio into rigid law at this point may be premature.

The Voting Rights Task Force is looking forward to supporting SB 450 with most of the amendments listed above.

Thank you,

James Soper
Co-Chair, Voting Rights Task Force


Counting Ballots

We have seen some very serious issues this election concerning how ballots are counted and checked. We would hope that remedies could be included in future legislation as appropriate:

  • Officials should make every effort to count ballots so as determine the intent of the voter, even if the voter was given the wrong ballot. This came up as an issue in 2006, and is still here 10 years later.
  • Any and all ballots recorded and or counted by computer, including scanners, shall be subject to a possible hand count in the 1% manual tally. This includes regular ballots, provisionals, and VbM ballots. This should be obvious, but some counties are only counting anything election day ballots. Counting all electronically recorded ballots needs to be clearly stated.
  • The random selection for the 1% manual tally must take place after all the ballots have been processed and counted. It should not be possible for a county to know before the election, which precincts will be checked.

Funding Elections

Elections are mission-critical to our democracy. They are also very large, complicated, difficult undertakings. It is quite clear that many of the problems we are seeing in the recent election are due to lack of resources. We urge the legislature to significantly expand the funding for California’s elections.

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