Author Archives: Carol Marks

Election technology has the power to be “Transformative”

The proponents of the Marijuana Initiative to change California law to legalize marijuana turned in their signatures at election offices throughout the state in their bid to qualify for the November 2010 ballot.  So what!  It’s one of many initiatives in circulation. 

What’s different?  This is the first time in California history that an electronic signature has been submitted to qualify an initiative petition. The signature was turned in on a jump drive.

Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum rejected the electronic signature on the basis that the signature failed to meet code requirements.  It won’t  invalidate the initiative’s other signatures, but it does open the door to a whole new ballgame.

Will the courts will allow this kind of technology to be applied in the world of elections? 

Slocum, a believer in technology, looks forward to bringing the world of Elections into the 21st century– if the court allows it.  He went on to explain, “Election law did not anticipate this method of signature gathering and it does not offer guidance in this area,” Slocum continued.  Different code sections and regulations offer divergent approaches to the use and acceptance of electronic signatures. 

“This form of signature gathering could be transformative,” said Slocum.

It will take less time and money to verify signatures – not to mention the mountains of paper petitions and energy used to make that paper and print the petitions.  And, this technology makes it possible for signature gatherers to widely distribute petitions at little or no cost – making the political process that much more accessible.  

We shall see.

Warren Slocum Will Not Seek Re-election

Warren Slocum, Chief Elections Officer & Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder

Today, Warren Slocum advised the staff in our office, San Mateo County leaders and the public at large of his intention not to seek re-election. 

In his own words…

I am announcing today that I will not seek re-election as San Mateo County’s Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder. It has been an honor, a privilege, and a pleasure to serve the people of this great county.

I was first elected in 1986 and have served in government since 1976 – over thirty years. I am ready to consider doing other things – making other contributions to our community.

During my terms of office, I have had the good fortune to work with some of the best and brightest elected officials and the finest men and woman in government. The residents of San Mateo County are blessed with a stable, well-run county government.

My father always taught me that one person can make a difference. I believe this to be true. This belief is shared among the people that have worked for me and together we have created a legacy of excellence and innovation. While I will miss these outstanding men and women, I will find new opportunities and continue to make a difference in the community.

 My current term of office will end in January 2011. I will use the remaining months of my term to complete some of my initiatives. I have talked with the County Manager and the President of the Board of Supervisors and made my plans known.

 The election for all elected county positions will be on June 8; the filing period for these offices will open on February 16 and close on March 12.  However, as in my case, if an incumbent does not file by March 12, the filing period is extended to March 17.

www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov – the SuperBowl of Politics

Every ten years, most of the state’s political  boundaries are redrawn. It’s done following the release of the new census numbers as a way to make 

Redistricting California

sure that all of the people in the state of California are represented proportionately.  As the population changes, the number and location of the districts change.  

In the past, the redrawing of lines was the exclusive business of the majority party.  This year is different.  Way different. Right now, the State is taking applications for the new Citizens Redistricting Commission to help play a leading role in the 2011 electoral line drawing process. For more information on how to apply, and on the Citizens Redistricting Commission in general, go to www.WeDrawTheLines.ca.gov.  Applications will be accepted online until February 12, 2010. 

And why is it so different this year?  In November 2008, voters in California passed the Voters FIRST Act.  Now YOU (the voters of California) can apply to serve on an independent Commission that will draw district boundaries for the state Senate, Assembly, and Board of Equalization. 

And, why is this the SuperBowl of Politics?  Because new boundary lines can change the demographic and partisan makeup of a district. It all depends on where the lines are drawn.  Sometimes a previously “safe” seat becomes a “competitive” seat. Sometimes seats are collapsed in one area and added to another. Individual legislators have much at stake.  Last time California was redistricted (following the 2000 Census), the Bay Area lost population and seats; that’s how former Assembly Member Ted Lempert of San Mateo County lost his seat.  His old seat was drawn into a new seat in southern California where the population had grown. 

It’s the SuperBowl for the parties as well.  Think no further than the annual summertime budget gridlock.  It’s not just about terrible choices.  It’s about choices that 2/3rds of the members have to vote for.  That means compromise.  And that compromise is hard to come by.  That’s why the redrawing of lines is high stakes – for the voters, for the legislators and for the parties that govern. 

Bottomline: We’re hoping some  San Mateo County folks apply and are appointed to the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Rebooting Democracy with Smart Phones

If there is one thing technological trend that we believe in it is this – mobile technology. The iTunes App Store has over 100,000 mobile applications, new smart phones like the recent Google phone will saturate the market and as all of that happens more and more business, personal productivity and lifestyle applications will get deployed.

The democracy space is not immune from the impacts of this confluence.

A new Silicon Valley company launched a smart phone app yesterday – called Verafirma – that will allow signature gatherers to collect your signature on a cell phone app!

California may become the first state in the nation to apply this kind of technology to the collection of signatures for initiatives, referendums and recalls headed for the ballot.

The new technology is catching some serious buzz, “I think it’s transformative,” said Warren Slocum, our Chief Elections Officer. “I’ve seen it – and from everything I know about it – it’s secure, has the necessary audit trail and provides controls that should give voters and election professionals confidence.”

Slocum cautions, however, that “Depending of the outcome in the courts, we could take a giant step toward the idea of an e-voter who is empowered to support legislation using today’s technology. Assuming it survives a legal test(s) in the courts, which is an inevitable result of the introduction of this new technology, we will know if registrars can take advantage of the efficiencies of the technology or not.”

Check out the video to see how it works!

According to Jude Barry, a San Jose political strategist and co-founder of the firm, the technology also works on an iPod Touch and the Verizon Droid and should soon work on other smart phones.

Slocum added that, “Gov. Hiram Johnson, the California governor who added initiative, referendum and recall to the practice of democracy in the state would be proud. Submitting signatures electronically could make it a lot less expensive for county registrars to verify the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify measures. This innovation is a good thing for the whole movement toward green voting because it reduces the carbon footprint and doesn’t involve having a piece of paper shoved at you in front of a supermarket.”

It’s up to the Governor now…

We’ve been supporting and tracking proposed legislation in this year’s session that,  if passed,  would make important contributions to the elections world.  Two Governor Schwarzeneggerbills were “enrolled” this week, meaning a majority of lawmakers in both houses of the State Legislature approved these bills. The only thing standing between an approved bill and law is Governor Schwarzenegger. We hope he supports and signs these two bills into law. 

AB 30 (Price) Allow registrars to pre-register 16-year olds to vote. Last year, we had 1,000 student poll workers sign up in San Mateo County. These students would definitely pre-register to vote, take this civic engagement step in school, and receive their voter information at home until they establish a permanent home of their own—after college, the military, or working. This bill could help increase the number of younger voters who participate in elections. Let’s give it a try!

AB 1228 (Yamada) Authorizes the participation of Yolo and Santa Clara Counties in a pilot program through December 31, 2016, that would allow them to fill a vacancy in a state office, the Legislature, or Congress in an ALL MAIL election if specified conditions are satisfied (it would not apply in statewide primary or general elections or special elections).

If approved, it will be an interesting test of voter participation in all mail elections as Yolo County is rural and more homogenous while Santa Clara County is diverse–in language, culture, education and socio-economic status. We wholeheartedly support this pilot.

And there was an honorable mention in this year’s list of bills that did not succeed.

AB 1121 (Davis), would have authorized a limited number of pilot jurisdictions to test the viability of rank choice voting, but it did not get through the Senate. We have supported this bill and appreciated the capable leadership of Rob Dickinson , a local Redwood City resident.  The bill failed due to opposition by the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials (CACEO) who were concerned about adding cost and complexity to the election process at a time when registrars lack the resources (staff) and budget to take on new items. While we have been unwavering supporters of this bill, we understand that the budget crisis has all California registrars just trying to figure out how to deliver existing, mandated services.

Polling Place Surveys Underway Now

 

Access for All
Access for All

Purchasing HAVA compliant voting equipment was just the beginning of a process to make it possible for all voters to have a  private and independent voting experience.  The polling places have to be accessible and they have to be set up accessibly. 

That’s why the Secretary of State made HAVA funding available to evaluate polling places for accessibility. Truth is, these surveys have to be done every few years–they’re not a one time thing.  

In San Mateo County, nearly 40% of our 231 polling place locations (or 87  locations) have changed since the last HAVA polling place survey conducted in 2006.  Since many polling place locations host more than one precinct, that represents a  significant portion of our registered voters.
(A precinct can serve up to 1,000 voters.)

Why is that?  Well, here are a few of the reasons…

  • In 2006 – the accessible voting equipment required more electrical support and more room.  That spelled the end of most neighborhood garage polling places;
  • More people now vote by mail. In response, we have created more vote-by-mail precincts – allowed by law when the number of election day precinct voters falls below 250;
  • Many precincts have been consolidated–allowed by the Secretary of State in predictably low turnout elections;
  • Properties change hands.  Sometimes new owners don’t or can’t provide us their building for voting. Fire chiefs, while civic-minded, don’t like leaving their stations completely unattended when they go out on a call.   And, some schools have expressed concern about the security and safety of their young students. These are just some of the reasons that sites become unavailable for polling places. 

And it was time. Fortunately, our partners, the Center for the Independence of the Disabled in San Mateo County  (they moved from Belmont) has the expertise to conduct these surveys.

We’re halfway done. It’s really encouraging to see the ADA improvements made in many of the county’s polling locations.  Right now, there are just a handful of locations that we will probably have to relocate because we can’t identify a one-day mitigation to satisfy the ADA requirements.

Now if you’re wondering…what conditions would make a polling place unacceptable?  Wonder no more. It’s things like a doorway that’s too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair, inadequate (or no available) disabled parking, excessively steep ramps or walkways that make it impossible for a voter with disabilities to get inside the building, or a lack of curb cuts that prevents someone from getting from their car onto the sidewalk to gain entrance to the polls. 

We’ll be ready for November’s election. And so will our polls.

AB 306 (Fuller) – A Green Step Forward for Elections

If AssemblymemberFuller’s bill, AB 306 (Fuller), is passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, it will give the Secretary of State the ability to let voters opt out of receiving a paper copy of the state sample ballot pamphlet in the mail and instead allow voters to get their sample ballot materials online.

This has the potential to save the state a bundle of money!  And, we need them to save money! IOUs won’t do.

We have asked Assemblymember Fuller to take the bill a step further and make it applicable to counties as well. And to conform county standards to the state standard.  These are the specifics of our request:

1. Allow counties to send one (1) copy of the county’s Official Sample Ballot & Voter Information Guide per household.  Right now, counties are required to send every voter his/her own copy. The state is only required to send one copy per household. Seems like the standard should be one and the same.

2. Allow county voters to opt out of receiving the county’s publication – the Official Sample Ballot & Voter Information Guide – online. We already provide this information online.  Why not give people the chance to get their materials online if they want to? 

3. And lastly, to get on the stick.  Let’s do this with urgency!  The savings are needed now. The coming election would be the perfect time to reap some savings and set things up for the gubernatorial in June 2010.

And, it should be mentioned, in any opt out scenario, voters could opt back in at any time. period.

Do us a favor – send a email to Assemblymember Fuller – tell her you think this is a great idea and ask her to add the San Mateo County amendments. Thanks!

Happy Fourth of July!