Category Archives: Courts

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.


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.”

Jury Duty pool comes from DMV and Voter Registration

jurysummonsDid you know that the courts pull information from voter registration records as well as DMV to summons people for jury duty?

That also means that if you’re registered to vote under a slightly different name or address from your registration at DMV, you may be called on more often than most.

Every day, the Elections Office imports files from the DMV that help us to match voter names to DMV names.  If there is a possible (but not exact) match, we send out new voter registration cards to those people to prevent duplicates in the two systems.

However, not all names are always caught.  Take, for example, fictional voter Jane Smith.  In the voter record, she is listed as Jane Smith.  Her driver’s license says Jane Anne Smith.  There’s a possibility that it doesn’t get caught by the system, or that she doesn’t re-register to vote if we do send her a new card.  Jane will probably get twice as many jury duty notices than her fellow voter.

Another example:  fictional voter John Jones.  He’s registered under the same name at both DMV and the Elections Office.  The difference:  he registered to vote (as he was supposed to) at his residential address, but registered with the DMV at a mailing address. Because two different addresses are used, the system may think that the John Jones at address 1 is a completely different person from the one at address 2.

Bottom line?  Make sure your records match if you don’t want to risk being called for jury duty more than usual.  If you’re like me, though, and don’t mind getting called for jury duty – leave it be!

Worth a Thousand Words

Election Day is in full swing, but what did it take to get to this point in the process? It’s been awhile since we’ve been able to put up a thousand words for you, so we thought we’d try something a bit different.

Sometimes, there is no better way of explaining a process than using imagery rather than words. What started out as a long blog post has now become a full-fledged feature on the Elections Office website. Over the past few months, we’ve been taking pictures of every step of the elections process. We really think you’ll like what you see.

Visit the new Gallery at

Court gives some June candidates extended statement deadline

Some around here are fond of saying that the code will get you every time, and today we present Exhibit A.

After discovering conflicting provisions in two different sections of California law, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge George Miram today ordered that the filing deadline for candidate statements for partisan State Assembly and Senate candidates who have accepted campaign spending limits be extended until 5 p.m. on Friday so that they can make specific amendments related to endorsements.

Sounds like a lot of fuss over some very fine print for these candidates running in the June 3 Statewide Direct Primary, but it’s worth at least trying to understand.

Candidate statements appearing in your Sample Ballot & Official Voter Information Pamphlet are designed for nonpartisan offices. However, Proposition 34, which went into effect in 2001, allows candidates for State Assembly or Senate the opportunity to purchase space for a campaign statement in the pamphlet if they accept campaign spending limits.  A reward, if you will, for accepting them.

Here is the provision from the proposition, which is now part of Government Code § 85601.

A candidate for State Senate or Assembly who accepts the voluntary expenditure limits… may purchase the space to place a statement in the voter information portion of the sample ballot that does not exceed 250 words. The statement may not make any reference to any opponent of the candidate. The statement shall be submitted in accordance with the timeframes and procedures set forth in the Elections Code for the preparation of the voter information portion of the sample ballot.

Following the direction of the last sentence, we turn to Elections Code. Elections Code § 13307, which is the only portion of the code concerning candidate statements, has very specific regulations about statements, the most relevant being this:

The statement may include the name, age and occupation of the candidate and a brief description, of no more than 200 words, of the candidate’s education and qualifications expressed by the candidate himself or herself.

Bottom line, if it’s not in the above sentence, it’s not allowed.

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Our take on the Friends of Bay Meadows ruling

By now you’ve probably heard that a ruling made Wednesday by the state’s First District Court of Appeals significantly stiffled the effort by Friends of Bay Meadows to ask voters whether the Bay Meadows race track in San Mateo should be redeveloped.

The San Mateo City Council voted in 2005 to allow Bay Meadows Land Company to tear down the track to make way for housing, retail and office space. The opposition group Friends of Bay Meadows began collecting petition signatures for a referendum to overturn the decision.  In Jan. 2006, San Mateo City Clerk Norma Gomez and San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum refused to certify the petition on the grounds that it was short of the required 4,661 valid signatures (10 percent of registered voters in San Mateo County).

Horse and jockey racing at Bay Meadows race track in San Mateo

Friends of Bay Meadows sued the City of San Mateo, Gomez and Slocum, leaving it up to a judge to determine if we had properly done our job in reviewing the signatures against voter registration affadavits. Friends submitted 5,708 signatures – far more than required – but we found 1,131 invalid. A decision in San Mateo County Superior Court in July reinstated some signatures, but otherwise agreed that we had done our job right and left the Friends of Bay Meadows still 84 signatures short.

Now the state Court of Appeals agrees we did our job correctly too.

“The unique thing about the election process is there’s always a winner and a loser,” Slocum said about the ruling. “People should feel confident that their government – their elections officials – acted properly. They acted properly, impersonally and in accordance with law.”

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More Secretary of State requirements, and more questions

Hart InterCivic’s eSlateCalifornia Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued new regulations governing the use our electronic voting machines – Hart InterCivic’s eSlates – and they’re generating some questions here and throughout the state.

August saw a major overhaul to rules governing the use of our eSlates in order to enhance public confidence in the integrity of their vote. Thirty six new requirements – the result of a Top to Bottom Review– and were plenty to undertake, and we’ve been working hard to ensure they’re all implemented come the Presidential Primary on Feb. 5.

But revisions to those requirements for using our eSlate system were released last Thursday, raising a few eyebrows in the trenches. We’re particularly befuddled and concerned by one new addition:

The vendor’s plan must require jurisdictions that use more than one eSlate per precinct to permanently assign each precinct a set of of JBC and eSlate devices, identified by serial number, for use in all elections, taking into account equipment replacement needs and precinct consolidations.

In plain English, this means that each of our 2,100 eSlates and associated pieces of equipment – like the JBCs, or Judge’s Booth Controllers, which poll workers use to operate the eSlates – will each have to forever be assigned to a specific polling place on Election Day. In total we have more than 4,700 pieces of electronic voting equipment. Currently, we move machines and associated equipment – particularly the printers on the eSlates – around among our county’s 460 precincts, depending on election need.

If a machine has a problem at a polling place, a general pool of spare equipment that can be deployed anywhere it’s needed would no longer suffice. That’s how we handled technical issues in the Nov. 6 Consolidated Municipal, School and Special District Election. The county would have to have enough spare machines on hand to permanently assign each precinct its own. And that probably means buying a whole mess of new machines.

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