Category Archives: Outreach

Celebrating 20 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Today, the Commission on Disabilities hosted a very special 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Celebration at the County Government Plaza in

Redwood City with organizations, demonstrations, food, lawmakers, news media, friends and fun.

This prospective new voter gives the eSlate a "road test' as he votes the Famous Names Ballot.

San Mateo County Elections Office was there with our accessible voting equipment, voter registration forms, vote-by-mail forms, be a poll-worker forms, our grins and some helpful giveaways. We were joined by a SamTrans, the Hearing Loss Association, Hearing Dogs, Guide Dogs for the Blind, the Lions Club who sold barbeque and are famous for the work they do with the blind, and countless other organizations. The weather was beautiful, the mood festive, and the spirits were high. Every member of the Commission on Disabilities was there. We had a videographer on hand to capture some “B” roll for videos we’re working on. It was a fine day!

Here’s a little background. The ADA, signed by George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It was then and is today,  landmark legislation that is making a difference in the lives of Americans. It’s impact is akin to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. Disability is defined by the ADA as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.”  It has changed our country for the better and made us a more inclusive place to live, to work, to play.  Today is a day to celebrate! Today is a day to be proud of the way our country reinvents itself to improve the lives of all citizens.


San Mateo County on Twitter

Hopefully you’ve already started following the Elections Office on Twitter at @smcvote. Did you know that a number of other government organizations and cities within San Mateo County have explored social media outreach?

Twitter utilizes hashtags (#) to mark tweets with a distinguishable phrase that allows users to search and easily find a string of conversations relating to the topic. A popular hashtag is #followfriday, where people recommend others for following. Often, the recommendation is supported by a reason for suggested follow.

Here’s our list of local entities to check out on Twitter in honor of #followfriday. And if we missed you, make sure to add yourself in our comments section!

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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.

Meet the Elections Office

It’s always nicer to talk to a person rather than a machine. While we do our best to maintain an online effort at communicating with San Mateo County residents, we also work hard at making sure our office is readily available in person and on the phone.

Some shifting of responsibilities has occurred in the past few months, so we thought we’d give you an update on operations. Meet our core staff, as listed below, and learn more about the different parts of the office that each oversees.

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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.

The State and Local Budget Woes Affecting the Delivery of Democracy

Just yesterday, the Sacramento Bee ran and article quoting Jill LaVine, the Sacramento County registrar of voters, whose department is proposing to lay off 10 of its 38 employees.

Imagine - thousands and thousands of vote by mail voters swinging by to pick up their ballots!

Imagine - thousands and thousands of vote by mail voters swinging by to pick up their ballots!

While the cuts, as proposed, would not affect the May 19 Statewide Special Election—she noted that they will affect the Gubernatorial Primary in 2010. In summary, there will be no money to publish the Sample Ballots & Official Voter Information Pamphlets, no money to mail out the Vote by Mail ballots – you’d have to pick up your own from the Elections Office (so much for the convenience factor), no money to provide Spanish translations of election materials (this would be illegal in San Mateo County), and no money to conduct voter outreach programs.

She predicts there would be fewer polling places, longer lines, delayed returns and other related problems.  She’s probably right.

I don’t know about Sacramento County’s obligations under the federal Voting Rights Act with regard to language accessibility. What I do know is that compliance with this law is monitored by the Department of Justice. San Mateo County was advised in 2001 after the 2000 Census was completed that our election materials needed to be provided in English, Spanish and Chinese.  The language accessibility question is determined for each county after the census is completed.

In La Vine’s own words, “I can see lawsuits. I can see disenfranchisement of voters. With the numbers (budget cuts) they’ve given us, it has to be that bad.”

Sacramento County is not in a unique position as counties in California go. It will be interesting to watch and see how different counties conduct elections in this difficult budget environment.

San Mateo County has a permanent staff of 11; one position will be cut during the next fiscal year. Our office will have to hire temporary, extra help staff and make other cuts as necessary to make ends meet.

Steve Weir, registrar for Contra Costa County, said that in his 20 years as registrar, he’s seen the average cost per voter rise from $1.50 to $7.50. Some of that is cost of living, but much of that comes from complying with state and federal laws and administrative requirements issued by the secretary of state’s office.

Now that budgets are readying for the adoption process in June, we’ll begin to see the magnitude of the cuts as they affect voters and the administration of democracy.

Excitement at the Elections Office!

With three (three!) elections coming up within weeks of each other, the Elections Office is charging full steam ahead with various projects including Election Officer recruitment, ballot production, voter registration, and supply inventory.

While the May 5 Special School District Election is an all-mail ballot, plenty still needs to be done! Early voting for the May 5 election begins on April 6, and before that day arrives, we need to have our official ballots and Voter Information Pamphlets printed and mailed, and conduct logic & accuracy tests on BallotNow machines (the machines that tabulate the ballots).

The May 19 Consolidated Special Statewide Election and the June 2 Special School District Election are both elections that will have polling places.  This means that we need to recruit Election Officers and field personnel, conduct training classes, stock up on supplies, and confirm polling place locations in addition to the normal voter registration updates, ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet production, and eSlate and Ballot Now machine testing.

Extra help staff has already arrived to help us with these efforts.  In the past week, over 12,000 voter registration edit requests have been processed and the Election Officer unit phones have been ringing off the hook. By the way, we are recruiting student poll workers in addition to our regular Election Officers!  If you’re interested, contact (650) 286-2810!

Supplies have been inventoried and the organization of specific polling place supplies is beginning now.

Logic & accuracy testing of the eSlate voting machines and BallotNow machines begins on March 16 and matrices to organize testing have been created.

The election season is definitely in full swing! We’ll be posting pics soon so that you can have a sneak peek at the Elections Office!