Thursday, December 7, 2017

Women in the State Senate circa 1991

Sexual harassment at California’s State Capitol has been in the news for months now. 
Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 8.40.17 AMI have worked in and around the Capitol for decades, beginning with my stint as a Senate Fellow in 1989-90. In that role, I had the opportunity to interview all five women who served in the State Senate at that time. The stories they told paint a picture of an institution that was beginning to transition from a “good old boy’s club” to something else. I compiled their stories into an article, “At the Gates of Power” published in the Sacramento News and Review in March 1991 and republished here.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Media Tips for Election Reform Advocates

I'm giving a presentation today to participants of the Election Verification Network about how to work effectively with the media - have a look at my tips here:

Learn more about Sacramento County's plans to implement vote centers

I've been keeping busy recently with Sacramento County's implementation of the Voters Choice Act. Check out this week's CVF-News for more details:

Friday, March 31, 2017

New Report Sheds Light on Chronic Under-funding of CA Elections

For a while now I've been focused on the chronic lack of funding for election programs and have come to view its absence as the root barrier in the way of many improvements election reform advocates like myself would like to see.

Yesterday I went to the State Capitol to attend and testify at a hearing of the Senate's budget subcommittee where this issue was taken up.

Since 2011, the state has shut down funding for state-mandated election program. These programs resulted from laws passed by the state requiring counties to provide services to California voters, like the option to vote by mail.

A recent survey by the state's Dept. of Finance found that counties continue to perform the mandated duties even though they are no longer getting reimbursed for them.

CVF's letter to the California State Senate asking that funding for election mandates be restored to the state budget outlines the impact this ongoing lack of funding has had on California voters. Here's an excerpt:

In lieu of funding support for election mandates for the past six years, the Legislature has instead chosen to pass optional laws that allow counties to provide certain voter services and programs but do not require them to do so. This pattern of lawmaking creates tremendous inequality in voter services and experiences and undermines all California voters’ constitutional right to equal protection under the law. Counties that have more resources are able to provide additional voter services such as early voting, postage paid vote-by-mail envelopes, and voter outreach programs while counties with less revenue do not. CVF’s analysis of county budget data collected by the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials found that in November 2014, the amount of money counties spent on elections varied from as low as $0.85 to nearly $11 per voter. 
At yesterday's Senate's budget subcommittee hearing, the state Legislative Analyst's Office presented a new report, Considering the State's Role in Elections. It's an excellent compilation of what's been happening in California election administration funding.

This map of the state from the LAO report shows very clearly how voter registration is higher in the wealthier, coastal areas of our state and lower in inland locations like the Central Valley and Inland Empire. While there are surely a number of factors that impact voter registration rates, varying resources at the county level to encourage participation is certainly one of them.

The LAO report also provides a nice summary of Senate Bill 450 (the "Voters Choice Act of 2016") and the numerous regulations underway right now that the Secretary of State's office.

My favorite part of the report, though, is this:
County Administration Yields Significant Benefits to the State. The state derives significant benefits from county administration of elections. These benefits include relieving the state from organizing thousands of local government elections as well as the elections for California’s members of Congress, the State Legislature, other statewide positions (like the Governor and Secretary of State), and statewide initiatives. In fact, in many elections, state issues make up the majority of the ballot. While the state reaps regular benefits from county elections administration, it only sporadically provides funding to counties for elections activities. Counties (and other local governments) generally bear elections’ costs without regular support from the state. 
Effective Elections Administration an Important State Interest. The state has a clear interest in secure and timely elections. Moreover, some level of uniformity across counties in elections administration is valuable. Many legislative and other voting districts span multiple counties. Significant variation in elections procedures across counties could have implications for voter turnout, and by extension, election results.
The report suggests a block grant approach, which is something I've been working on with some fellow advocates for the past year. We have a proposal in development that we will be sharing soon. In the meantime, CVF will continue to work to restore the election mandates funding. Please contact me if you want to get involved!

Thanks to Guy Marzorati at KQED for writing this story, Report: State Still Short-Changing Counties for Election Costs, covering this important subject.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Top Ten Online Resources for California Voters

California voters are facing a very long ballot this election, but fear not! There is an amazing amount of user-friendly information online. This list will help you find the best of the best, whether you are looking for answers to basic voting questions or need a deep dive into the candidates and ballot propositions.

1. California Secretary of State
The Secretary of State is the chief election officer and publishes the official state Voter Information Guide, where you can access the text, fiscal analysis and pro/con arguments for the 17 ballot propositions. A new feature is the Quick Guide to Props, in partnership with Maplight, with links to help voters follow the money and find out who's funding the proposition campaigns. You can also check your voter registration status or complete an online application to register or update your registration record (Oct. 24 is the deadline). Some resources like online registration and the voter information guide are available in nine other languages in addition to English.

2. Voters Edge
Two nonprofits - the League of Women Voters of California
and Maplight - teamed up to give voters this state-of-the-art tool you can use to look up every contest on your ballot and drill down to get detailed information like candidate statements, donor information and news articles. You can also select and save your ballot choices. Much of the site is available in Spanish as well. This site is especially useful when researching "down ballot" local contests for which voting information is often difficult to find.

3. California Voter Foundation
CVF's site is home to the California Online Voter Guide, providing comprehensive information on all state and federal contests in California, as well as deep links to additional resources. Highlights include CVF's Voting FAQ and the 2016 Proposition Song, an impartial, rhyming overview of all 17 propositions delivered in just five minutes. Be sure to sing along!

4. County Election Offices
Most questions voters have about voting and registration are best answered by their local registrar of voters, especially because election practices and procedures vary from county to county. CVF's site provides a directory of all 58 county election offices with contact information for each county and links to lookup tools voters can use to check their registration and ballot status, access their sample ballot or find their polling place.

5. California Choices
A project of the nonprofit Next10 and UC Berkeley's
Institute for Governmental Studies, this site is a must-visit for voters looking for a quick way to sort out which groups are supporting or opposing each proposition. It provides endorsements from a range of organizations as well as labor unions and political parties. A great shortcut for busy voters!

6. Public Media Guides
Many public and non-profit news organizations are providing outstanding web resources this election. CalMatters covers all 17 propositions, as does KQED's Election Guide. A collaboration of four California public radio stations, California Counts provides in-depth coverage of election issues and contests and also KPCC's Human Voter Guide, answering actual questions from California voters.

7. SeePolitical
The folks at SeePolitical have created an entertaining and
informative set of videos about the California propositions, animated and designed to engage voters visually. They are a great resource for voters looking for an alternative to text-based voting information. These videos have been translated into Spanish as well and are a great tool to use in classrooms or to show during an election house party.

8. Easy Voter Guide  
A project of the League of Women Voters and the California State Library, this guide is a great alternative to the 224-page Voter Information Guide!
Written at a 4th grade reading level, this guide is helfpul for all voters who want a simple explanation of the ballot and propositions. It's available in print, online and in five languages.

9.  FPPC's Top Ten Donors
Voters wanting to find out who's funding initiative campaigns can use the California Fair Political Practices Commission's Top Ten Donors site to do their homework. If a top donor is getting money from other sources, the FPPC helps you drill down and see who their actual donors are. It also shows if donors are in-state or out-of-state.

10.  Google
Google has collected essential voting information for all 50 states. If you type a voting-related question into Google, the site will likely answer it straight up, rather than just show you pages related to the question.

A few other suggestions:  it can be helpful to look at the voter guides put out by political organizations. For example, the left-leaning Courage Campaign offers a Progressive Voter Guide; while on the other side of the spectrum, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has its own recommendations. Whether you agree or disagree, seeing these guides from groups with an agenda can help you make informed choices.

There are some other creative resources out there to recommend as well. The Proposition Haikus is a short and sweet overview of all 17 propositions. A newcomer this election is, created by a group of citizens in the San Francisco Bay Area to provide a concise, nonpartisan review of each proposition. The site is beautifully designed, engaging and smartly-written.

If you want the back-story on a proposition, try Ballotpedia. A few other helpful news resources:  the Sacramento Bee's Voter Guide and the LA Times' Guide to the Propositions.

Happy surfing!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Now Playing! The 2016 Proposition Song

Every election could use a song, especially this one.

To help Californians prepare to vote on a whopping 17 propositions, I wrote a new "Proposition Song", performed with several friends around Sacramento and recorded and produced into a music video.

It's a big project made easier with the help of numerous people who volunteer their time and talent. Hats off to this year's Proposition Song Players - Jeff Bruner, Tim Onorato, Carl Salmonsen, Lou Galgani and Bob Keller.

Big thanks also to Steve Anselmino who used his magical video editing skills to pull the music video together. Our sound engineer, Flyin' Cowboy, spent hours recording and editing the song. Dan Perlea, a professional photographer, volunteered to shoot our performance videos in front of the State Capitol.

The first Proposition Song debuted in 2000; this year's makes the seventh song I've put together and produced on behalf of the California Voter Foundation. It is a super fun project and I appreciate the chance to blend my love for folk music and jamming with my love for voting and democracy. If you'd like to see past songs, we have collected them all on the CVF site here.

So please watch, listen and most importantly sing along! Those who want to play and perform the song are welcome to do so and can access an MP3 of the song, as well as lyrics and chords and the news release, on the song home page.

Now Playing! The 2016 Proposition Song

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Secrets to Jam Session Success

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by the UK-based website Musical U, and shared my philosphy and ideas about participating in music jams. You can read the entire Q&A article at

Next week I will be heading to Tuolumne for the Stawberry Music Festival where I will once again be teaching my "Learn to Jam!" workshop and sharing my 20 tips for jamming etiquette, or "jamiquette" plus offering my Pete Seeger-inspiried "Learn to Jam!" pamphlet to festival goers.

An easier-to-read version of these 20 Jam Tips is available via my blog.