Thursday, July 31, 2008

Robocalls violate state law according to CA PUC

Yesterday's San Jose Mercury News featured this story by Frank Davies reporting that the California Public Utilities Commission recently issued a ruling that political robocalls, which use computers to dial phones and play automated messages, violate the state's utility code. The California Voter Foundation routinely receives numerous complaints from voters about these automated calls. Up until this week I, and I expect many others in the political field, assumed these calls, while annoying, are protected under the First Amendment. Based on the news being reported, it looks like campaigns will have to alter their tactics in how they deliver such calls to voters. An excerpt from the Mercury News story is below.


California's rules against robocalls are little-known and widely ignored. Susan Carothers of the PUC said Tuesday that commission staffers recently reviewed the code, which says such calls are legal only when introduced by a real person who asks for your consent to hear a recorded message. That rarely happens.

But enforcement is not easy. Consumers must first complain to their phone company, and if nothing is done, file a complaint with the PUC. Only two such complaints were filed with the PUC in the past two years, Carothers said.

That may change. An advocacy group, the National Political Do Not Contact Registry, is seeking complaints from California voters to present to phone carriers and the PUC.

"It's time that California voters are able to protect their privacy. Otherwise, campaigns will turn to robocalls, particularly in California, which has a very large and expensive media market," said Shaun Dakin, founder of the group.

In the February presidential primary, candidates for both parties used the get-out-the-vote calls. Actress Scarlett Johansson and comedian Chris Rock urged voters to back Obama, and Bill Clinton urged support for his wife.

Political consultants and operatives defend the calls as a low-cost alternative for candidates who don't have money for major TV and radio ad campaigns, but they concede that repeated calls at all hours can be counterproductive.


Voters who wish to file complaints can access a PUC fact sheet or seek to be added to a registry of people who do not want automated calls at, which also features a California-specific complaint form. Voters can also contact their county election office and ask to have their phone numbers removed from their voter registration record.

The newly-redesigned California voter registration form is also likely to help cut down on unwanted political calls for new registrants, since the new form makes it clear to those filling it out that providing a phone number is optional.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New California voter registration form debuts

Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced yesterday that a newly redesigned California voter registration form is now available. I was one of several people who served on a working group to redesign the form. Together we came up with a number of improvements: the number of words on the card has been reduced from more than 1200 to about 730; the word "optional" has been added to the specific fields on the form that are optional (such as phone number and email address) rather than buried in instructions at the bottom of the page; there is no longer an instruction section - rather, instructions are included with the specific fields to be completed; and the political party selection section has been modified to make it clearer to voters how to register as a nonpartisan voter.

Scanned images of the new form and the old form are available on the Secretary of State's web site. Congratulations to Secretary of State Debra Bowen for taking the initiative on this process. I'm confident the new card will be easier and less intimidating to complete.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Talking about the 2010 race for Governor on NPR's Day to Day

Madeleine Brand of National Public Radio's Day to Day program interviewed me today about San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's potential bid for governor in 2010. Today's newspapers were filled with stories of the Newsom news, and many of the articles give a preview of how the contest is shaping up. In particular, check out the stories from the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee and the Associated Press for a preview of what's to come in the next election cycle.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

PBS' P.O.V. documentary on Election Day in the USA

Just in time for the Independence Day holiday, the folks at PBS' Point of View (P.O.V.) series are airing a new documentary featuring footage from a number of cities around the U.S. taken on Election Day in November 2004. Judging from the trailer (available online from the PBS web site), the film does a good job of showing the drama and stress that voters and pollworkers alike experience on election day. "Election Day" debuts on PBS tonight - check local listings for times and channels.

November ballot proposition numbers assigned

Last week Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued this news release assigning numbers to the eleven statewide propositions that have qualified for the November 4th ballot. Here's a quick rundown:

Prop. 1 - $10 billion high-speed rail bond act
Prop. 2 - treatment of farm animals
Prop. 3 - $1 billion children's hospitals bond act
Prop. 4 - minors' abortion rights/parental notification
Prop. 5 - decreases sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders
Prop. 6 - increases penalties for gang and drug crimes
Prop. 7 - requires 20% of utilities' power to come from renewable resources by 2010
Prop. 8 - bans gay marriage
Prop. 9 - requires informing and involving victims in parole decisions
Prop 10 - $5 billion bond to subsidize alternative vehicle purchases & research
Prop 11 - transfers the power to draw legislative districts from the legislature to an
independent commission