Monday, August 25, 2008

Capitol Weekly blog from Denver

My friend Anthony York, who is editor of Capitol Weekly, is in Denver this week blogging about the Democratic Convention. He is an astute political observer, has a clever way with words, and his convention blogging is off to an entertaining start. I will be checking in with his blog throughout the week to see what's happening in Denver from the perspective of a California journalist with a nose for news and whatever else he finds entertaining.

Here's an excerpt from today's blog, "Why We Blog":


It becomes abundantly clear why there are 8 zillion bloggers swarming like little gnats around downtown Denver this week. If ever there was an event made for blogging, it is a major party political convention.

Because, in case you were wondering, there is no news here.

But there is plenty to see, to observe -- plenty of sketches to draw, snapshots to capture. There is no shortage of color. It’s news that’s in short supply.

Blogs are notorious for elevating the mundane. That’s the only way to survive a week like this one in Denver.

Friday, August 8, 2008

EAC voter registration database workshop webcast and report

This week the U.S. Election Assistance Commission held a workshop during its public meeting on statewide voter registration databases, featuring presentations by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and National Academy of Sciences chief scientist Herb Lin. Mr. Lin provided a summary of a report the National Academies is producing on voter registration databases, and Secretary of State Richie discussed how his state's voter registration database is working effectively to enable accurate voter registration.

California is in the process of developing a new statewide voter registration database, called VoteCal. Since California's database is among the last to be developed in the U.S., our state will benefit from learning from other state's successes and failures. A webcast of the EAC workshop is available online. The National Academies' interim report for the EAC on statewide voter registration databases is also available.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

California Election Preview from CVF now online

CVF's web site now features an Election Preview for the November 4, 2008 Presidential election. CVF staff are working on a new California Online Voter Guide, which will debut in the Fall; in the meantime, the Election Preview features a list of the propositions on the ballot and links to key election information sites and resources.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Online voter registration bill moves forward

A bill to allow the Secretary of State to implement online voter registration, SB 381, is receiving bipartisan support in the Legislature according to an article by John Wildermuth in Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle, featured below.


Californians may soon be able to use their computers to register to vote and they can thank the state Department of Motor Vehicles for the chance.

The bill to allow online registration, SB381, co-authored by state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, has rolled through the state Senate with few complaints and awaits final approval by the Assembly before going to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arizona and Washington already have such systems, and online registrations there are surging. While would-be California voters now can fill out the voter registration form online from the secretary of state's Web site, they must print the form, sign it and mail it to their county election office.

Calderon's bill would computerize the entire process by allowing the secretary of state to replace the personal signature with the digitized signatures already online for people who have received California driver's licenses and identification cards.

Signatures that appear on the licenses and cards are as secure as those on voter registration cards, Calderon said, because Californians have to appear in person at the DMV, present a birth certificate or other identification, sign the application and have their photo and thumbprint taken.

"While there were some early security concerns, we eased them by requiring the driver's license number, date of birth and the last four digits of the Social Security number to be entered on the online registrations," the senator added.

The bill passed unanimously in the Assembly's election committee, with the support of two Republican members, while the Assembly appropriations committee approved it on an 11-4 vote along party lines.

"My main concern is that voting security is not tight enough as it is and allowing online registration won't help," said Assemblyman Doug La Malfa, R-Biggs (Butte County), who voted against the bill in committee. "We should set a high bar for people looking to vote and there are already a lot of fake IDs out there."

Calderon, chair of the Senate elections committee, came up with the bill after talking to Secretary of State Debra Bowen last year about ways to increase voter registration, which has held steady at about 70 percent of the state's eligible voters.

"This will help people registering close to the deadline or who are traveling or in the military," he said.

Bowen is supporting the bill, which she believes will especially appeal to young people who are accustomed to conducting much of their business online.

"Secretary Bowen believes this is the next logical step for voter registration," said Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for the secretary. "You can file tax returns online, you can register your car online, so you should be able to register to vote online."

The programs in Arizona and Washington have had few, if any, problems. Arizona's EZ Vote system has been in use since 2002 and more than 70 percent of voter registrations are now done on the Internet.

Washington's Legislature approved online registration last year and the system went live in January. Already, 40 percent of new registrations are done online, said Katie Blinn, assistant director of elections in the Washington secretary of state's office.

"It's really been very popular here," she said. "Both voters and local election administrators like it because it's so much faster."

Despite complaints from some GOP legislators, the lack of organized opposition to California's online registration plan is surprising given concerns about the security of voting machines, ballot results and everything else connected with elections. Several states, including Arizona, already require identification from everyone showing up at the polls to cast a ballot.

But online voter registration is different from online voting and presents a much lower level of security concerns, said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

"It's a different challenge, since voter registration cards aren't secret and ballots are," she said. "There are a lot of things about voting that don't work online, but voter registration is one thing that might."

Even if Calderon's bill sails through the Legislature and is signed by the governor, it's going to be awhile before it takes effect. The bill first requires that a new statewide voter registration database be operating, which isn't expected to happen until next year.