Monday, September 29, 2008

Online voter registration bill pending before Gov. Schwarzenegger

Senate Bill 381, authored by State Senator Ron Calderon, which would allow the Secretary of State to implement online voter registration, is pending before Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has until September 30 to sign or veto the bill. The governor vetoed many election-related bills over the weekend, as was noted in this news release from Secretary of State Debra Bowen, but SB 381 was not among them.

According to this Senate floor analysis, the bill is supported by a wide range of groups and also received some support from a few Republican lawmakers; however, Department of Finance opposed the bill and it is unclear whether the governor will sign it or not. While it has some initial, up-front costs, the proponents and supporters have noted that there a substantial long-term savings for counties if online voter registration were implemented in California, as such a system would reduce administrative time and data-entry costs.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Presidential debate season begins this Friday

This Friday, Sept. 26, presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama will meet for the first of three presidential debates. Vice-presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will debate next Thursday, Oct. 2. This presidential debates page from George Washington University provides details about the dates and locations of all of the debates this election season. Friday's debate begins at 8 p.m. eastern.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

40 states pass campaign disclosure assessment; 10 fail; 26 earn higher grades

Campaign disclosure in the states is improving, according to a study the California Voter Foundation and its Campaign Disclosure Project partners released today. Grading State Disclosure 2008 shows Washington State has the best disclosure program in the nation, followed by California and Michigan. Below are excerpts from news articles published today in a number of states covering the report.

• The Detroit News: Michigan campaign finance disclosure among the nation's best, by Deb Price. Excerpts:

Michigan is one of the nation's top three states in terms of disclosing campaign finance information about statewide and legislative office seekers, a good government group reported Wednesday.

* * *

Michigan received an "A plus" for both its electronic filing program and its ease of use.

The report praises Michigan, noting, "The Secretary of State's online, searchable databases offer excellent options for searching, sorting, and downloading campaign finance data and are accompanied by an excellent description of the data available."

• The Oregonian: Oregon ranks 4th in campaign finance disclosure, by Dave Hogan, September 17, 2008. Excerpt:

Oregon ranks fourth in campaign finance disclosure, thanks to the state's searchable online database that debuted at the start of 2007, says a nationwide study released Wednesday.

The Campaign Disclosure Project gave Oregon a B+ grade in its fifth national report, after getting a B+ and the designation of "most improved" in last year's report. Washington has ranked first in each of the five studies. California placed second in the latest report and Michigan placed third.

Tuesday's report noted that public access to state-level campaign finance data has improved dramatically due to the increase in electronic filing of campaign disclosure reports. A total of 24 states now require statewide and legislative candidates to file electronically, up from 12 in 2003. In all, 42 states permit candidates to file electronically.

• Associated Press: Alabama gets an F on campaign finance disclosure. Excerpt:

Alabama has received another "F" in an annual study of states' campaign finance disclosure laws.

The new Grading State Disclosure report says Alabama's grade has been unchanged since the annual reports began in 2003. Alabama ranks 49th among the states.

The report notes that the secretary of state's office has made improvements in the state Web site that shows candidates' campaign finance report, but there is still no online searchable database of contributions.

• Lexington Herald-Leader: KY boosts campaign finance grade, but slips in ranks, by Ryan Alessi. Excerpt:

The national Campaign Disclosure Project boosted Kentucky's grade for the state's campaign finance transparency up to a B- from last year's C+ even as it continued its slide in the national rankings.

Overall, Kentucky scored the 21st best campaign finance disclosure system in the United States, according to the project that is a collaboration by the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies, and the UCLA School of Law and is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

That is down from 20th last year, 13th in 2005 and 10th in 2004 as other states have improved their election laws that govern donations.

But the B- is Kentucky's best grade yet from the project. The improvement stemmed mostly from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance's redesigned Web site that made it even easier for citizens to navigate and search, the project's summary for Kentucky said.

• Deseret News: Utah's campaign disclosure laws lacking, by Lee Davidson. Excerpts:

A grade of D-minus usually is not cause for celebration. But when Utah received that Wednesday in an annual report card on state campaign finance disclosure systems, it was the highest grade the state has ever achieved.

"A D-minus is poor, obviously. But I think we're at least moving in the right direction," said Joe Demma, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, whose office collects and distributes data from disclosure forms. He says a new, more user-friendly system for searching that data online should be ready early next year.

The grade is for more than just the performance by Herbert's office. It is also evaluates how much information Utah disclosure laws require. And all of that was blasted in the annual report card by the Campaign Disclosure Project, which is run by a coalition of good-government groups.

"Utah earned its first overall passing grade and ranked 40th (out of 50 states) in 2008," the report said. It was ahead of 10 states that received Fs, but 24 states managed to receive As or Bs — showing Utah that it can be done.

The report gave a sub-grade of D-minus to Utah's disclosure laws. That was up slightly from an F last year because of a law passed in 2007 that requires office holders to file disclosure reports annually instead of only in election years. They now must also itemize contributions of $50 or more.

* * *

Demma said his office also looks at reports such as the one issued Wednesday to see what other states are doing, and learn from their best practices.

"Our goal is to make everything as easy for public to find as possible. We are always striving for improvement," he said.

• The News & Observer: N.C. gets B- on campaign disclosure, by Ryan Teague Beckwith. Excerpt:

North Carolina received a B-minus on campaign finance disclosure.

In a regular report card by the Campaign Disclosure Project, the state Board of Elections received higher marks on campaign finance laws and accessibility of its Web site. Last year, the state received a C-plus, and in 2003 it received a D-plus.

The state was graded well for requiring detailed information about contributors of more than $50, including occupation and employer data, as well as vendors used by candidates.

However, it received lower marks for its electronic filing program, which is required of statewide candidates who raise $5,000 or more but not legislative candidates.
A redesign of the Board of Elections Web site was praised.

"The site offers a fair amount of contextual information, such as detailed candidate lists and a thorough campaign finance manual explaining the state’s disclosure requirements and contribution limits," the group wrote.

North Carolina was ranked 23 of U.S. states.

Wired article explores problems with state voter registration databases

Wired features this story today by Kim Zetter exploring how technical problems with statewide voter registration databases could lead to problems and potential disenfranchisement for thousands of voters in the upcoming November 4 presidential election.

This year marks the first time that new, statewide, centralized voter-registration databases will be used in a federal election in a number of states.

The databases were mandated in the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which required all election districts in a state or U.S. territory to consolidate their lists into a single database electronically accessible to every election office in the state or territory.

But the databases, some created by the same companies that make electronic voting machines, aren't federally tested or certified and some have been plagued by missed deadlines, rushed production schedules, cost overruns, security problems, and design and reliability issues.

Last year, in Larimer County, Colorado, election workers got an error message when they tried to access the state's database to process absentee ballots, and had to log off for 20 minutes. In a mock election four months ago, clerks in other counties had trouble accessing the database from polling locations. Those who could connect said the system was sluggish.

Election officials in several counties said they didn't trust the system, and planned to load the database to county computers and use printed poll books on Election Day rather than access the central database in real time.

"The voter-registration databases are an underlying part of the voting technology revolution that has taken place in this country that has been the least noticed," says Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Governor says he will veto budget bill

In yesterday's post I said that the governor and lawmakers reached a budget deal - apparently I was only half right. While the legislative leaders struck a deal, the governor is not on board. The Los Angeles Times' Jordan Rau and Evan Halper reported this afternoon that the governor is planning to veto the proposal that lawmakers passed around 2 a.m. this morning.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced this afternoon that he will veto the state budget passed by the Legislature early this morning, setting the stage for an unprecedented confrontation in California's Capitol.

"When they send me the budget, I will veto it," Schwarzenegger said at a Capitol news conference. "If my veto is overriden," he said, " ... hundreds of bills will be vetoed."

Schwarzenegger had warned lawmakers in a letter last night that he would veto their spending plan -- 78 days late today -- if it did not include three provisions to ensure the state a reliable rainy day fund for times of fiscal trouble. This year, California has developed a $15.2-billion budget gap.

The Legislature agreed to two of his three requests.

A budget veto would be a first for California, but legislative leaders in both parties said early this morning that it is likely the Legislature would override it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Legislature approval rating at record low; budget deal in the works

The news today in Sacramento is that the legislative leaders and the governor have worked out a budget deal, 2 and a half months past the deadline. This has been the longest-delayed budget in the state's history, and according to a recent Field Poll, California's lawmakers are also earning record low marks in public opinion polls.

As reported in this article by Dan Smith in the Sept. 12 Sacramento Bee:

"This is the lowest job (approval) rating recorded for anybody from any institution," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the 62-year-old Field Poll. "No one has ever gotten this low. Even Richard Nixon."

The record budget standoff – now 74 days into the fiscal year – clearly has contributed to the Legislature's slide in the eyes of the public, DiCamillo said. Eighty-two percent say the budget impasse is a "very serious" problem, up from 68 percent in July.

DiCamillo told KQED's California Report last Friday that various proposals have been made in the past, to make the legislature part time, or do a constitutional convention in which "major changes could be made in terms of how the legislature functions". He went on to say that while those kinds of proposals seem off the wall, and perhaps not in the mainstream, "in an environment where voters are almost uniformly negative I think those kinds of things might get a greater hearing.”

According to the Bee article, "Jim Wunderman, president of the San Francisco-based Bay Area Council, a business group, recently called for a constitutional convention to overhaul the state's budgeting and tax systems, among other things." It was surprising to hear DiCamillo also comment on structural governmental reform for California. Perhaps this year's budget stalemate will help move such ideas forward.