Monday, December 28, 2009

Please donate to the California Voter Foundation!

There is still time to donate to CVF before the end of the year and get a deduction on your 2009 tax return! Learn more about why the California Voter Foundation needs your help, then make a secure donation online or mail your contribution. Thanks to all who have already given generously to support CVF!

Initiatives aplenty coming to California voters in 2010

Folks who keep an eye on initiative trends have been noticing a significant uptick in the number circulating and attempting to qualify for the 2010 ballot. Recent articles by Eric Bailey in the Los Angeles Times and Torey Van Oot in the Sacramento Bee discuss the prospects for these measures and their likely impact on voters next year (excerpts below). For those interested in tracking initiatives in progress, you'll find the links you need in CVF's 2010 California Election Preview Guide.

Here are some excerpts from the December 27 Los Angeles Times story:

With heated contests looming for U.S. Senate, governor and other statewide posts, 2010 stands to be a blockbuster year in California politics.

The state could also see a bumper crop of ballot measures.

In recent weeks, nearly 90 proposed initiatives have been in the pipeline, elbowing to become the latest entrants in the state's century-old tradition of direct democracy.

Gay-rights activists, abortion foes, marijuana proponents and government-reform advocates are getting into the act of citizen lawmaking. Insurance companies and consumer groups appear poised to rumble.

There is also the possibility of a high-stakes proposition fight between business and labor interests that some pundits liken to state politics going nuclear.

If historical trends hold, many of the proposals will fail to garner enough support and voter signatures to qualify. But the state remains on track to potentially see dozens of measures on the ballot.

The record of 48 initiatives set in November 1914 -- in the era of Gov. Hiram Johnson, progressive politics and the birth of the ballot measure -- almost certainly is safe. But in a state with a rich tradition of lengthy and complex ballots, "2010 is going to be extraordinary," predicted Kim Alexander, founder of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "Voters are going to be cramming like never before."

Here are some excerpts from the December 28 Sacramento Bee story:

Even if just a small percentage of proposed initiatives clear the signature hurdle, voters are likely to face another long ballot in November, with anywhere between 10 to 20 measures having a shot to qualify. A legislative measure asking voters to approve an $11.1 billion bond has already been placed on the November ballot by state lawmakers and proponents of a measure that would legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use say they have gathered more than enough signatures to qualify.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said a crowded ballot can cause challenges for communicating to voters the implications of the various initiatives as well as which wealthy interests put up the cash to put the measure on the ballot.

"There's a lot of mystery already in voting in California, and then that problem is compounded with the initiatives process and the fact that we have so many state and local measures to vote on," she said.

The ballooning ballot and increased role of money in both the qualifying and campaigning process have prompted calls to update the initiative system, which was adopted in 1911 as a direct democracy fix for widespread corruption caused by the railroad industry's control over state politics.

"The history of the process is just the opposite of what has evolved over time," said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, the co-chairman of a select legislative committee that is generating recommendations for improving state government, including the initiative system.

"I think there is certainly strong recognition by voters that it's really important to constrain special interests from capturing the initiative process," Feuer said.

Ideas for updating the system include offering proponents the option of lowering the signature threshold if they give the Legislature a role in a measure, requiring two-thirds voter approval for passing constitutional amendments and mandating that initiative proponents identify how new programs would be financed.

Others have suggested raising the fee for filing an initiative to lower processing costs for the state – an estimated $6,800 for the attorney general's office to prepare the title and summary describing each proposal – and discourage the submission of less serious initiatives that clog the system.

But despite voters feeling fatigued by the lengthy list of measures at the polls and concerns over the role of money in the process, getting them to change their cherished initiative system could be a difficult task in itself. Polls have consistently shown that while voters recognize the shortcomings of the process, huge majorities support it.

"California voters have a love-hate relationship with the initiative process," Alexander said. "People love to complain how difficult it is, but don't even think about taking it away. It is sacred in this state."

Apply for the Citizens Redistricting Commission -- Deadline is Feb. 12

The California State Auditor's office is now accepting applications from Californians interested in serving on the new Citizens Redistricting Commission. To learn more about what to expect if you apply and find links to the application and additional resources, take a look at this CVF-NEWS commentary I recently wrote about the application process.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Live webcast today, 10:30 a.m. -- California Redistricting Reform

I'm heading downtown today for the State Auditor's event to kick off the new web site and application process for the Citizens Redistricting Commission, created through the passage of Prop. 11 last year. The event will be webcast live at 10:30 a.m..

The new "We Draw the Lines" web site will begin accepting applications next week on December 15. Already people can see drafts of what the applications look like and find out what will be asked of folks who want to apply.

Some have been wondering whether at the end of the application process there will be enough money to fund the actual commission? The initiative called for $3 million to fund the new commission, but the first time around there are of course start-up costs, like creating regulations and an application and selection process. The Legislature has allocated the $3 million Prop. 11 calls for, but clearly more money will be needed. Even the Legislative Analyst's analysis of Prop. 11 in the ballot pamphlet said $3 million was insufficient and the actual costs just given inflation would be $4 million.

Fortunately John Myers at KQED Radio has taken a closer look at this question, and today published a very thorough description of what is likely to be the biggest implementation challenge Prop. 11 faces -- how do you get more money for a worthy program in this fiscal climate?

Reform proponents have a good opportunity to try to lock additional funding in, but the window is closing. The current Governor of the state was the biggest champion of all of redistricting reform and Prop. 11. He used his fundraising powers to raise millions to support the measure, which barely passed. If it's going to take more than $3 million to do it right, proponents need to figure out how much and ask for it sooner rather than later while Gov. Schwarzenegger is still in office. There's no guarantee the next Governor, whoever he or she will be, will have such a soft spot for redistricting reform, and certainly most members of the Legislature aren't exactly eager to get this done, either.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Please donate to the California Voter Foundation!

It's that time of year -- a time for giving. We at the California Voter Foundation are looking for your support to help fund our important work! Please read our appeal and donate online or by check to CVF. Your tax-deductible contributions make a huge difference!

Twitter changes policies to improve nonpartisanship

Last month Don Thompson of the Associated Press wrote this story calling attention to the fact that Twitter, the popular social networking web site, appeared to be favoring Democratic candidates for Governor of California by highlighting only Democrats in its list of suggested users.

This week, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said they would change their policy and practices. Excerpts from Thompson's follow-up story are below.

"That list will be going away," Stone said at a conference in Malaysia. "In its stead will be something that is more programmatically chosen, something that actually delivers more relevant suggestions."

Names on the suggested user list are selected by company officials. In California, Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls were placed on the list, a move that greatly boosted their number of followers. Republican candidates were left off until recently.
The difference in treatment drew outcries from good government groups and contributed to a decision by the California Fair Political Practices Commission to hold hearings next year. The commission plans to examine whether it needs to regulate how campaigns intersect with social media.

In the three weeks since an Associated Press story about the suggested user list, Twitter executives added all three of the Republican candidates seeking to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is termed out of office after next year.
The switch gave each Republican a significant bump in followers, demonstrating the list's reach and influence.

Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, who led the Republican field with 4,160 Twitter followers, jumped to nearly 61,000 followers. Former Congressman Tom Campbell went from 1,660 followers to 57,500, while state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner's nearly 2,600 followers increased to 56,500.

By comparison, Attorney General Jerry Brown, the presumed Democratic gubernatorial candidate, increased from 960,000 followers to 1 million during the same three-week period.

Twitter also added Carly Fiorina, who is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer next year.

The list's expansion drew praise from Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. She wants to see the site continue as an avenue for political discussion, saying it can serve as a valuable tool for voters who are just starting to get engaged in next year's campaign season.

California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring, however, urged Twitter to drop politicians from its favorites list if it doesn't end the list entirely.

"To include political candidates among suggested users is begging for some government entity to come in and regulate it," Nehring said.

State Auditor Q&A, site launch

Today's Capitol Weekly features this Question and Answer interview by Malcolm Maclachlan with State Auditor Elaine Howle, whose office is charged with implementing the new Citizens Redistricting Commission. The interview coincides with the Bureau of State Audits' launch of its new web site, WeDrawTheLines web site, featuring a growing bounty of information about the new commission, including the draft initial and supplemental applications and a description of the role of a commissioner. At a news conference at the Sacramento Public Library today, Ms. Howle was joined by Rivkah Sass of the Sacramento Public Library, who said all 27 of Sacramento's libraries will help the public access the application process.

Excerpts from the Capitol Weekly Q&A are below.

What kind of commitment are we talking about if you’re on the Commission?

The Commission has to be established by the end of calendar year 2010, so our job is to get this commission established. We actually pick the first eight names, randomly draw them in November, and then those eight commissioners pick the remaining six. There are 14 commissioners in total.

The commission is required to commence its work in January of 2011. They must have the maps drawn by September 15th, that’s about an 8 ½ month time frame. How frequently the commission will need to meet, how long they will need to meet on a particular day is going to be entirely up to the commissions depending on the workload. We’re in the process of putting some materials together that we can get on our website to try to educate people so that they’re making an informed decision when they decide to apply.

The commission is in all likelihood going to be meeting in a variety of locations in the state, because they need to hear public input from people from throughout the state. Beyond that, we don’t have any more specific information as far as the commitment. But again, we’re working with some re-districting experts who have done this in the past, who can help us develop some more materials that will educate the public about what the expectations will be.

It’s a big commitment, but it’s also a huge opportunity for you to be the first citizens’ commission in this state. There are some commissions in other states. Most of them are either appointees of the legislator or appointees of the governor. This is truly going to represent the citizens of the state because the commissioners are actually going to be everyday people. Not only is this an opportunity to be on a commission for the first time in California but it could end up being a national model.

Don’t you have a difficult job even when this process isn’t going on? Do you have extra staff?

We actually do not have extra staff. We have lots and lots of work. It was kind of thrown in our laps, a bit of a surprise to us. It’s a huge challenge, but to be quite honest, we are flattered that the voters have that kind of confidence in my office. As I said in an editorial, the voters picked the right agency to do this job. We’re going to do it well. We have some funding that was appropriated by the Legislature, and I will keep asking for additional money. But we’re committed to doing this job as well as we do our audit work.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Study finds demographic differences between vote-by-mail voters and registered voters

Today's Ventura County Star features this column by Timm Herdt discussing the recent findings of a California Field Poll study on the turnout and demographic characteristics of California's permanent vote-by-mail voters. Excerpts are below.

There’s a new study out this week that documents the extent to which California has transitioned to a new way of voting, one that has created a pool of 6 million voters who may participate in every future election but never again set foot inside a polling place.

These are people who have signed up to be permanent mail-in voters, and their numbers are growing at a breathtaking pace: from 2.7 million in the 2004 election, to 4 million in 2006 to 5.6 million in 2008. They now represent more than a third of all California voters.


In his paper on the growth in permanent mail voters published in this month’s Survey Practice, a journal for pollsters, Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo notes that turnout among permanent mail voters was significantly higher than total voter turnout in the last two statewide general elections. In 2006, when overall turnout was 56.2 percent, the voting rate of permanent mail voters was 77.7 percent. In 2008, the comparable numbers were 79.4 percent and 86.3 percent.

In low-profile elections the difference is even more striking. In last May’s statewide special election, overall turnout was just 28.4 percent. But almost half, or 48.6 percent, of permanent mail voters returned their ballots.

Much about this phenomenon is overwhelmingly positive.

Permanent mail voting has increased voter participation, made it possible for voters to take their time and consult reference materials when completing lengthy and complex ballots and, judging from the public response, provided a great many Californians with a convenient voting option that they like and prefer.

Unfortunately, DiCamillo’s research also reveals an unfortunate side effect: Permanent mail voting has intensified the demographic disconnect between the California populace and the California electorate.

The pool of registered voters in the state has always been older, more affluent and more Anglo than the adult population at large. With the growth of permanent mail voting, the differences among actual voters appear to have become even more pronounced.

Based on data collected from the Field Poll’s pre-election surveys, DiCamillo concludes, “There are significant demographic differences between the state’s permanent mail ballot registrants and other registered voters.”

There are geographic, age-based and ethnic disparities.

For instance, voters ages 18 to 29 make up only 13 percent of permanent mail voters, but 19 percent of all other voters. Those over 65 make up 29 percent of those who always vote by mail, but only 15 percent of all other voters.

Latinos are vastly under-represented among permanent mail voters, accounting for just 14 percent. Among all other voters, 24 percent are Latino.

Kim Alexander, founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, says permanent mail voting may be exacerbating the lack of diversity among California voters. “Policy-makers need to be mindful of that,” she said.

Alexander notes that the impulse of county elections officials — who now must conduct essentially two elections every Election Day, one through the mail and the other in person — has been to reduce the number of polling places and, in many cases, to urge that voting be conducted entirely by mail.

“Just because the vote-by-mail rate keeps going up doesn’t mean it’s time to start closing polling places,” Alexander said. “All voters should be able to vote in the way they’re most comfortable.”

Alexander said DiCamillo’s data also reveal the importance of getting elections officials in every county to uniformly promote vote-by-mail registration.

Until very recently, officials in Los Angeles County — the state’s largest and most diverse — had been decidedly cool to mail voting and did nothing to promote permanent mail registration. The result is striking: DiCamillo’s data show that LA County voters account for only 10 percent of permanent mail voters but 32 percent of all other voters.

The Voter Foundation not long ago commissioned a survey of 1,000 registered but infrequent voters. It found the No. 1 reason they cite for not voting regularly is that they don’t have time on Election Day. Yet, more than half were unfamiliar with mail-in voting. “That was kind of astonishing,” Alexander said.

DiCamillo’s study shows that the popularity of permanent-mail voting has continued to increase dramatically even nine years after the option was established. It’s not going away.

The challenge to those who would like to see a California electorate more reflective of its people is to educate young and minority voters about an option that makes voting more convenient.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lobbyists sue to block state public financing proposition

Over the weekend the Sacramento Bee published this story by Andy Furillo reporting on recent legal actions taken by California's association of lobbyists to block a proposition that, if passed by voters would create a public financing system for the Secretary of State's elections in 2014 and 2018. The measure relies on fees paid by lobbyists and lobbying firms to fund the public financing system. Excerpts are below.

California lobbyists have filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court to stop the vote on a ballot measure scheduled for the June primary election that would make them the guinea pig in an experiment on campaign finance.

The lobbyists say the measure to make them collectively pay approximately $34 million to fund California's statewide secretary of state campaigns in 2014 and 2018 unfairly restricts their free speech rights and restricts people's constitutional right to petition their government.

"Our view is that the First Amendment isn't up for election," said Jackson Gualco, president of the lead plaintiff in the suit, the Institute of Governmental Advocates, and himself a top-level California lobbyist.


Hancock's Assembly Bill 583 cleared the Legislature on tight votes that showed no Republican support and a smattering of Democratic opposition.

It won only after it was amended to knock out the governor's race and elections for two legislative seats from the pilot project in public financing. The bill was sponsored by the California Clean Money Campaign, the California Nurses Association, other labor, environmental and consumer groups, and Common Cause.

Gualco's lobbyist association opposed the bill when it was in the Legislature, along with the California Chamber of Commerce, other business and anti-tax organizations, as well as the state Fair Political Practices Commission and Schwarzenegger's own Department of Finance, even though the governor later approved the measure going to the ballot.

The plaintiffs filed the suit Aug. 25 in Superior Court only after they had registered an identical action in U.S. District Court in Sacramento and saw it dismissed June 15 by Judge Frank C. Damrell. The federal judge threw it out on grounds of lack of "ripeness," because voters had yet to approve the measure and there was no imminent threat of damage to lobbyists.

Loyola Law School professor Richard L. Hasen, an expert in election law, said the lobbyists can expect another tough legal go when their suit comes up for a scheduled Nov. 20 county court hearing in Sacramento in front of Judge Michael P. Kenny.

Hasen said the "ordinary rule" is that lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of ballot measures have to wait until the public votes them in, "on the theory that the voters might turn down the measure and save the court from having to address the constitutional question."

2010 California Primary Election Preview debuts

Last week we began publishing this new June 2010 California Election Preview providing dates, links and resources to help the public keep track of the election as it takes shape.

So far three measures have qualified for the ballot:

Senate Constitutional Amendment 4 of 2008, authored by Senator Roy Ashburn (Property tax: new construction exclusion: seismic retrofitting)

Assembly Bill 583 of 2008, authored by Senator Loni Hancock (Political Reform Act of 1974: California Fair Elections Act of 2008)

Senate Constitutional Amendment 4 of 2009, authored by Senator Abel Maldonado (Elections: open primaries)

See the election preview for links and more details.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bureau of State Audits finalizes regulations for Citizens Redistricting Commission application process

This week the Bureau of State Audits released the final regulations that will govern the new Citizens Redistricting Commission application process. The commission was enacted by California voters via Prop. 11 in 2008. CVF worked with a number of other organizations to help shape and refine these regulations; overall they are good but there were several important changes CVF sought but was not able to achieve. One was to define the term "state office" in a way that would not restrict thousands of former and current state board and commission members and their families from applying to serve on the new commission. CVF also urged the Bureau, unsuccessfully, to refrain from using the Form 700 conflict of interest form as a tool to vet applicants for the commission, as we are concerned that doing so will be both invasive and burdensome for applicants.

CVF's letter regarding use of the Form 700, it is online here. The final regulations are online here. More information about California's Redistricting Reform is available from the CVF web site.

Legislative hearing Thursday Oct. 22 on political reform

The leaders of the California State Senate and Assembly recently announced a new committee made up of ten lawmakers from each house that will explore reform proposals. The Select Committees on Improving State Government have scheduled their first, day-long hearing for Thursday, October 22, at the State Capitol, Room 4202. The hearing begins at 9 a.m. and concludes at 4:30. Topics to be covered include possible legislative branch and budget process reforms. Speakers include Mac Taylor, Bill Hauck, Fred Silva, Bruce Cain, Laura Chick, Bill Lockyer, Robert Naylor and others.

"Getting to Reform" conference - a brief review

Last week on Oct. 14 I attended a conference in Sacramento organized by a number of academic organizations at UC Berkeley, CSU Sacramento and Stanford called "Getting to Reform". The event was sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation and was extremely well attended; over 300 people came for the day-long conference, the purpose of which was to assess the pros and cons of various reform approaches being discussed throughout this year, such as convening a constitutional convention or a constitution revision commission.

If you were not able to attend the conference and would like to see what you missed, there are six free videos available for viewing online from the California Channel web site. One of the panels I found most fascinating was the first one, titled, "What do Californians Think About Reform?" where Mark DiCamillo presented findings from a Field Poll commissioned by Next Ten and a number of other groups involved in the conference. Among the key findings:

* 52 percent of California voters oppose changing the current two-thirds legislative vote requirement to pass a state budget with a simple majority vote;
* 69 percent of voters oppose amending Prop. 13 to allow the state legislature to increase taxes with a simple majority vote;
* 56 percent support the idea of increasing the vote requirements needed to approve amendments to the state constitution from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority vote of the people in an election; and
* 75 percent support requiring initiative sponsors to identify funding sources or areas of the budget to be cut when submitting new initiatives that call for additional spending.

More details about this Field Poll are available here.

I think the most salient point I came away with from the conference was made by Bill Hauck of the California Business Roundtable who served on a constitution revision commission convened in the 1990's following a recession and budget crisis. Hauck noted that it took several years for his commission to complete its work and make recommendations, and by the time that happened the call for reform had died down as the economy had picked back up. Assemblymember Anthony Portantino, who spoke at lunch, made a similar observation about a Constitutional Convention, stating the whole process would take five years and by that time the momentum for change is lost.

It seems like a serious dilemma; if meaningful structural or governance reform is going to be achieved in California, setting the stage to get there may take several years, but it is unclear whether the voting public, or the organizations that would back various reforms, would maintain the long-term commitment needed to see reform measures all the way through.

CVF applauds 2009 EFF Pioneer Award winners

Tomorrow night in San Francisco, the Electronic Frontier Foundation will celebrate this year's Pioneer Award winners. As a Pioneer Award judge (and former recipient) I am very pleased with this year's crop of winners, which includes hardware hacker Limor "Ladyada" Fried, e-voting security researcher Harri Hursti, and public domain advocate Carl Malamud.

More details about this year's Pioneer Award winners and tomorrow's awards dinner are available here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nonprofit news ventures flourish in California

Over the past year or so, a number of new, nonprofit news ventures have been announced, serving both a national and California audience. Largely funded by foundations, these ventures are designed to help plug the news reporting hole resulting from severe staff cutbacks at news organizations across the country in recent years. The four ventures are ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting's California Watch, the Voice of OC (Orange County) and the Bay Area News Project.

Recognizing that the for-profit business media business model is not so profitable these days, a nonprofit model is now being pioneered. First the San Francisco-based Sandler Foundation stepped up in early 2008 with a $10 million, three-year minimum investment to launch and fund ProPublica which is producing hard-hitting investigative pieces and collaborating with commercial news organizations to produce and distribute its stories.

This year, the Hewlett, Knight and Irvine foundations announced their multi-million, multi-year investment to support California Watch, whose staff and editors include many of the finest journalists I have known in California, such as former San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Bob Salladay. The mission of this project, according to its web site, is to "emphasize story telling that holds powerful interests accountable and shines a light on key areas of interest – education, health care, criminal justice, the environment and government oversight. The goal of our reporting is to expose hidden truths, prompt debate and spark change."

More recently, on September 15, down in Santa Ana, the seat of Orange County, The Voice of OC was announced, which is yet another non-profit news venture, but focused specifically on Orange County issues and featuring exclusively online reporting. According to the LA Times' story about this project, the seed funding was obtained from the Orange County Employees Association. The key backers include former state senator Joe Dunn and former veteran LA Times reporter Dan Morain who is serving on the Voice's board.

And just last week, it was reported that San Francisco investor (and host of the beloved Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park) Warren Hellman's family foundation is donating $5 million to start up the Bay Area News Project, in collaboration with KQED and the UC Berkeley School of Journalism.

It's exciting to see all these new ventures get underway, and to see so many public-spirited journalists finding new, innovative avenues for sharing their talent. In the past few years the number of reporters covering Sacramento has dropped significantly. Fortunately now there is a growing number of reporters who will keep tabs on what's happening in Sacramento, Santa Ana, San Francisco and beyond.

I believe a significant precursor to all this public-interest journalism was the civic journalism movement, which was supported back in the 1990s by the Knight Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, which funded the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. I participated in a number of the Pew Center's projects and conferences, and recall how skeptical and even hostile journalists from commercial news organizations were to the notion of civic journalism, and the Pew Center's mission to "create and refine better ways of reporting the news to re-engage people in public life".

Technology and necessity have changed the reporting equation. Of course, nonprofit news is not quite the same as civic journalism, but it stems from a similar sentiment, which is the idea that news coverage is something that should be designed to benefit the public interest and hold politicians accountable. By taking the profit requirement out of the equation the public will hopefully benefit enormously from all these ventures letting loose dozens of public-spirited reporters to watchdog politicians, and will succeed in establishing a new model for journalism.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Comments on draft redistricting reform regulations

On Monday I attended a public hearing at the Crest Theater in Sacramento where the Bureau of State Audits' staff and attorneys (and State Auditor Elaine Howle herself) listened to comments made by a number of people on the regulations the Bureau drafted to facilitate implementation of Proposition 11, the redistricting reform initiative passed by California voters last November.

I was one of about a dozen people who testified; most of the other people who spoke participated in a working group that CVF was also involved with to develop joint recommendations for changes to the regulations. (The organizations that signed on to the joint letter and accompanying appendix include California Common Cause, CA NAACP, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Center for Governmental Studies, the League of Women Voters, the Rose Institute, California Forward and the California Voter Foundation).

While the working group members were successful in reaching consensus on 25 issues and recommendations, there was one issue where we could not agree, and that is the question of how "state office" and "appointed to state office" should be defined in the regulations. Because Proposition 11 was not clear on this issue, these definitions are open to interpretation.

The basic difference of opinion is that some think the definition should be left as the Bureau has drafted it, which would prohibit anyone appointed to a state board or commission in the past ten years, or anyone in their immediate family, from serving on the commission, with the belief that someone who has received an appointment is beholden to their appointer for it and may be perceived as a political insider. Others, including CVF, argue that this broad definition will unnecessarily limit the applicant pool and do a disservice to the initiative by prohibiting too many people and their family members from applying. As is stated in CVF's letter to the State Auditor:

The philosophical question that the State Auditor needs to consider is whether to create a narrow funnel on the front end of the application process that dramatically restricts applicants in such a fashion in order to effectively preclude any possibility of a political insider or crony from applying and serving on the commission, or whether to have a wide funnel on the front end and rely on other provisions of the initiative to weed out any applicants who have a potential partisan or political agenda?

It is the view of the California Voter Foundation (CVF) that there are many other opportunities in the applicant selection process to review applicants for their ability to be impartial; indeed, it is one of just three qualities that determine whether an applicant is qualified to serve on the commission or not. CVF believes it is better to allow a wide funnel at the beginning of the application process and rely on the work of the Applicant Review Panel, the public comment process, and the legislative strikes process to weed out any applicants with a partisan or political agenda. To place such a narrow funnel on the front end of the application process will do a disservice to the initiative, in that it will wipe out large numbers of potential applicants who otherwise may be highly qualified to serve on the commission, and would be inclined to do so.

There were strong views expressed on this issue on both sides during Monday's hearing, and it will be interesting to see how the State Auditor decides on this matter. One issue that the working group did arrive at consensus on is that people appointed to boards or commissions that are advisory only should not be prohibited from applying to serve on the commission. The Auditor's staff plans to have revised regulations published on their site on September 28, followed by an additional 15-day public comment period. More information about California's Redistricting Reform is available from the CVF web site.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Bureau of State Audits issues Prop. 11 redistricting commission regulations

When voters passed Proposition 11 last fall to establish a new, citizens redistricting commission to draw legislative district lines starting in 2011, they gave the job of implementing the measure to the Bureau of State Audits, the state's independent, external auditor. The job went to the Bureau because it is one of the few state agencies truly insulated from political or partisan influence by design. However, implementing an initiative and creating a new state program is not the kind of job usually thrown to this agency and its staff, who more typically focus on the effectiveness and efficiency of existing government programs.

However, it is clear the Bureau is dedicated to successfully implementing Prop. 11, and its staff members and consultants have worked hard throughout this year to gather public input before producing regulations to govern the new commission application and selection process. CVF weighed in with a letter of recommendations, focusing on the need for transparency throughout the process, the random selection process, funding, and other topics.

Over the weekend, the Bureau published on its Prop. 11 homepage the new, draft regulations to guide Prop. 11 implementation. These cover a variety of important topics that will impact significantly the application and selection process. For example, the proposed regulations provide definitions for numerous terms that appear in Prop. 11, including key phrases such as "ability to be impartial", "analytical skills" and "appreciation for California’s diverse demographics and geography" that will be judged by the Bureau's Audit Review Panel in deciding which applicants are most qualified to serve on the new commission.

The new regulations are quite comprehensive, and the package on the Bureau's web site includes a number of supporting memoranda that further explain the thinking and legal basis for the various judgment calls the Bureau's staff made in deciding the specific details on how to implement Prop. 11. A public hearing will take place on September 14 at the Secretary of State's office in downtown Sacramento to gather public input on the draft regulations. The Bureau also invites the public to submit written comments. More information on Proposition 11 is available from the Redistricting Reform section of the CVF web site.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Youth help bridge the digital divide in a Central Valley town

The California Report featured this inspiring radio story reported by Sasha Khokha about a group of teenagers in the Tulare County town of Pixley who are getting training that helps them connect their community to the Internet. As a recent released Public Policy Institute of California/California Emerging Technology Fund study found, the "digital divide" in California persists for Latinos and Californians living in the Central Valley. CETF has invested millions of dollars to close California's digital divide, and programs like Pixley's "Digital Connectors", sponsored by the Great Valley Center, are providing crucial training and assistance to provide high-speed access to underserved Californians.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More talk about a possible constitutional convention

In the weeks following the May 19th special election which saw the Legislature and Governor's attempt to close the budget gap go down in flames, talk about a possible constitutional convention has flared up again. Next Monday in Sacramento, representatives of the Bay Area Council and California Forward will hold a public forum to discuss the pros and cons of this reform approach. In this week's Sacarmento News and Review cover story, "California Renovation", reporter Cosmo Garvin takes a comprehensive look at what a Constitutional Convention might achieve. Excerpts are below.

The California Constitution is no work of art.

It’s more like the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Lots of little rooms, stairs that lead nowhere, doors that open onto blank walls and windows set into the floorboards. “We keep adding rooms, but the hallways don’t connect together,” says state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, of our state’s constitutional house of mystery. “There’s not a lot of thought given to the overall architecture.”

Since 1879, the state constitution has been amended 512 times. Compare that to the U.S. Constitution, which you just don’t mess with. Its 27 amendments are straightforward principles concerning the essential function of government and the rights of the governed.


Support is building for a “constitutional convention,” where delegates from all over the political spectrum would hash out a package of fundamental government reforms and then present them to the voters for approval. One group, called Repair California, is hoping to get a measure on the November 2010 ballot that would call a constitutional convention, the first one in California since 1879.

But a constitutional convention is just one way to give state government a makeover. A group called California Forward, led by former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, is hoping to convince the Legislature to put a package of reforms, called a “constitutional revision,” on the ballot in November 2010. “We have a significant challenge here in California, and we need to fix it as quickly as possible,” Hertzberg told SN&R, adding that his group’s approach would be quicker and more predictable than a constitutional convention.

A convention, a revision … or something else entirely. What’s the best blueprint for fixing California’s ramshackle, dysfunctional mystery house of government?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Assembly bill would give overseas and military voters more time to vote

Should military and overseas voters be given more time to get their ballots delivered? That's what would happen if AB 1340 is enacted. The bill, authored by Assembly Member Bonnie Lowenthal and sponsored by Secretary of State Debra Bowen, would require county election offices to count absentee ballots from overseas and military voters that arrive within ten days of Election Day, as long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day. Last Thursday it sailed out of the Assembly on a unanimous vote and is now headed to the Senate.

As the Pew Center on the States highlighted in its landmark study, No Time To Vote, military voters from half of the U.S. states are not provided ample time to successfully request and cast their absentee ballots (California was found to provide ample time, but only if military voters return their ballots back by fax). A recent Congressional Research Service study requested by Senator Chuck Schumer found that among the seven states with the highest numbers of people serving in the military (including California), more than 25 percent of the ballots requested or returned went uncounted in the last Presidential election. California's Secretary of State has also compiled county-by-county statistics showing how many absentee ballots get sent out, returned, and counted.

While Lowenthal's bill is enjoying strong, bipartisan support in the Assembly, its passage would mark a significant departure in California election policy, representing the first time that ballots received after the close of polls would be eligible to be counted. As the Assembly Elections Committee consultant Ethan Jones points out in his bill analysis. The analysis also notes that Lowenthal's is not the only bill to extend the deadline for receiving and counting overseas absentee ballots; two other bills - AB 1367 by Nathan Fletcher and SB 582 by Robert Dutton - were also introduced. Although neither bill has advanced, the fact that they stalled out may have more to do with the fact that they are authored by Republicans operating in a Democratic-controlled Legislature than with the substance of the measures. There are, however, some significant differences between Dutton's bill and Lowenthal's bill; SB 582 would have given both overseas and domestic military voters the ballot deadline extension, but excluded overseas non-military voters ballots from the change. The extension deadline in Dutton's bill was also longer, 21 days compared to 10 in Lowenthal's bill.

If California were to make the process for voting overseas more reliable and successful, it would likely alleviate pressure from some quarters to move toward Internet voting. While some argue that Internet voting is the solution to time delays involved in casting a paper ballot from overseas, the truth is that Internet voting would create a whole new set of problems that would relegate overseas ballots to security risks and second-class status. There are, however, a number of ways the Internet can and should be used to facilitate overseas voting, such as providing an easy way to request an absentee ballot, look up one's registration or absentee ballot status, and access reliable election information. For California's overseas and military voters, their access to such services largely depends on where they are registered and whether that county provides them.

Of course, such services are beneficial for all voters, not just those stationed or living overseas. And inevitably, if AB 1340 or other similar bills are enacted, some may wonder why we don't give all absentee voters the right to have their ballots counted if they are received a few days after the election but postmarked by Election Day? This is, in fact, one of the complaints I hear the most from absentee voters. Many want to hold on to their ballots as long as possible so they can benefit from all of the election discussions and news coverage, but they don't want to wait too long to drop that ballot in the mail and risk the chance that their votes will not be counted.

So what's the downside? Postmarks may be hard to validate, especially if they are from overseas. Postmarks can also be created using in-house postage meters, which opens up the possibility for fraud. In a close contest, ballots received after Election Day may be viewed as suspect and possibly attempts to tilt the outcome.

California already has taken a number of steps to facilitate timely balloting by overseas and military voters. These include giving such voters their ballots sixty days prior to the election (a full month earlier than regular vote-by-mail voters) and also the opportunity to return their ballots by fax. Whether the Legislature will go even further and take the unprecedented step of extending the ballot return deadline for overseas and military voters remains to be seen. The next stop for AB 1340 is a hearing in the Senate Elections Committee on July 7.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The saddest little election ever

Another election day has come and gone, the voters (at least some of them) have spoken, and now the legislature and governor must try again to close the gaping hole in California's budget.

Tuesday was the polar opposite of last November's General Election when there was so much excitement and so many new voters eager to participate. A few million voters participated in the statewide special election, but many more stayed home. The number of voters who cast ballots Tuesday will come out somewhere over 4 million, compared to November 2008, with a turnout of 13.7 million California voters. This week's total turnout numbers may not even exceed those of June 2008 (4.5 million), which also was a pretty sad election.

It's clear voters are eager to participate when there are issues or candidates on the ballot that draw them out and where they feel their vote can make a difference. That was not the case for millions of Californians with this statewide special election. For more thoughts on voter participation trends in California and the election process, take a look at my paper, The California Voters' Experience, published last October.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Election news stories - Capital Public Radio, SF Chronicle

Last Thursday I was a guest on Capital Public Radio's Insight show, talking about the campaign money behind the six propositions on tomorrow's ballot. During the interview a clip from the "Proposition Song 2009" was played - probably the one and only broadcast of the song anywhere! Cap Radio played it as a "fair use" clip - just thirty seconds or so. If you'd like to hear it, an archive of the show is available online.

On Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article by John Wildermuth about the likelihood that more vote-by-mail ballots will be cast in tomorrow's election than ballots cast at the polls. Excerpts are below.

"Mail voters might be a majority next Tuesday, but it will be an anomaly," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting the responsible use of technology in voting.

"While the actual number of mail voters doesn't fluctuate that much, the percentage does," she added. "In a high- turnout election like November's presidential, the mail voters are a smaller fraction of the total."


Schwarzenegger's decision to release the devastating budget details just days before the election points out one of the problems with mail voting.

Up until the day of the election, "news stories are being produced, ads are coming out, more information is becoming available," said Alexander. "Maybe the governor's budget plan changed someone's mind, but if they've already voted by mail, they're out of luck."

While Alexander and other election reformers would like to see the state count every ballot that's postmarked by election day, that's not the way it works in California. Ballots that arrive after the 8 p.m. close of the polls remain unopened and uncounted.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My election Q&A with Channel 10 is available online

This election, like never before, many friends and family members are scratching their heads, extremely confused by the propositions on the ballot, and why we are having the election at all. Yesterday I was Sharon Ito's guest on the Channel 10 (Sacramento's ABC affiliate) "Live Online" show. For a half hour Sharon and I talked about the election and took questions from online viewers. Channel 10 has archived the entire webcast on its site, and you can find it here. The discussion will hopefully help answer many of the questions voters have during this confusing election season.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Channel 10's "Live Online" program today at 11 a.m. - May 19th Election

I'll be Sharon Ito's guest today on Sacramento Channel 10's"Live Online" program, talking about and and answering questions from viewers about next week's statewide special election. Log in here if you'd like to participate. One thing I'll be talking about is the updated Top Contributor Data in our California Online Voter Guide, now showing the top five donors for and against each of the measures on the ballot as of May 2. I'll also be talking about the Proposition Poem we debuted last week.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A "Proposition Poem" for the May 19th special election

From time to time my friends and I create a "Proposition Song" to help get voters acquainted with the propositions on the California ballot (see this 2006 video as an example).

For the May 19th election, I wrote new lyrics to an old tune, "San Francisco Bay Blues", composed by Jesse Fuller. Unfortunately the song is still copyrighted and the copyright owners would not give me permission to release the song we recorded, even though it is nonpartisan and noncommercial. Thus, I can only share the sung version on a strictly private basis.

So, I instead present a bit different of an offering this time, a "Proposition Poem". If you are familiar with "San Francisco Bay Blues" you can of course still sing along! (see this Youtube video of Jesse Fuller, a "one-man band" performing it in 1968). The poem is featured in CVF's special election California Online Voter Guide.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Donations pour in for special election measures

After a rather slow start, it appears the committee supporting Propositions 1A through 1F, "Budget Reform Now" has cranked up the fundraising engine. As can be seen in their late contribution report filings the committee has raised several six-figure donations in recent weeks, including major financial transfusions from Governor Arnold Schwarzegger's "Dream Team" committee.

Some of the big donors giving to support the special election measures include Universal City Studios ($250,000), San Francisco Giants, Golden State Warriors, LA Clippers, and LA Lakers ($25,000 each) Altria ($350,000), Occidental Petroleum ($250,000), and Edison International ($100,000). While there are other committees raising money for an against the ballot measures, none come near to the amount of funds being raised by "Budget Reform Now". Whether all this fundraising and spending will be enough to put the measures over the top remains to be seen. But one thing that is not in doubt: Governor Schwarzenegger is a prolific fundraiser, even in a major economic downtime.

CVF will update its top donor pages of our online voter guide after May 7, when the next periodic committee reports are due.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New California Online Voter Guide for May 19th election

The California Voter Foundation's new California Online Voter Guide is now available online, providing voters with easy access to reliable, nonpartisan information about the six propositions on the May 19th statewide special election ballot. See CVF's news release for more details about the project.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The passing of an election integrity hero

This morning I learned that John Gideon passed away last night. The news has saddened many people, including me, who knew John and greatly value his contribution to election reform. He was a tireless champion of truth and relentless in his efforts to hold election officials accountable. Nearly every day for several years he published a free newsletter, "Daily Voting News", which I and hundreds of other folks received, providing a compilation of important stories and developments in voting technology and elections.

He will be missed by many, for his tenacity, his commitment to integrity and his unwavering belief that the American people deserve better voting equipment than we are getting. One person who greatly admired John Gideon was Rush Holt, the congressman from New Jersey who has carried legislation for several years to require more secure and accountable voting equipment nationwide. Congressman Holt had this to say about John Gideon:
“I share the deep sense of sadness of everyone in the voting integrity community at the untimely loss of this giant of a man whom we all relied on for the most up-to-date information on issues related to electronic voting security through his Daily Voting News and the endless research and reports on the website. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. He will be missed greatly.”

In addition, Brad Friedman, editor of the Bradblog, has written a wonderful tribute to John on his web site and posted some photos. Here's an excerpt:
"...he connected the seemingly disparate dots of local stories, and apparently anecdotal woes, into a cohesive tale of a nation struggling to regain footing on the pedestal on which it had once, and still hoped to stand."

Monday, April 20, 2009

States turn to Web 2.0 tools for upcoming elections

Today the Politics Online conference is taking place in Washington, D.C., and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen spoke on a panel there today about how she sees new technologies being implemented to enable the public to better engage in elections. CNET covered the Secretary's panel, and excerpts from the article by Stephanie Condon are featured below.

State governments are turning to tools like Twitter to manage elections in order to cut costs and keep up with increasingly Net-savvy citizens.

Both California and Ohio are using more Web tools to communicate with citizens and their own staff during elections, the states' respective secretaries of state said Monday.

Through projects such as the Voting Information Project, states have been moving voter information online, such as voter registration instructions, polling locations, and descriptions of issues and candidates on the ballot. Millions of citizens also turn to state-run sites to track election results.

Now, the state of California is planning to utilize cloud computing for its election night services with the aim of saving money by storing data with external hosting providers, said California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen on Monday discussed the use of Web 2.0 tools to manage elections.

Maintaining reliable servers "to have a giant party two or three times a year that lasts four or five hours," is not the best use of the states' resources, Bowen said at the Politics Online Conference here, hosted by the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University and by Campaigns & Elections' Politics Magazine.

That state also intends to use the micro-blogging site Twitter as a means to communicate with its poll workers. Bowen's office currently lacks an effective way to give a quick, direct message to the state's nearly 24,000 precincts, she said.

Such a platform could have been useful during the 2008 presidential primaries, Bowen said, when there was confusion over whether some citizens were eligible to participate in the primaries.

"All it takes is one of our five or six polling workers to have a BlackBerry," she said. "That information (about primary voting eligibility) would have been more than 140 characters, but we could have directed people to a URL with a simple text explanation."

Bowen said she manages her own Twitter and Facebook accounts but redirects complicated questions she receives through constituent services to ensure citizens get complete answers.


It's unlikely, however, that voters will be able to vote online anytime soon, the officials said, given the privacy concerns that would arise. Moreover, creating an online voting system would be "phenomenally expensive," Bowen said, given how complicated it would be.

"We have to know exactly who are you are up to the minute you cast your vote, but we cannot know anything about how you cast your ballot," she said. "We use these voting systems twice every other year, and ... we already have a relatively inexpensive means of voting."

In contrast, there are no privacy concerns associated with using cloud computing to host election night data, Bowen said.
"With election night results, there's nothing that's private," she said. "The question is what is the most efficient, cost-effective way to provide that service."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Secretary of State decertifies Diebold/Premier voting software

Yesterday California Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued this news release announcing she was withdrawing approval of Diebold/Premier voting software version GEMS 1.18.19 after serious security flaws were discovered by Humboldt County. In her release, Secretary of State Bowen said:

“Clearly, a voting system that can delete ballots without warning and doesn’t leave an accurate audit trail should not be used in California or anywhere...I am putting together a comprehensive plan to examine the audit logs of other voting systems to determine if they suffer similar problems. Having a reliable audit log is critical to ensuring that every Californian’s vote is counted as it was cast.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SoS hearing reveals audit log unreliable in all GEMS versions

Yesterday I attended a hearing at the California Secretary of State's office in Sacramento to examine the findings of a recent investigation by the agency's staff into voting software security problems discovered in Premier's (formerly Diebold) voting system.

The first problem discovered was that Premier's vote counting software, called GEMS, had miscounted the total number of ballots cast in Humboldt County last November, omitting 197 ballots that had been previously counted by the system. The county and its election transparency volunteers discovered the problem when they conducted an additional post-election audit of all of the county's ballots.

At the hearing yesterday, Secretary of State staff Lowell Finley reported that this problem, referred to as the "deck zero" problem, was known by Diebold as far back as 2004. Finley stated that Premier had at no point since that time attempted to upgrade its formal documentation of the system. What the company did do was develop a "workaround" so that counties using this particular version of GEMS (1.18.19) could avoid having ballots inadvertantly zeroed out. However, due to personnel changes in Humboldt County and a lack of documentation of the problem by the vendor, the workaround was not known or used in that county in 2008, resulting in the ballot counting error which left out 197 ballots.

But that was really just the start. The Secretary of State's investigation into the "deck zero" problem led to the discovery of another security problem with GEMS 1.18.19: there is a "clear" button feature that allows an election official to clear out the audit logs stored in GEMS. As is noted in Secretary of State Debra Bowen's March 2, 2009 report to the federal Election Assistance Commission:

"GEMS version 1.18.19 not only includes "Clear" buttons that permit deletion of these records, it provides no warning to the operator that exercising the "Clear" command will result in permanent deletion of the records in the log, nor does it require the operator to confirm the command before GEMS executes it."

Yet another audit log problem was discovered, this time by Kim Zetter at Wired News, who reported on her investigation in a January 13th story. After interviewing the Humboldt county registrar of voters and requesting copies of the county's audit logs, Zetter found that those logs failed to show instances where the registrar had intentionally deleted sets of ballots. Here's an excerpt from that story (which also provides screen shots of the audit logs), including comments from computer scientist Doug Jones at the University of Iowa:

The audit logs appear to record only limited types of events on the system and provide no comprehensive record that tracks every event performed by an election official.

Premier didn't respond to a query from Threat Level about the logs. But Jones said the Premier/Diebold system, as far as he knows, provides no single log file that chronologically lists all events in the life of an election.

Instead, he says, the system keeps "lots and lots of different logs" that appear to have been "independently designed by people who didn't talk to each other" and that are incomprehensible to anyone except the vendor.

The Secretary of State's EAC report highlighted this problem, but did not say whether it was limited to the 1.18.19 version, or if it was a problem throughout all versions of GEMS.

Yesterday's hearing provided an opportunity for the Secretary of State to get some further answers. Speakiing on behalf of Diebold/Premier was Justin Bales, the company's western regional manager. He read a prepared statement, saying the company supported withdrawal of certification for GEMS 1.18.19. He implied that the Secretary of State and the county of Humboldt were to blame for not keeping themselves informed. He stated that his company wanted the three counties using GEMS 1.18.19 to move to 1.18.24 like the sixteen other counties in California using it, and he assured the panel that this version mitigates the problems being discussed. He touted the familiar voting technology industry line (i.e. "elections are a matter of people, process and technology"). He acknowledged that the company could have been more aggressive in getting its customers to upgrade, but he objected to the characterization by the Secretary of State that the deck zero problem had been "hidden" by Diebold/Premier, and stated that his company had discussed the problem with its clients many times.

After the prepared statement was read, the Secretary of State's staff panelists had a chance to ask questions. Only one staffer, a veteran of the Secretary of State's office, Chris Reynolds, had a question. Reynolds noted that Bales hadn't commented on the audit logs raised in the staff report. Bales responded by addressing the "clear" button, which he assured Reynolds had been removed in the next version of GEMS that was released a few weeks later. He explained it was there because some of their client counties wanted to use old election templates to create new ones rather than rebuilding them entirely.

Reynolds then asked about the date and time stamp issue, and Bales assured him again that that problem had been addressed in later versions. Finally, Reynolds asked the question I had been waiting for: what about the failure to log certain system events? Was this problem addressed in subsequent versions? Bales answer was: not yet, they're working on it, and it's "high priority".

The implications of this revelation are enormous - if the audit log in all versions of GEMS in use in the United States is not a reliable record of all program activity, election officials in many states and counties across the country have lost a valuable election verification tool. In my testimony before the panel, I urged the Secretary of State to expand their investigation and highlighted the importance of the one percent manual tally and the new state regulation requiring an expanded, ten percent tally in close contests. Kim Zetter's Wired article provides more coverage of yesterday's events. Excerpts are below.

SACRAMENTO, California — Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems) admitted in a state hearing Tuesday that the audit logs produced by its tabulation software miss significant events, including the act of someone deleting votes on election day.

The company acknowledged that the problem exists with every version of its tabulation software.

The revelation confirmed that a problem uncovered by Threat Level in January, and reiterated in a report released two weeks ago by the California secretary of state's office, has widespread implications for election jurisdictions around the country that use any version of the company's Global Election Management System (GEMS) software to tabulate votes. The GEMS software is used to tabulate votes cast on every Premier/Diebold touch-screen or optical-scan machine, and is used in more than 1,400 election districts in 31 states. Maryland and Georgia use Premier/Diebold systems exclusively, therefore the GEMS software counts every vote statewide.

"Today's hearing confirmed one of my worst fears," said Kim Alexander, founder and president of the non-profit California Voter Foundation. "The audit logs have been the top selling point for vendors hawking paperless voting systems. They and the jurisdictions that have used paperless voting machines have repeatedly pointed to the audit logs as the primary security mechanism and 'fail-safe' for any glitch that might occur on machines.

"To discover that the fail-safe itself is unreliable eliminates one of the key selling points for electronic voting security," Alexander said.


When asked by a member of the California secretary of state's staff if the company had done anything to address the problem, Justin Bales, general service manager for Premier/Diebold's western region said, "No, not yet."

Bales went on to say that the GEMS logs have been the same since the software was first created more than a decade ago.
"We never, again, intended for any malicious intent and not to log certain activities," Bales said. "It was just not in the initial program, but now we're taking a serious look at that."

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen called the audit logs "useless" and vowed to investigate the issue further. She told Threat Level after the hearing that an examination of audit logs in other voting systems was also merited in light of these revelations. "Clearly, we're going to have to look at this," Bowen said. "That's one of the obvious next steps."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Secretary of State Hearing today - media advisory

I'll be at the Secretary of State's today for a hearing to examine problems with Premier/Diebold voting equipment. Here are the contents to today's news advisory issued by the Secretary of State:

Secretary of State’s Office to Hold Hearing to
Examine Ballot-Count Errors Previously Unknown in California

WHAT: The Secretary of State’s Office will conduct a public hearing to receive reports and take testimony on the “Deck Zero” anomaly in Premier Election Solutions’ Global Election Management System (GEMS) version 1.18.19.

The Deck Zero software error, which can delete the first group of optically scanned ballots under certain circumstances, caused 197 ballots to be inadvertently deleted from Humboldt County’s initial results in the November 4, 2008, General Election. Upon discovery of the software error, Humboldt County subsequently corrected its election results. Two other California counties, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, used the same software for the November 4 election but encountered no similar problems in counting ballots.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office conducted an independent investigation into the Premier GEMS 1.18.19 software errors and uncovered even more information that was previously unknown to county and state elections officials. For more about the investigation and the public hearing, go to

In the days after the hearing, Secretary Bowen will consider what action – including possible withdrawal of state approval – to take on the Premier GEMS voting system.

WHEN: Tuesday, March 17, 2009, 10:00 a.m.
WHERE: Secretary of State’s Building Auditorium, 1500 11th Street, Sacramento

Friday, March 6, 2009

Secretary of State Hearing on March 17 to examine software vote counting flaw

The Humboldt Transparancy Project uncovered a serious flaw in the vote counting software produced by Premier (formerly Diebold). The group found that the software erased 197 votes. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has sent this report to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission summarizing what happened and providing evidence that the vendor was aware of this flaw for years and did little to inform its customers, the counties of California using it. She is also convening a public hearing, to take place March 17 at the Secretary of State's auditorium in Sacramento.

To me, this all feels a lot like a deja vu. It was just about five years ago that another California Secretary of State, Kevin Shelley, held a series of public hearings to examine the same company's practice of distributing uncertified software to California counties, in violation of California statute. Hundreds of people showed up at the Secretary of State's office. In that case, Diebold was found guilty in court and was fined. Electronic voting machines were decertified.

For more on this episode, see Kim Zetter's Wired article, this synopsis by Mitch Trachtenberg (the Humboldt volunteer who created the software that detected the flaw), and today's Electionline story by Kat Zambon.

Redistricting Reform on Capital Public Radio today

Today on Capital Public Radio (90.9 FM in Sacramento) the program "Insight", hosted by Jeffrey Callison, will take on the topic of redistricting reform. I'll be appearing as a guest on the show, to talk about what's been happening in Sacramento since voters passed Proposition 11, a redistricting reform initiative that shifts the power to draw political district lines from the legislature to a citizens' redistricting commission. The show is on the radio from 2-3 p.m. today and a live webcast is available from the web site. Tim Hodson from the Center for California Studies and Kathay Feng with California Common Cause will also appear as guests.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Legislative hearing today on initiative reform

This morning I'm participating in a joint hearing of the State Senate and Assembly elections committees, which will explore whether California needs initiative reform. The hearing is taking place at the State Capitol, Room 3191, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Other speakers include Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California, and author Peter Schrag. Here is the agenda. A live webcast of the hearing will be available on the California Channel.

CA Constitutional Convention Summit coverage

I spent most of my day yesterday at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in downtown Sacramento where hundreds of people from all over the state convened to talk about whether California needs a constitutional convention. Though I saw a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, there were many people from out of town, including an array of local elected officials. While there was no consensus on that larger question of whether to call a summit, there was a lot of information provided about how a Constitutional convention could be convened, and debate about what topics would be considered.

Read John Wildermuth's story in today's San Francisco Chronicle or Eric Bailey's story in the Los Angeles Times for more details on yesterday's summit, and see the Bay Area Council's (the convening organization) Q&A document for information about the process.

CVF Redistricting reform letter, upcoming hearings

Last week I sent this letter on behalf of the California Voter Foundation to the Bureau of State Audits, which is responsible for implementing many provisions of Proposition 11, the redistricting reform initiative passed by voters last November. CVF's letter comments on the Applicant Review Panel, the Commission Application Process, Random Selection, Transparency in and Public Access to the Process, Funding, and Independent Voters. CVF board member Joseph Lorenzo Hall also submitted a letter, commenting on random selection issues.

This CVF-NEWS provides additional information about this process and upcoming public meetings in San Francisco (this Friday, February 27 and Sacramento (next Tuesday, March 3 in the Secretary of State's auditorium).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bay Area Council & others to host a Constitutional Convention summit

Next Tuesday, February 24 in Sacramento, an unusual event will be taking place. The Bay Area Council, along with a number of other nonpartisan organizations, is hosting a Constitutional Convention Summit, which will gather the state’s top leaders to review research, discuss the process, begin building a coalition to support a possible convention, and solicit ideas about what should be included in the convention. Visit the Council's web site for more details about the goals of this event. Admission is $89. A draft agenda is also available.

Statewide special election may be called this year

Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle featured this story by John Wildermuth reporting on the coming special election needed to get voter approval on a number of components of the new budget deal passed this morning by the Legislature.

Regardless of when a new budget deal gets passed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger still is going to need help from California's voters to close the state's $42 billion budget gap, and that help may not be easy to come by.

Although the Legislature spent the weekend in nearly continuous session, trying to find the votes to pass the new fiscal plan, legislators still face the prospect of putting billions of dollars in borrowing, revenue shifts and budget revisions on the ballot in a statewide special election later this year.

"Several key components of the budget agreements need to go back to the voters because they're revisions of ballot measures the voters originally approved," said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance.

A special election vote will be anything but a slam dunk.

The biggest item on the ballot will be a plan that allows the state to borrow $5 billion and repay it with future revenues from the state lottery. When California voters authorized the lottery in 1984, its sole purpose was to bring in extra money for state schools.

The new ballot measure would allow the state to use the lottery "to provide funds for other public purposes" and borrow against future revenues.

But 61 percent of likely voters opposed the lottery borrowing in a poll last month by the Public Policy Institute of California, showing how much work the governor has to do to turn those numbers around.

Other measures expected to be on the ballot for the special election, which doesn't yet have a date, include revisions to 1998's Proposition 10, a measure by movie director Rob Reiner that put a 50-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes for new children's programs, and 2004's Proposition 63, which taxed the richest Californians to support new mental health programs.

There's also a future cap on state spending, which would set a limit on budget increases and put any additional money into a rainy-day fund for tough financial times. Another measure would tinker with Proposition 98, which sets a minimum funding level for California schools.

The spending cap, a favorite of Republicans, is an especially important part of the puzzle. Most of the new taxes now are slated to last for four or five years. But if the spending cap doesn't pass, they will disappear after two years.

"There's a real danger that all the people who don't like what was done in the budget will get together and fight the ballot measures," said Tony Quinn, a former GOP consultant who is currently co-editor of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which follows state political campaigns. "This could be a real hard sell."

Potential opposition is already forming.

Monday, February 9, 2009

NYT analysis on Prop. 8 donor disclosures

Sunday's New York Times Business section featured this column, "Prop 8 Donor Web Site Shows Disclosure Law Is 2-Edged Sword", by Brad Stone, discussing how the disclosures of Prop. 8 donors' personal information is challenging long-standing open government ideals. Excerpts are below.

For the backers of Proposition 8, the state ballot measure to stop single-sex couples from marrying in California, victory has been soured by the ugly specter of intimidation.

Some donors to groups supporting the measure have received death threats and envelopes containing a powdery white substance, and their businesses have been boycotted.

The targets of this harassment blame a controversial and provocative Web site,

The site takes the names and ZIP codes of people who donated to the ballot measure — information that California collects and makes public under state campaign finance disclosure laws — and overlays the data on a Google map.

Visitors can see markers indicating a contributor’s name, approximate location, amount donated and, if the donor listed it, employer. That is often enough information for interested parties to find the rest — like an e-mail or home address. The identity of the site’s creators, meanwhile, is unknown; they have maintained their anonymity. is the latest, most striking example of how information collected through disclosure laws intended to increase the transparency of the political process, magnified by the powerful lens of the Web, may be undermining the same democratic values that the regulations were to promote.

With tools like eightmaps — and there are bound to be more of them — strident political partisans can challenge their opponents directly, one voter at a time. The results, some activists fear, could discourage people from participating in the political process altogether.

That is why the soundtrack to is a loud gnashing of teeth among civil libertarians, privacy advocates and people supporting open government. The site pits their cherished values against each other: political transparency and untarnished democracy versus privacy and freedom of speech.

“When I see those maps, it does leave me with a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which has advocated for open democracy. “This is not really the intention of voter disclosure laws. But that’s the thing about technology. You don’t really know where it is going to take you.”

Ms. Alexander and many Internet activists have good reason to be queasy. California’s Political Reform Act of 1974, and laws like it across the country, sought to cast disinfecting sunlight on the political process by requiring contributions of more than $100 to be made public.

Eightmaps takes that data, formerly of interest mainly to social scientists, pollsters and journalists, and publishes it in a way not foreseen when the open-government laws were passed. As a result, donors are exposed to a wide audience and, in some cases, to harassment or worse.


Joseph Clare, a San Francisco accountant who donated $500 to supporters of Proposition 8, said he had received several e-mail messages accusing him of “donating to hate.” Mr. Clare said the site perverts the meaning of disclosure laws that were originally intended to expose large corporate donors who might be seeking to influence big state projects.

“I don’t think the law was designed to identify people for direct feedback to them from others on the other side,” Mr. Clare said. “I think it’s been misused.”

Many civil liberties advocates, including those who disagree with his views on marriage, say he has a point. They wonder if open-government rules intended to protect political influence of the individual voter, combined with the power of the Internet, might be having the opposite effect on citizens.

“These are very small donations given by individuals, and now they are subject to harassment that ultimately makes them less able to engage in democratic decision making,” said Chris Jay Hoofnagle, senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California.


“The key here is developing a process that balances the sometimes competing goals of transparency and privacy,” said the professor, Ned Moran, whose undergraduate class on information privacy spent a day discussing the eightmaps site last month.

“Both goals are essential for a healthy democracy,” he said, “and I think we are currently witnessing, as demonstrated by eightmaps, how the increased accessibility of personal information is disrupting the delicate balance between them.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

California initiative campaigns cost $227 million

The Associated Press' Steve Lawrence wrote this recent article about the amount of money spent on California propositions in the last election. Excerpts are below.

The rest of California's economy was slumping, but the state remained a treasure-trove last fall for campaign consultants and others who make money off political races.

That's short of the record but still represents a huge investment in television and radio advertisements and other campaign spending.

"That's a lot of money," said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based think tank that studies campaign finance issues.

The record for spending on ballot measures in one California election was set in 2006, when donors poured $333 million into campaigns for and against 13 propositions on the November ballot.

A 12th proposal on last November's ballot, which authorized the sale of $900 million in bonds to finance veterans' home loans, attracted little or no spending.

It was just the opposite in the campaign over Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban that passed with 52 percent of the vote. Supporters and opponents spent more than $83 million, making it the most expensive ballot measure on a social issue in the nation's history.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit organization, said the fundraising for and against Proposition 8 was unlike anything she has seen in her 15 years tracking campaign spending.

"It was a truly nationwide, grassroots effort on both sides," she said.

The record for spending on a single California proposition also was set in 2006, when $154.3 million was spent in the fight over Proposition 87, which would have imposed a tax on oil production.

California ballot initiatives often generate huge amounts of spending because the effect — win or lose — can ripple across the nation.

"And industry groups that are affected by these measures know that the stakes are high, that if something pops out of the initiative process in California it's something that other states and the federal government will notice," Alexander said.

Industry groups weighed in heavily on two unsuccessful energy-related measures on last November's ballot, propositions 7 and 10.

Three utility companies, Edison International, PG&E Corp. and Sempra Energy, provided almost all of the $29.8 million spent to defeat Proposition 7, which would have required utilities to get at least half their electricity from renewable energy sources such as windmills and solar panels by 2025.

Supporters spent $9.6 million, $9 million of which came from Peter Sperling, senior vice president of the Apollo Group, which operates several private universities, including the University of Phoenix.

National gas companies, including Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens' Clean Energy Fuels Corp., contributed 98 percent of the $22.8 million spent to promote Proposition 10. Among other things, it would have authorized the sale of $5 billion in state bonds to provide rebates to buyers of natural gas and other alternative-fuel vehicles.

Opponents said it would have benefited Pickens' fuel company and similar ones. They spent just $173,000 but emerged victorious.

Other high-dollar initiative campaigns included:

_ Proposition 2, which set enclosure standards for farm animals. Supporters spent $10.6 million, opponents $8.9 million.

_ Proposition 4, a third unsuccessful attempt by abortion opponents to require parental notification before a minor could get an abortion. Supporters spent $3.2 million, opponents $9.5 million.

_ Proposition 5, which attempted to expand drug treatment and rehabilitation programs. Supporters spent $7.6 million, opponents $2.8 million.

_ Proposition 11, which created a state commission to redraw legislative districts following each national census. Supporters spent $16.6 million, opponents $1.6 million.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Prop. 8 campaign can't hide donors' names

Today a federal district court judge ruled against the Proposition 8 campaign's request that it not be compelled by state law to release the names of its campaign donors on February 2, when the next campaign finance disclosure reports are required to be filed. This San Francisco Chronicle article by Bob Egelko covers today's court actions. Excerpts are below.

Proposition 8 proponents' complaint that a California campaign-finance disclosure law has led to harassment of same-sex marriage opponents failed today to sway a federal judge, who refused to throw out the law or shield donors' names.

Lawyers for Protect Marriage, sponsor of the constitutional amendment that won voter approval Nov. 4, said contributors have already faced consumer boycotts, picketing and even death threats after the state posted their names and other information in mandatory campaign reports.

They argued that the law requiring disclosure of all donors of $100 or more interfered with the campaign's right to participate in the political process and should be struck down, modified to raise the dollar limits, or at least not applied to contributors to the measure outlawing same-sex marriage.

As a first step, the campaign sought an exemption from the state's post-election contribution report, due next week.

But U.S. District Judge Morrison England, after a one-hour hearing in Sacramento, said California's $100 reporting requirement - adopted by the voters in 1974 - is a valid means of informing the public about the financing of ballot measure campaigns.

"If there ever needs to be sunshine on a particular issue, it's a ballot measure," England said, observing that initiatives are often sponsored by committees with misleading names.

Some of the reprisals reported by the Prop. 8 committee involve legal activities such as boycotts and picketing, England said. He said other alleged actions, such as death threats, mailings of white powder and vandalism, may constitute "repugnant and despicable acts" but can be reported to law enforcement.

Even if there have been illegal reprisals, that would be insufficient reason to grant a wholesale exemption for a multimillion-dollar campaign with thousands of donors, the judge said.

Any desire by donors to remain anonymous is outweighed by the state's authority to require "full and fair disclosure of everyone who's involved in these political campaigns," England said.

Lawyers for Protect Marriage said they would not seek to block the next campaign filing, which is due Monday, but would take their case against the disclosure law to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Prop. 8 disclosure lawsuit to be heard in federal court tomorrow

As was reported a few weeks ago in a San Francisco Chronicle article by Bob Egelko, the proponents of Proposition 8, an initiative passed by voters in November that bans gay marriage in California, have sued the Secretary of State and the Fair Political Practices Commission, claiming that California's campaign finance disclosure laws infringe upon their donors' rights to freedom of speech. The plaintiffs state in their lawsuit that the campaign's donors have been harassed for their contributions, which they say has had a chilling effect on contributions. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to excuse them from filing a new round of disclosure reports, which are due February 2. A hearing will take place tomorrow morning in Sacramento's federal courthouse to hear the motion for a preliminary injunction and decide whether the Prop. 8 campaign will be required to report their donors on February 2 or not.

This lawsuit is a serious challenge to California's disclosure laws, and if successful would have a potentially wide-ranging impact on voters' abilities in the future to know who is funding initiative campaigns. The suit is " vs. Debra Bowen". The plaintiffs' complaint is online, as is the Attorney General's brief opposing the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

State Auditor sets public meetings for Prop. 11 redistricting commission

This week the Bureau of State Audits announced it has set dates and locations for a series of public meetings around the state to take testimony from the public about the development of a new commission that will be responsible for drawing legislative district lines following the 2010 Census. The commission is being created due to the passage of a redistricting reform measure, Proposition 11, on the November 2008 ballot.

The meetings start on January 26 in Sacramento, then move to San Diego (Feb. 9), Fresno (Feb. 20), Los Angeles (Feb. 23) and San Francisco (Feb. 27). The Bureau has also created a new Prop. 11 homepage on its web site where information relating to the commission will be made available to the public. The page currently features this Notice of Interested Persons Meetings document, which includes details about the purpose of the public meetings. Excerpts are below.

Although participants may comment on any aspect of the State Auditor’s role in the implementation of the Act, the State Auditor is particularly interested in comments regarding the following:

* The application process for the selection of members of the Commission as discussed in Article XXI, Section 2(c)(3) of the California Constitution and Section 8252(a)(1) of the California Government Code.

* The creation of the Applicant Review Panel to screen Commission applicants as discussed in Section 8252(b) of the California Government Code.

* The removal of individuals from the applicant pool based on conflicts of interest identified in the Act as discussed in Section 8252(a)(2) of the California Government Code.

* The publication of the names in the applicant pool as discussed in Section 8252(c) of the California Government Code.

* The random selection of eight members of the Commission as discussed in Section 8252(f) of the California Government Code.

* The creation of a new pool of qualified applicants in the event of a vacancy on the Commission with no qualified person left in the pool previously established by the State Auditor to fill vacancies as discussed in Section 8252.5(b) of the California Government Code.

Those who wish to submit comments but cannot do so in person are invited to do so in writing. Contact information is provided in the Notice linked above.