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.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pew study -- overseas voters in 16 states and DC cannot effectively vote

A new study released by the Pew Center on the States' Make Voting Work program finds that overseas military voters in 16 states and the District of Columbia cannot effectively submit a valid ballot due to the way overseas ballots are processed. While it would be easy to conclude that moving toward online voting could be a solution, the folks at Pew have wisely not concluded this, pointing to research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Excerpts from today's Stars and Stripes article, by Leo Shane III, are featured below.

Overseas military voters from 16 states and the District of Columbia had little chance of successfully voting in the presidential election this year, according to a new study released Tuesday.

Researchers from The Pew Center on the States found that the slow pace of the postal services and the late mailing deadlines for absentee ballots made it nearly impossible for military voters in those 17 areas to have their ballot verified and counted.

"We’re failing in our responsibility to provide for military voters overseas," said David Becker, director of the Center’s Make Voting Work project. "While they’re serving America, our voting system is not serving them."

The average time for the process in those states was 66 days, and more than 80 days in states such as Georgia and Alabama, according to the report. Authors advocated faster delivery of ballots to those overseas voters, whether through better mail processing or use of fax and e-mail technology.

Three other states had only a one- or two-day margin of error for the paperwork’s travel though the mail, the report said. Six other states could process the ballots in time, but only if voters used potentially unsecure faxed or e-mailed ballots.


"The ability to successfully vote depends on what state you’re voting in. It shouldn’t matter what state you’re from, but it does," said Kil Huh, research director for the study.

The center advocates that all states eliminate rules requiring ballots be notarized or witnessed, and it wants officials to allow ballots to be faxed or e-mailed to voters. Huh said the cost of such moves would be minimal but potentially provide weeks more time for voters to cast a ballot.

But the group does not support allowing votes to be returned through the same electronic methods, even though 19 states have already authorized receiving completed ballots that way.

A recent study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology indicated virtually no security risks with delivering blank ballots to overseas voters via electronic methods but significant security issues with actually voting over e-mail or fax.

"We’re not saying that those kinds of systems can’t be developed in the future," Becker said. "But barring those solutions, it’s not a feasible option right now."

The study only tracked military ballots and only looked at voting systems in the 50 states and District of Columbia, not U.S. territories. Huh said the 25 states that do allow enough time for ballots to arrive and be returned provide a useful model for the other states which do not.

However, the Center is pushing for uniform standards across all 50 states, to simplify the process for overseas voters.

Ventura county registrar retires; urges supes to keep position an elected one

On January 2 the Ventura County Star published this article by Tony Biasotti profiling Phil Schmidt, who is retiring as registrar of voters for Ventura County after 22 years of county employment. According to the article, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors is considering whether to convert the registrar's position from an elected to an appointed one.

Schmidt wisely has advised the board to keep it elected, saying, "The person who’s running the election should be accountable to the voters.” The article also points out that Schmidt oversaw the county's switch from punch cards to optical scan voting machines, noting that by not moving an all-electronic voting system (as many other counties did in the period during Schmidt's tenure), the county saved $20 million.

These two facts are not unrelated. The truth is that nearly all of the counties that bought all-electronic systems had election departments run by appointed registrars of voters, who had a great deal of influence in the counties' decisions to buy electronic voting machines. From my observation, Mr. Schmidt is correct -- in the case of the electronic voting machine debacle, having county registrars of voters elected, rather than appointed by boards of supervisors made a huge difference.