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.