Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Capitol Weekly article on slate mailers

On Election Day last week Capitol Weekly published an excellent, comprehensive story by Malcolm MacLachlan about the increased use of slate mailers in California elections, the deliberate confusion and misleading of voters these kinds of publications cause, and the difficulty in tracking the responsible parties.  Excerpts are below.


 “Proposition 19 allows school bus drivers to smoke pot right before work,” according to a mailer from the Small Business Action Committee. Prop. 19, of course, says no such thing, and specifically allows employers to discipline and fire employees who are impaired on the job.

A “Voting Guide for Republicans,” meanwhile, specifically makes the unlikely recommendation that members of the GOP vote for Democrat Bill Lockyer for Treasurer, instead of his Republican challenger, Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Tustin. It also urges “Republican voters” to oppose Prop. 23, even though the California Republican Party and a large majority of Republican voters support the initiative, which would indefinitely suspend the state’s AB 32 global warming law. It also states that Republicans should oppose Prop. 20 and support Prop. 27, the exact opposite of the party’s position on these redistricting measures.

Then there’s the “Californians Vote Green” slate card. It doesn’t claim to have anything to do with the California Green Party. But it’s printed in green, with images of trees. This “green” slate doesn’t endorse any Green Party candidates. Instead, it calls for votes for the entire statewide Democratic slate, except Attorney General, where it endorses Republican Steve Cooley. The card says nothing about the Proposition 19 marijuana-legalization initiative, which has the support of 95 percent of Green Party county chapters in the state. The Green Party allows county organizations to vote on initiative endorsements.

“It’s interesting they need to pretend to be us to get votes, maybe I should take it as flattery,” said Derek Iverson, a spokesman for the state Green Party. He added that his party doesn’t “have the money” to send out large numbers of mailers.

When it comes to propositions, the slate differs from the actual Green Party recommendations on all but two ballot measures. It calls for a no vote on Prop. 20 and yes votes on Prop. 22 and Prop. 27, when the state Green Party takes no position on any of those three. The slate urges a no vote on Prop. 25 and yes on Prop. 26, the exact opposite of the Green Party positions.

The Prop. 26 claim on the slate is particularly egregious, saying “26 makes polluters pay.” Much of the opposition to Prop. 26, which would re-label many fees and taxes and require two-thirds votes to pass them, is that it contains specific provisions that many say would let polluters off the hook when it comes to cleaning up their own messes.

Misleading campaign mailers have been a part of California politics for many years, of course. But Iverson said they seem to be worse this year. This may have something to do with the Citizens United case back in January, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts on campaigns if they stuck to so-called “issue ads.”

While the case had the least effect on California, which already has that system, Iverson contends the resulting blizzard of money nationwide appeared to make people more brazen.

All three mailers contain a disclaimer, usually in small print, that the mailer was not produced by “an official political party organization.”

Tracking down the companies behind these mailers can be difficult.

CaliforniansVoteGreen.com is registered to Enom, Inc., a Bellvue, Washington-based domain wholesaler which allows the actual buyers of domains to remain anonymous. The “Voting Guide for Republicans” doesn’t even list a website one can visit.

In fact, even though it contains at least one over-the-top lie, the Small Business Action Committee (SBAC) mailer is a model of honesty compared to the others. It at least links back to actual recognizable human beings — in this case, Joel Fox, the publisher of the Fox & Hounds website and the president of the SBAC. It also basically follows the CRP when it comes to propositions, though the mailer takes no position on Prop. 21, which the party opposes, and supports Prop. 22, on which the party takes no position.


Further confusing matters is the recent “Voter information guide for Democrats,” put out by the Voter Information Guide company based in Sherman Oaks. The guides contains the same “not an official party organization” disclaimer, but agrees with the California Democratic Party on everything. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

AP report on glitches around the state

The Associated Press' Gillian Flaccus wrote this article about scattered problems and glitches around the state - most notably that many polling locations ran short on provisional ballot envelopes due to a higher rate of provisional voters than apparently was expected. Excerpts about problems in Santa Clara, Fresno, San Diego, and other California counties are featured below.

Midterm elections in California went off smoothly overall on Tuesday, with voters in Fresno County battling long lines due to a cut in the number of precincts and elections officials reporting spotty shortages of ballots and ballot envelopes in some precincts.

In Northern California's Santa Clara County, ink smudges were erased from 100,000 mail-in ballots because they appeared to confuse vote-tallying optical scanners, and in Los Angeles a watchdog group reported that two dozen residents received Spanish language robocalls and mailers instructing them to vote a day after Election Day.

U.S. Justice Department officials were investigating the robocall complaints from the watchdog group Election Protection, the group's Los Angeles hot line director Kathay Feng said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Mitchell, who is overseeing voting-related claims for Southern California, confirmed he had received "one or more" complaints, but was unable to comment on them.

Overall, Election Protection received 20,000 requests for assistance nationwide, with more than 3,400 of them coming from California voters, said Feng.

"I think that there were problems both at the institutional level as well as with human error and also a few sporadic instances of intentional voter intimidation," she said.

The Secretary of State's election results page crashed because of heavy Internet traffic, but by 8:45 p.m. PDT election officials were posting periodic summaries of results, said Nicole Winger, spokeswoman. The full site, with maps and other interactive features, remained down, she said.

In Fresno County, officials reduced the number of voting locations by nearly half due to budget cuts and saw long lines outside the remaining polling places. An activist group called Communities for a New California called upon the county to set up mobile polling stations and released photos showing long wait times at some precincts.

Victor Salazar, the county's registrar, said his office had Saturday voting at 20 locations the weekend before the election and sent postcards to registered voters alerting them of the changes.

Elsewhere, election officials reported temporary ballot or ballot envelope shortages at a handful of locations.

In San Diego, between 10 to 20 polling locations at San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego, temporarily ran out of envelopes for provisional ballots because of the number of students showing up to vote, said Deborah Seiler, the county's registrar. The stations did not run out of regular ballots, she said.

Poll workers had voters write their information on slips of paper that were stapled to the ballots until the county could deliver several hundred more envelopes, Seiler said.

In Santa Barbara County, one polling station either on or near the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus ran low on envelopes for provisional ballots, said Billie Alvarez, the chief deputy registrar.

"It's been a pretty steady turnout," she said.

In El Dorado County, several polling places also ran low on ballots but election staff replenished the supply, said Norma Gray, the assistant registrar.

Reports of scattered problems in California on Election Day

Overall things appear to have gone pretty smoothly in California on Election Day yesterday, but there was a report, apparently not yet substantiated, of a dirty trick played on Latino voters in Los Angeles. Excerpts from Jim Sanders' story in the Sacramento Bee are featured below.

California election watchdogs were attempting today to track down reports of a dirty trick aimed at keeping Los Angeles Latino voters from the polls - but no hard evidence of wrongdoing had surfaced by early evening.
Shannan Velayas, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Debra Bowen, said the office could not confirm that Spanish-language robocalls or a mailer had been sent to Los Angeles Latinos urging them to cast votes Wednesday - the day after today's election.
"The secretary of state takes these allegations very seriously," Velayas said. "We are asking anyone who may have a recording to share it with the secretary of state's office because our investigators have not heard an actual recording."
Efrain Escobedo, spokesman for the Los Angeles registrar of voters said much the same thing: The office had received unconfirmed reports of such shenanigans but nobody had stepped forward with proof.
Los Angeles' voter officials routinely contacted the secretary of state and the attorney general's office about the reports. Meanwhile, it is stressing to voters that polls will be open until 8 p.m. today.
Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said she is participating in a nonprofit coalition, Election Protection, that received from the California Democratic Party the addresses of about two dozen people who allegedly had received a robocall or mailer providing an erroneous election date.
Feng said the affected voters live in south or central Los Angeles, within heavily Latino neighborhoods encompassing about six zip codes.
"We don't know if it's real or not," Feng said, noting that many hours had passed since the initial reports and no hard evidence had surfaced.
Tenoch Flores, California Democratic Party spokesman, described the reports as "rumor and second hand."
"We're looking into (the reports), but more importantly, we're reminding people that today is, in fact, Election Day," Flores said.
The attorney general's office released no information today about the alleged wrongdoing.
Feng said there have been other incidents of political dirty tricks targeting minority communities in years past.
In 2006, thousands of naturalized citizens with Latino surnames living in Orange County received a letter falsely stating that they could be arrested if they tried to vote in balloting for the seat of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Anaheim.

Secretary of State election results site inaccessible on election night

Last night I, like many other people, hopped on the Secretary of State's election results web site after the polls closed at 8 p.m. to find out what the early vote-by-mail election results would be.  These are the votes normally reported by counties to the Secretary of State as soon as the polls close, and give folks who are watching election results a preview of what's to come over the next hours and days as votes are counted.

But I could not get into the site.  I kept getting a message saying the site was unavailable.  I tried repeatedly over the next few hours with no luck. So I changed CVF's election returns web page to also feature results from the Sacramento Bee, which was providing updated numbers online throughout the night. I tried accessing the site up until 11 p.m. at which point I gave up and called it a night.

Today the Secretary of State's elections results server is operating once again and the Los Angeles Times' Patrick McGreevy reported that the reason it had failed was because traffic to the website was "exponentially higher than what was even projected".  This is surprising to me.  I have been accessing election returns online through the California Secretary of State's web site since 1994, when California became the first state in the nation or world to provide such a service to the public.  Over the many years of presidential elections, special elections, and incredibly high turnout elections such as we saw in November 2008, I have never found the site to be totally inaccessible.  Slow at times, yes.  But never "not available".

For more see excerpts from McGreevy's article below.

The state agency, which has notoriously had problems with its computers, put up an alternative posting of all election results while it tried to work out the problems, according to spokeswoman Nicole Winger.
The state was using a "cloud computing" system in which at least 50 servers outside the Secretary of State’s office were being used to manage the heavy traffic.
"The traffic to the website has been exponentially higher than what was even projected" by the state’s IT experts, she said. "The traffic basically blew up the cloud." She said web traffic at the Secretary of State’s site was higher than experienced during the last presidential election.
Former Rep. Gov. Pete Wilson cited the "crash" of the Secretary of State’s computer site as one reason results were slow in coming in the governor’s race.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Millions of Calif. Vote-by-Mail ballots unreturned

The Associated Press' Robin Hindery reported yesterday that millions of vote-by-mail ballots have not yet been returned.  Many of those voters will be casting ballots at polling places today instead.  Some will bring their vote-by-mail ballots with them, and some won't.  Those who don't will have to cast provisional ballots instead which require extra paperwork and handling so election officials can be sure nobody is voting twice.  All of this means it may be a long wait to learn the final results of contests where the results are close.  See more details in the excerpts featured below.

The state's 58 counties had reported receiving just under 3 million absentee ballots as of early afternoon Monday — less than 40 percent of the 7.6 million ballots requested statewide for the general election, according to the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.

In some counties, vote-by-mail is expected to exceed in-person voting.

That means a huge number of last-minute returns will not be processed Tuesday, and the most competitive races may remain too close to call.

"The ballots are coming in later than average and there's more of them than average, which means more uncounted ballots on election night," said Contra Costa County Clerk Steve Weir, who estimated that one-quarter of his county's absentee ballots would not be included in Tuesday's tally.  Recent polls show a number of extremely close contests in California, including the races for lieutenant governor and attorney general. In addition, about half a dozen congressional seats and several state legislative seats are thought to be in play.

Gail Pellerin, Santa Cruz County clerk and head of the statewide clerks association, said Monday that the return rate so far was about what she expected.

"When you issue 7.6 million (ballots), you're not going to get 7.6 million back," she said. "Ideally, there would be more at this point, but you take what you can get."

Experts say turnout this year will likely hover around 60 percent — similar to past midterm elections but significantly lower than 2008, when more than 79 percent of registered voters participated.

Counties started sending out vote-by-mail ballots the first week of October. Since then, almost all of the calls received by the nonprofit California Voter Foundation have been procedural questions about how to fill them out, said the group's president, Kim Alexander.

"Even though vote-by-mail continues to be popular, I expect more than half of the ballots will still be cast at the polls," she said.

Some voters may not have returned their ballots early because they lost them or filled them out incorrectly, Alexander said.

Pellerin had another possible explanation.

"I guess we're just creatures of procrastination," she said.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Voter registration in California: 17.3 million are registered, 6.3 million are not

The Secretary of State released a new Report on Registration, reflecting all the registrations that were processed before the November election deadline.  Currently 73 percent of Californians who are eligible to vote are registered, while 27 percent are not, accounting for almost 6.3 million Californians. While some of those who are not registered to vote are people who deliberately sit out at election time, many are people who have been registered to vote before but are not registered at their current address.