Record percentage of voters choose mail in June

The pitiful turnout in the California June primary election produced at least one notable statistic: The highest percentage of voters on record cast their ballots by mail rather than at the polls.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified the election results and reported a 58.7 percent vote-by-mail rate, which topped the previous record of 46.9 percent in June 2006.

The growing numbers of voters who cast their ballots through the mail is raising questions about the increasing cost of funding two elections, one at the polls and one through the mail. It is also dramatically changing campaign dynamics as candidates must find ways to put out their messages to a bifurcated audience.

Here’s Bowen press release: Continue Reading


Reformists urge ballot initiative upgrades

The Center for Government Studies has released a new report calling for significant reforms to California’s nearly 100-year-old ballot initiative system.

Adopted by voters in 1911, the ballot initiative process allowed citizens to bypass the influence of special interest money on state legislators and place new laws on the ballot for voter consideration. But in the past decade, more money has been spent to promote or oppose ballot measures than on lobbying, say Center for Governmental Studies public policy experts Tracy Westen and Bob Stern.

Recommendations include provisions that would allow initiative proponents to bring proposed laws first to the Legislature and establish a more flexible system for amendments both before and after passage. The center also calls for any initiative that establishes a two-thirds vote requirement for passage of future policies to also pass by a two-thirds margin rather than a majority.

“We believe these reforms would result in a 15 to 20 percent drop in the number of initiatives and result in better drafted initiatives for voters,” Stern said in a meeting this afternoon with the Contra Times Times editorial board.

Stern and Westen say they will seek more input and eventually boil down the roughly 40 recommendations into … what else? … a ballot initiative for 2010.

Click here to read the report and the full set of recommendations.


Learn ‘nuts’ and ‘bolts’ of running for office


The Concord Chamber of Commerce and the Concord campaign consulting firm of Big Picture Coaching will host a workshop on July 12 for prospective political candidates.

Click here for a PDF flyer about “Ready Set Run: An Introduction to the Nuts and Bolts of Running for Office.”

“I’ve seen candidates pull papers one day and drop out the next day,” said Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Keith McMahon. “That told me that potential leaders don’t understand the process. I also think people are intimidated sometimes by the idea of running a campaign. We want to help demystify it.”

The introduction to running for public office will feature a workshop, “Elements of Winning Campaign,” by Mary Jo Rossi, owner of Big Picture Coaching, followed by lunch and panel discussion with Concord Councilman Guy Bjerke, former state Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla and Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer.

Attendees will learn about the paperwork required, tips on how much money it costs to run campaigns, crafting a platform and fund-raising, McMahon said.

The chamber is co-sponsoring the event as the inaugural of its newly formed Contra Costa Political Institute in order to help attract qualified, business-friendly candidates to run for local and countywide offices in Contra Costa, McMahon said. Future institute programs, based on local interest, could include candidate debates and workshops on related subjects.

“We hope to encourage community minded people to run to make government for accountable and give a voice to business,” McMahon said.

The event will be held from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at Heald College’s multi-purpose room, 5130 Commercial Circle, in Concord.

It is open to all political persuasions and anyone with an interest in the subject but space is limited. The cost is $45 for chamber members and $65 for non-members. To RSVP, call the chamber at 925-685-1181.


Redistricting measure headed to ballot

Voters will have another crack at political boundary redistricting in the November general election.

The state has certified an initiative for the Nov. 4 election sponsored by California Common Cause and supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former state controller Steve Westly that would strip state legislators of the authority to draw their own district lines and turn it over to an independent commission.

It’s the 11th initiative approved for the upcoming general election ballot and another 21 are either in circulation or awaiting signature verification. (Shall we start a betting pool on how many pages the ballot statement will consume before we’re all done?)

Here’s the Secretary of State’s press release issued a few minutes ago: Continue Reading


East Bay unveils map-based election results

We were all preoccupied with the numbers on Election Night.

But on Tuesday, the Alameda County and Contra Costa County election departments also quietly unrolled a new feature on their voting results web pages: Mapped election results by precinct.They did it so quietly, in fact, that they didn’t tell anybody. They wanted to work out the kinks before the big whopper of an election coming in November.

It’s a pretty cool idea.

You can click on a race, then on the map and see how the results look visually throughout the county for a particular candidate or ballot measure. Election officials have combined digitized precinct maps and voting results with now commonly available geographic information system software. (Heck, it’s so easy that I have it here at the paper; it’s called ArcView.)

Alameda County’s map page was hard to find: You had to click on a box in the upper right-hand side of the page called “precinct maps.”

Not everyone knows what a precinct map is. (See explanation below.) Continue Reading


Plan to vote? Register by Monday

The deadline is Monday for Californians to register to vote in the June 3 primary election.
Pick up registration forms at election offices, most post offices, libraries, city and county offices and online at www.sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_vr.htm.

In the East Bay, a handful of key legislative and county races will be decided in June including two contested Contra Costa supervisor seats, state Assembly districts 14 and 15 and the state Senate post held by outgoing Sen. President Pro Tem Don Perata.

Statewide, two ballot propositions on eminient domain, Props. 98 and 99, are also on the ballot.

To be eligible to register, a prospective voter must be a U.S. citizen, a California resident and at least 18 years old by Election Day. People in prison or on parole for a felony conviction and people judged by a court to be mentally incompetent are not eligible to vote.

For more information in Contra Costa County, stop by the Elections Division at 555 Escobar Street in Martinez, call 925-335-7800 or visit www.cocovote.us.

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters is located at 1225 Fallon Street G-1 in Oakland. Residents may also call 510-267-8683 or visit its web site at www.acgov.org/rov/.

In Solano County, reach the Registrar of Voters office is located at 675 Texas St. in Fairfield, call 707-784-6675 or visit www.solanocounty.com.

Read more for Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s helpful list of do’s and dont’s in the upcoming election. (Don’t blame her for the snarky comments; those are mine.) Continue Reading