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Secretary talks election to local Dems

Predictions of widespread delays in the results of the Feb. 5 presidential primary due to a shift to paper ballots in nearly two dozen counties failed to materialize, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen told a crowd of several hundred people at the Lamorinda Democratic Club this week.

“In 57 of 58 counties, the election results came in roughly at the same time as they had in previous elections,” Bowen said.

In front of a visibly supportive crowd at the Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek Thursday night, the secretary delivered a lively and humorous speech on a broad range of election topics including the presidential primary, unprecedented turnout, voting machine security and ways to attract pollworkers.

California operates an almost incomprehensibly large voting system with 23,000 polling places and more than 100,000 pollworkers engaged on Election Day.

Californians cast a record number of ballots in the presidential election, some 8.3 million and counting. It also saw an unusually high number of mail-in ballots dropped off at the polls as voters held onto their ballots to see what would happen in the closely contested presidential contests.

Voters also cast a huge number of “provisional ballots,” or ballots cast on Election Day by people who are probably not registered to vote but showed up at the polls in the heat of the campaign. Every one of the estimated 600,000 mail-in and provisional ballots must be investigated to determine if the voter is eligible and has not already voted by mail.

Bowen also outlined fixes to problems of the past election such as lack of a notification system in the event of a court order that extends poll hours.

The issue surfaced in Alameda County on Election Day after more than a dozen polls ran out of ballots and proponents sought a judge’s order to keep the polls open. A judge later determined that an order was unnecessary because the county, under existing law, could hold the polls open without an order for anyone waiting in line to vote.

If a judge orders hold polls held open anywhere in California, under state law, the state cannot release election results until all polls close.

But there is no system under which the Secretary of State is told when such an order has been issued, Bowen said.

“That won’t happen again,” Bowen said.

Much of Bowen’s talk centered around her decision last year to decertify electronic voting machines in 21 counties after conducting a “top to bottom” review of California’s voting systems.

County registrars criticized the move, saying a rapid switch could delay the outcome of Super Tuesday results for days or longer and form an embarrassing cloud over the state’s voting systems.

But this crowd got on its feet and loudly applauded Bowen for tackling what has become a national preoccupation over the integrity of its voting equipment.

“I was prepared to defend my decision … But I figured that if we were late, people would gripe for a few days,” Bowen said. “But if we were wrong, people would never forgive us.”

Bowen also made several references, although not by name, to Contra Costa Registrar of Voters Steve Weir.

As president of the state’s registrars’ association Weir has been one of Bowen’s most vocal critics although he sat quietly in the audience during her speech.

Weir has said the secretary failed to adequately involve the registrars in the equipment reviews and said the security study was conducted outside the registrars’ customary precautions and protocols.

But Bowen said vendors’ proprietary rights precluded the registrars’ presence during the meat of the analysis.

And voting machine hackers could come from inside election offices where workers could disable or work around security measures, she said.

In other comments, Bowen:

– Supported the use of open source, or non-proprietary, software on voting machines, which would permit election officials to change hardware without buying new software.

– Announced plans to conduct an analysis of the Feb. 5 election results in order to evaluate what went wrong.

– Opposed any move to make the Secretary of State a nonpartisan post. It is incumbent upon her to administer her duties in a nonpartisan fashion, she said, but voters deserve to know the political philosophy of the secretary of state.

– Discussed a pending analysis of the numbers of voters who do not have a photo identification. Some groups want to mandate a photo identification as a tool to thwart voter fraud but Bowen said she doesn’t want to disenfranchise citizens who don’t drive a car or possess photo identification.

– Doesn’t believe California will move to an all-mail voter system anytime soon, largely because election offices have a small, 15-day window between the registration deadline and Election Day in order to mail the ballots. And the state should give voters options, she said.

– Doesn’t view weekend voting as practical because of protracted security concerns for the tens of thousands of ballots in the thousands of polling places around the state.

– Called for corporations to routinely provide pollworkers on Election Day.

Posted on Friday, February 22nd, 2008
Under: Election reform | No Comments »

Bowen to speak in Walnut Creek on voting machines

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen will speak at the Feb. 21 meeting of the Lamorinda Democratic Club about her decision to decertify touch-screen voting machines in more than 20 counties.

First elected in 1992 to the state Assembly to represent constituents in west Los Angeles County, Bowen served three terms before being elected to the state Senate. She served two Senate terms prior to being elected in 2006 as California’s Secretary of State, the sixth woman in state history elected to statewide constitutional office.

The event begins at 7 p.m. at the Contra Costa County Jewish Community Center, Koret Auditorium, 2071 Tice Valley Blvd. in Walnut Creek. The cost $10 per person and it is open to all residents.

For more details, call 925-210-7337 or visit www.lamorindademoclub.com.

Posted on Thursday, February 14th, 2008
Under: Calendar, Election reform, State politics | No Comments »

Ranks of independent voters will keep rising

Independent voters are likely to outnumber those who belong to either of the two major political parties by 2025, according to a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

“The two-party system will continue to reflect the will of fewer and fewer people in the future unless the parties focus on expanding their base, on inclusiveness instead of ideological purity and exclusivity,” said Institute President Mark Baldessare.

In a report called “California’s Post-Partisan Future,” Baldessare spells out a downward spiral in which primary elections produce increasingly partisan elected officials whose inability to work together and solve problems further disenchants voters who abandon the traditional parties.

Click here to link to full story.

A reader called this morning to ask a question about an aspect of the analysis that was not part of the report: Which political party has suffered more under the shift?

Democrats have taken the bigger hit. In 2000, the Democrats’ share of registered voters was 45.7 percent. By December 2007, it dropped 3 percentage points to 42.7 percent.

In contrast, the Republicans’ share in 2000 was 35.1 percent compared to 33.6 percent in December 2007, a 1.5 percentage point drop.

During the same time period, voters who registered as “decline to state,” or unaffiliated with a party, rose from 13.9 percent to 19.3 percent, a 5.4 percentage point increase.

Do these numbers suggest that the Democratic Party is in faster free-fall than the Republican Party? Possibly. We’ll have to watch the trend and see how it plays out.

More worrisome than the fate of either political party, though, is the steady decline in voter registration.

Back in 2000, 73 percent of the state’s 21 million eligible voters were registered. Seven years later, that percentage dropped 6 percentage point to 67 percent.

It’s one thing to eschew party labels. But it’s another thing to stay home on Election Day.

Posted on Thursday, January 17th, 2008
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Common Cause chief visits CCT

Bob EdgarFormer U.S. Congressman Bob Edgar of Pennsylvania, the national president and CEO of Common Cause, an open government advocacy group, stopped by the offices of the Contra Costa Times this afternoon to promote his group’s involvement in yet another California redistricting initiative.

The “Voters First Act” would strip state legislators of their power to draw political boundaries for the California Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization. (It does not include the boundaries for California congressional district.) It would turn the job of drawing the lines over to a 14-member commission selected, in part, by the top four leaders in the California Legislature and a random pool administered by the California State Auditor and drawn from volunteer applicants. (Click here for a link to California Common Cause and all the details of the proposal.)

Common Cause has joined with the League of Women Voters, American Association of Retired People and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to advance the initiative, which they hope to gather an adequate number of signatures and place on the November 2008 ballot.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has also endorsed this measure, a high-profile name that proponents hope will finally push this reform effort into the victory column.

There have been many prior attempts to revise the redistricting process, none of which have prevailed.

Redistricting reform has a couple of inherent problems at the ballot box.

One, it’s complicated and complex stuff rarely translates into an easily digested ballot initiative for voters.

Two, there’s nothing in it for the Democrats who control the California Legislature. Top Democrats had promised to package redistricting and term limit reforms but when the dust settled, only term limits made it onto the February ballot. (Proposition 93 would alter the way the state factors term limits.)

Why the foot-dragging? In part, several academic studies of redistricting reform suggested that a handful of Assembly and Senate seats would potentially become competitive for Republicans if the boundaries were drawn with something other than partisan political advantage in mind. Democrats had hoped to trade support for redistricting reform with a change in term limit law, a deal that was never quite struck.

But Edgar said this afternoon that he hopes the new four-member coalition, coupled with the governor’s support and Common Cause’s new national election and campaign reform effort, will finally reach voters. It may seem like a long shot but Edgar described himself as optimistic.

“There is a lot to be done to restore the public’s confidence in their public officials, that elected leaders are responding to the voters and not special interests,” Edgar said.

UPDATE: We had a question at the Times about the political independence of the California State Auditor, whose office is proposed under the initiative as the administrator of the application process for appointment to the 14-member redistricting commission.

As it turns out, the auditor is not entirely free of political involvement but the selection and management of the office is bipartisan. Here’s a brief explanation of how it works as explained by a spokeswoman at the auditor’s office:

A joint legislative audit committee comprised of seven state senators and seven assemblymembers interviews and selects three candidates for state auditor. The governor makes the four-year appointment from among the three names and only these three names. The auditor can only be removed prior to the end of his or her term by the Legislature, and the office receives its assignments only from the joint panel or by law. (For a link to State Auditor Elaine Howle’s web site and a full explanation, click here.)

Posted on Friday, December 14th, 2007
Under: Election reform, State politics | No Comments »

Term limit measure cleared for signatures

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen cleared the way for proponents of a term limit reform initiative to seek the signatures required to place the measure on the statewide ballot next year.

The measure’s sponsors, an unusual coalition of labor and business interests, must collect at least 694,354 signatures of valid registered voters, or 8 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2006 gubernatorial election. The proponents have 150 days to circulate petitions for this measure or until Sept. 10.

The initiative changes the way term limits operate in California, allowing state legislators to serve a total of 12 years in either the Assembly or the Senate. The current law limits members to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.

But that’s not the rub for some folks.

Rather than applying to future elected officials only, the measure permits sitting members who would otherwise face term limits to seek re-election, including Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. The list also includes several prominent East Bay politicians such as Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch and Assemblymembers Guy Houston of San Ramon and Loni Hancock of Berkeley.

UPDATE AS OF APRIL 12 TO REFLECT ADDITIONAL POLLING INFORMATION

The question of whether or not the measure will pass muster with California voters depends on which poll you believe.

A Public Policy Institute survey released March 28 says 64 percent oppose the concept.

But two subsequent polls found narrow support for the measure.

The San Jose State Survey and Policy Research Institute survey of April 3 showed the measure passing 51 to 36 percent.

A Field Poll survey made public on April 6 revealed similar results, 54 to 37 percent.

Pollsters said wording of the question produced the dramatically different outcomes. Unlike the San Jose and Field Polls, the PPIC poll did not specifically point out that the measure reduces the amount of time a legislator may serve from 14 years to 12 years.

On the other hand, none of the three polls told voters that the measure would allow legislators that would have otherwise termed out in 2008 to seek re-election.

Posted on Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
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Congressional candidates report campaign finances

The San Jose Mercury News reports, via The Associated Press, on Sunday’s congressional deadline to file campaign finance disclosure reports.

To view the campaign finance reports on the Federal Election Commission’s web site, click here and enter the candidate’s name in the box that says “Partial name of comittee.” Look for the “October quarterly” link for 2006.

Posted on Sunday, October 15th, 2006
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Watchdog group launches campaign finance web site

A national watchdog organization unveiled Monday a web site — www.cleanupwashington.org — that details the source of campaign money for members of Congress in California and nine other states.

At a time when members of Congress are going to prison and pleading guilty to federal crimes related to campaign finances, Public Citizen director Joan Claybrook called the information vital for voters who want to know whether elected leaders represent the interests of the people or big business.

“Our report details that Congress is awash in campaign money,” Claybrook said during a telephone press conference Monday morning.

The web site allows viewers to rank, by member in each state, contributions from lobbyists, acceptance of privately funded travel, money from individuals who live out of the member’s state and contributions of $200 or less as a percentage of all cash received.

Other sites provide some of this information but this is the first group to compile all of these categories and rank members in a single online location.

Public Citizen staff says that members of Congress rely too heavily on special interest money, which has resulted in legislation that favors big businesses such as oil and pharmaceutical companies over the public interest.

Among its California findings, Public Citizen reports:

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, raised $2.6 million in the 2004 election despite lacking an opponent. Thomas received the highest amount of political action committee contributions per cycle in the state.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, tops the state’s congressional delegation in contributions from lobbyists since 2000, average $172,248 per election cycle.

The California analysis also singles out representatives John Doolittle, R-Granite Bay, and
Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, for paying members of their families to work on their campaigns.

Public Citizen, based in Washington, D.C., is one of the leading proponents of publicly financed campaigns and considered a liberal organization by most conservative groups.

“Reform is urgently needed,” Claybrook said, “so that candidates can spend less time raising money and more time serving the public.”

Posted on Monday, October 9th, 2006
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National campaign cash tops $1 billion

With eight weeks still to go before the mid-term election, PoliticalMoneyLine reports today that campaign contributions to federal candidates, PACs, political parties and 527 committees has topped $1 billion.

Which state has the most generous donors?

Why, California, of course. The Golden State has long been the ATM of campaign finances.

Here’s what www.fecinfo.com had to say:

“Donors giving in excess of $200 to any federal candidates, PACs, political parties and national Section 527 organizations have given $1,162,157,298 so far in the 2005-2006 election cycle. This covers donations from January 1, 2005 generally through June 30, 2006, although some committees have filed reports covering July and August.

“Donors with a California address made the state number one with $138.7 million donated. New York donors gave $124.7 million. Florida donors have given $73.3 million. Texas donors have given $72.8 million. Donors in the District of Columbia have given $59.3 million.

“Sixth in state rankings of donations is Virginia with $54.8 million. Pennsylvania donors have given $50.3 million. Illinois donors have given $47.2 million. New Jersey donors have given $41.4 million. Ohio donors have given $34 million.

“A complete listing is available in PoliticalMoneyLine’s Donor Geography database of all state totals, as well as breakdowns of how much donors with a certain state address have given to any House candidates, Senate candidates, Presidential candidates, PACs, party committees, and Section 527 committees. “

Posted on Friday, September 8th, 2006
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Redistricting dead, for now

California legislative leaders have abandoned efforts to reform this year the way the state draws its political boundaries or propose changes to term limits.

In a press release issued a few minutes ago from the office of Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, a joint panel appointed to craft a proposal has called it a day.

Here’s the joint panel’s statement:

“There is no question about the need to reform the redistricting process and our current system of term limits in California. But given the tremendous impact any proposal crafted by the Legislature this year could have on politics and policymaking in our state, we feel it is the best course not to pursue a sweeping reform package in the waning hours of the legislative session. Make no mistake, our caution in crafting a reform package this year does not in any way diminish our determination to fix a broken system. We stand committed to revisiting redistricting and term limits reform in the next legislative session – to once and for all craft responsible, bipartisan political reforms for the people of California.”

The concession will disappoint reform advocates who sought to link SCA 3, which would have stripped from state lawmakers the task of drawing political boundaries and assigned the job to an independent panel, to less restrictive term limits.

But as one lawmaker said about the endeavor, “It’s like asking a pig to butcher itself.”

Posted on Tuesday, August 15th, 2006
Under: Election reform | No Comments »