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Yee aims to widen online registration’s reach

Hot from the resounding success of the online voter registration system his legislation enabled, a Bay Area lawmaker now wants to expand that system’s reach.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, today introduced a bill that would put a link to the online registration system run by the Secretary of State on every state government website.

“The use of online voter registration was overwhelming, but we need to continue to find new ways to get as many citizens as possible involved in our democracy,” Yee said in a news release. “When Californians access their state government via the internet, we should encourage them to vote and have their voice heard at the ballot box.”

“There are more than 5 ½ million eligible Californians who are not registered to vote. Senate Bill 44 will help us reach these individuals and significantly increase the voter rolls.”

The new system, which went live in September, let nearly 800,000 Californians register online to vote in November’s election, helping to boost the state’s registered voters to a record 18.25 million and – some believe – contributing to Democrats’ success in reaching legislative supermajorities.

Yee cited early numbers showing that those who registered to vote using the new online system were significantly more likely to cast a ballot in the November election.

According to Political Data Inc. (PDI), turnout was 84.7 percent in Sacramento County from those who registered online – 10 percentage points higher than the county average. In Orange County, those who registered online turned out at 82 percent versus the county average of 72 percent. Fresno County saw an even larger uptick in turnout among those who registered online: 78.2 percent, versus the county average of only 63.8 percent. Figures for other counties are still being collected.

“Not only were we able to increase turnout among those who registered online, but we significantly increased participation among young people and first time voters,” said Yee.

UPDATE @ 4:19 P.M. THURSDAY: A quick clarification and amplification – these comparisons in Sacramento, Orange and Fresno counties are between those who registered online between Sept. 19 (when the new system went live) and Oct. 22 and all other voters in those counties regardless of when they registered. The turnout rates are much closer if you compare those who registered online during those few final weeks and those who registered on paper during the same time period. Also, it’s worth noting that while Yee sponsored the legislation authorizing the new system, it was Secretary of State Debra Bowen who secured federal funding and built a successful system in only about nine months, a very short time by state IT project standards.

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California poised to set voter registration record

California is on track for a record-high number of registered voters, Secretary of State Debra Bowen said today.

Yesterday was the deadline to register to vote in next month’s presidential election. Bowen said more than 679,000 Californians were added to the state’s voter rolls in the final 45 days leading up to that deadline, and that number will go up as county elections officials keep verifying the eligibility of tens of thousands more last-minute registrants.

The last certified statewide data, as of Sept. 7, showed 17,259,680 Californians registered to vote. The record high for California – set in February 2009 – was 17,334,275 registrants, so all those from the last few weeks are sure to put the state well past that mark.

“I must emphasize these are preliminary numbers and not the final confirmed roster of eligible voters in California because county elections officials are now hard at work verifying each and every application,” Bowen said in a news release. “After all 58 county elections officials send their registration data to my office, we will compile the certified statewide numbers and publish a final report of registered voters on November 2.”

Of the more than 679,000 verified new voters so far, about 381,000 submitted their applications using the Secretary of State’s new online system and about 298,000 submitted paper applications.

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Bay Area election volunteers lauded

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen this week honored a pair of Santa Clara County polling-place volunteers who have been serving their community for decades.

Rita Chavez Medina and Helen Garza have staffed the polls during elections in the last 60 and 52 years respectively, Bowen said.

“Election after election, Rita and Helen have been an indispensable part of Santa Clara County elections, and I can’t thank them enough for their dedication,” she said in a news release. “Veteran poll workers can’t do it alone, so I hope more voters and high school students in Santa Clara County join Helen and Rita at the polls on Election Day!”

Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Barry Garner said he and his staff are honored to have the two women serve so long. “Their contribution to the election process, in Santa Clara County, is invaluable. They are not doing this for the money, they are doing it for the love of their county, state, and country.”

Bowen noted each statewide election requires a one-day army of 100,000 poll workers in nearly 22,000 polling places across the state. Poll workers help to secure ballots, educate voters about their rights, ensure accessibility for voters with disabilities, and more. A poll worker is paid an average of $100 for the day’s work, though rates vary among counties.

If you’re interested in serving as a poll worker, contact your county elections office or find more information on Bowen’s website. To serve as a poll worker, you must be a registered voter or a high-school student in good standing who is a United States citizen, at least 16 years old, and has a minimum 2.5 grade-point average.

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110,000 register to vote online in first week

About 110,000 Californians registered to vote online during the first week they could.

The state’s online voter registration system went live last Wednesday as a result of SB 397 by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, which was signed into law last October by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said today she’s “thrilled to see the high volume,” but it’s part of the usual presidential-year deluge. “At this time four years ago, we received as many as 191,000 paper registration applications in a single week just at the Secretary of State’s office – that’s not counting the 58 county offices,” she said.

Still, Yee said in a news release today that he’s “ecstatic with the popularity of this new voter registration system.”

“It is a game-changer for our democracy,” he said. “While some states are suppressing the rights of voters, here in California we are significantly increasing participation.”

A slew of Republican-dominated states have enacted voter ID laws in recent years. Supporters say they’re meant to reduce the chance of in-person voting fraud, although there are extremely few documented cases of such fraud; critics say they’re meant to disenfranchise poor, disabled, minority and other voters who are likely to vote Democratic.

Yee said California’s new law already is saving county election offices thousands of dollars: “Election clerks do not have to spend as much time and money entering data from paper registrations, which also results in fewer administrative errors.”

The new system lets citizens whose signature is already on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles submit their voter registration form to their county elections office electronically.

Only 44 percent 59 percent of eligible California citizens voted in the 2008 presidential election. Even now, more than 6.5 million Californians are eligible to vote but remain unregistered.

The deadline to register to vote in this November’s election is Monday, Oct. 22.

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New voter data: ‘no party preference’ still rising

Nonpartisanship continues to rise in the Golden State, according to California’s latest voter registration data.

As of September 7, a total of 17,259,680 Californians are registered to vote, representing 72.6 percent of eligible Californians, up from 69.8 percent this time four years ago.

“As Californians hear more about the important issues on the November ballot and as we approach the October 22 deadline to register, those numbers will continue to go up,” Secretary of State Debra Bowen said in a news release announcing the new data. “Filling out a voter registration application online or on paper takes just a few minutes, and I expect to see tens of thousands of new California voters this presidential election season.”

Of Californians registered to vote, 3,672,229 chose no party preference – a new all-time high. The previous record raw-number high of unaffiliated voters was 3,654,608, reported in June.

Here’s the registration breakdown (with Sept. 2008 figures in parentheses for comparison):

  • Democrat – 7,458,915 – 43.33% (7,101,442 – 43.91%)
  • Republican – 5,197,177 – 30.11% (5,227,489 – 32.32%)
  • no party preference – 3,672,229 – 21.28% (3,151,369 – 19.49%)
  • American Independent – 434,438 – 2.52% (333,609 – 2.06%)
  • miscellaneous – 210,583 – 1.22% (107,605 – 0.67%)
  • Green – 109,488 – 0.63% (116,334 – 0.72%)
  • Libertarian – 94,620 – 0.55% (78,935 – 0.49%)
  • Peace & Freedom – 59,232 – 0.34% (54,989 – 0.34%)
  • Americans Elect – 2,998 – 0.02% (n/a)
  • Friday’s report reflects data gathered 60 days before the November 6 General Election, with updates to voter registration rolls in California’s 58 counties including the removal of registrants who have passed away, moved out of state, or have been determined to be ineligible to vote, as well as the addition of new registrants.

    The deadline to register to vote in the November 6 general election is October 22. The last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot is October 30. Californians can check their voter registration status online, and as of this week can register to vote online as well; paper voter registration applications are available at sites including U.S. post offices, public libraries, Department of Motor Vehicles offices, and county elections offices.

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    Garamendi, Bowen decry danger to mail-in ballots

    Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, joined California Secretary of State Debra Bowen to testify to the state Legislature today about the danger that some impending U.S. Postal Service facility closures pose to the integrity of California’s vote.

    As I reported last month, Bowen contends the Postal Service’s proposed closure of around a dozen mail processing centers in California as part of a national restructuring could delay hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots from arriving at registrars across the state in time to be counted.

    She and Garamendi took their concerns to a joint oversight hearing of the state Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments and the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting.

    “Don’t radically alter mail delivery expectations in a year that could very well set vote-by-mail records in California. Don’t close down these centers in the lead up to a presidential election, giving voters, elections officials, and postal workers insufficient time to work out the kinks,” Garamendi testified at the hearing. “Don’t disenfranchise tens of thousands of Californians who just want their voices heard. Give us six more months to get through this election, and after six months, once the chaos of the election settles down, we’ll have enough time to make the best of a bad situation. Democracy is too important to penny pinch.”

    Garamendi also sent a letter today to the chairman and ranking members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and its Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy urging their support for Congressional action to prevent mail processing center closures.

    “We are a nation that takes voting rights seriously. We are a nation that believes democracy is worth paying for. I oppose the closing of these facilities because they help make representative democracy possible,” Garamendi wrote in the letter. “I hope you’ll join me in preventing voter disenfranchisement by using the powers of this Committee and the United States Congress to prevent further mail processing center closures until after the November 2012 elections.”

    A mail-in ballot – which state law says a voter can request up until seven days before the election – must be received by the voter’s county election office no later than 8 p.m. on the day of the election; any received after that aren’t counted. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, about 26,000 ballots arrived too late to be counted in California’s November 2010 general election.

    Last year, Bowen has said, the three processing-center closures – in Salinas, Marysville and Oxnard – clearly affected local elections in Monterey and Ventura counties: The time it took to deliver outbound and receive inbound vote-by-mail ballots went from one to three days, to five to seven.

    Postal Service spokesman Augustine Ruiz last month said the agency will announce by mid-May which centers it plans to close, but has not decided when the closures would take effect. Election mail “would be affected by the proposed service changes,” he acknowledged.

    “However, the Postal Service, as always as in elections past, will be working with elected officials and their mailers in the coming months to ensure their mail is received and delivered in adequate time to respond,” Ruiz said. While he couldn’t advise voters how late they can wait to put their ballots in the mail, he said they should still arrive in time to be counted if the Postal Service processing center receives them the day before the election.