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Groups sue Bowen over inmate voting rights

Three groups sued California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and San Francisco’s elections director Wednesday, asking the court to ensure that more than 85,000 people sent to county jails instead of state prisons under the recent “realignment” can vote.

All of Us or None, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and the League of Women Voters of California contend that low-level, non-violent offenders should be able to cast ballots this year and beyond.

The state’s First District Court of Appeal ruled in 2006 that people serving county jail terms as a condition of felony probation are entitled to vote under California law. Bowen in December issued a memo to county clerks and registrars advising them that no felon sentenced to county jail instead of state prison under realignment is eligible to vote. The state Justice Department backed Bowen up in a letter issued Monday.

This new lawsuit, also filed to the First District appellate court, argues people sent to county jail under realignment are neither “imprisoned in state prison” or “on parole as a result of the conviction of a felony” – the statuses under which the state constitution would deprive them of voting rights, under the 2006 case.

Excluding Californians with criminal convictions from voting is at odds with the California Constitution and contradicts a central purpose of realignment, which is to stop the state’s expensive revolving door of incarceration by rehabilitating and reintegrating individuals back into society, the lawsuit argues. The plaintiffs seek a court order letting such people register for November’s election before the Oct. 22 deadline.

Bowen’s spokeswoman said the office won’t comment on pending litigation.

The three organizations are represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the Social Justice Law Project, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, A New Way of Life Reentry Project, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

“California’s courts have a proud tradition of protecting our fundamental right to vote,” ACLU Managing Attorney Jory Steele said in a news release. “Here, this is particularly important because disenfranchisement has such a disproportionate impact on people of color.”

Willie “Sundiata” Tate, 67, San Leandro was behind bars from when he was 16 until age 30; now he’s a volunteer community organizer with All of Us or None, and believes that its especially important for society’s less powerful to have access to the voting booth.

“If all of us were to get out and be active, it would and could make a difference, from the community level to a society level,” he said. “As a formerly incarcerated person, it’s very dear to me that everyone who has been locked down has the chance to help put in place policies that can have a positive impact on lives of people who are incarcerated, and on people who are vulnerable to incarceration.

People risked and lost their lives so African-Americans could have the right to vote, he noted.

“Especially on issues that are local and important in the state that I live in, I want that vote,” Tate said. “And I want that vote for everyone, not just for myself.”

Posted on Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
Under: Debra Bowen, State Prisons, voter registration | 12 Comments »

Brown vetoes bill to ban per-signature pay

An East Bay lawmaker’s bill to ban per-signature pay for ballot-measure petition circulators has been vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

SB 168, by state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, would have forbidden paying ballot measure petition signature gatherers on a per-signature basis, which she said would reduce fraud by reducing the temptation to pad out petitions with bogus names.

In his veto message, Brown wrote he understands the potential abuses under the current system but sees two flaws in Corbett’s bill. First, it would bar groups from even setting targets or quotas for signature gatherers; he said making productivity goals into a crime seems impractical.

And second, per-signature payment often is the most cost-effective way to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, he wrote: “Eliminating this option will drive up the cost of circulating ballot measures, thereby further favoring the wealthiest interests.”

“I am not persuaded that the unintended consequences won’t be worse than the abuses the bill aims to prevent,” Brown wrote.

The bill’s opponents had said there’s little evidence of such fraud, but Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the state’s chief elections officer, was among those who had endorsed the bill.

The state Senate passed SB 168 in May on a 23-15 vote, and the Assembly passed it in July on a 48-28 vote.

UPDATE: Read the full story, updated with Corbett’s comment on the veto, here.

Posted on Monday, August 1st, 2011
Under: ballot measures, California State Senate, campaign finance, Debra Bowen, Ellen Corbett, Jerry Brown | 4 Comments »

Jane Harman may be out, but who’ll be in?

This morning’s big California political news is that Rep. Jane Harman, D-Los Angeles, might be resigning from Congress to take over as head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a renowned foreign policy think tank. And this morning’s big California political speculation is about who might run in a special election to succeed her – the first Congressional vote under the state’s new top-two primary scheme, and the last before district lines are redrawn by the independent Citizens Redistricing Commission for the first time.

Several potential candidates’ names have already emerged from the hubbub:

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who’d looked like a lock for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor last year until Gavin Newsom jumped into the race, will run, Politico reports.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen Tweeted this morning that she is giving it “very serious thought.”

Marcy Winograd, president of the Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles who got 38 percent 40.9 percent of the vote when she ran against Harman in last year’s Democratic primary, is getting some social media buzz, but has not Tweeted today herself.

I’ve also seen some insinuations that former Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, already fully embroiled in a special election for the 28th State Senate District left vacant by Jenny Oropeza’s death, may now be having buyers’ remorse.

Harman’s 36th Congressional District seat is registered 45.3 percent Democrat to 27.6 percent Republican with 22.2 percent of voters declining to state a party affiliation – in other words, a pretty safe Democratic seat.

UPDATE @ 2:40 P.M.: Janice Hahn is indeed in the race, and her campaign website from last year apparently is being revamped for it right now. Meanwhile, some progressives have launched an online petition urging Bowen to run.

UPDATE @ 7:25 A.M. TUESDAY: Winograd Tweeted thricely this morning:

With Harman resigning, I am considering a run — though interested in speaking with Bowen about forging a new economy for the 36th.

Hahn called me to say she was running for Harman’s seat, assured me she was anti-war, also a “friend of Israel.”

We need a progressive voice in DC, someone to challenge expanded wars, be they sponsored by the GOP or Dems. Harman resigns; Free the 36th.

Posted on Monday, February 7th, 2011
Under: Debra Bowen, Janice Hahn, U.S. House | 9 Comments »

Highest turnout in past 5 gubernatorial votes

The results are now certified, and California’s Nov. 2 election saw the greatest voter turnout – 59.6 percent of the state’s registered voters – in the past five gubernatorial votes, Secretary of State Debra Bowen reported this evening.

“I applaud the work of each county elections official and the more than 100,000 elections workers and volunteers who helped to make voting as easy as possible for every eligible Californian,” Bowen said in a news release.

Looking back, 56.2 percent of registered voters participated in the 2006 gubernatorial election; voter turnout for the 2002 gubernatorial election was 50.6 percent; and 57.6 percent of registered voters turned out in 1998. So last month’s was the highest gubernatorial election turnout since 60.5 percent of voters cast ballots when Republican Gov. Pete Wilson topped Democrat State Treasurer Kathleen Brown in 1994.

Was it Meg Whitman’s deep pockets, either directly or in backlash, that accounted for this surge to the polls? Was it the question of marijuana legalization? Was it part of the national political furor? All of those things, or none? Have at it, commenters.

Ballots cast by mail accounted for 48.4 percent of the votes cast in last month’s election; that’s up from 41.6 percent in 2006. The counties with the highest vote-by-mail voters as a percentage of total turnout were Mendocino (79.4 percent), Nevada (73.9 percent) and El Dorado (70.5 percent), though all voters in Alpine and Sierra counties cast ballots by mail.

“Vote-by-mail voting has steadily increased in popularity over the last 32 years since the law was changed to allow any registered voter to vote by mail,” Bowen said.

Overall, the counties with the highest turnout of registered voters were Sierra (81.9 percent), Nevada (80.8 percent) and Amador (77.6 percent), while turnout was the lowest in Imperial (49.8 percent), Merced (50.9 percent) and Fresno (52.2 percent) counties.

A new total number of gubernatorial ballots cast means a new threshold to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot: For the next four years, proponents will have to gather signatures from at least 504,775 registered voters – five percent of the total votes cast for governor last month – in order to put their measures to a vote. Proponents for a constitutional amendment will need 807,639 signatures, or eight percent of last month’s gubernatorial votes.

Posted on Friday, December 10th, 2010
Under: 2010 election, 2010 governor's race, Debra Bowen | 13 Comments »

Brown and Boxer get out the vote in Oakland

Several hundred Bay Area Democrats chose to forego the start of the fifth game of the World Series this evening in favor of packing into a section of Oakland’s Jack London Square for a final get-out-the-vote rally with most of the Democratic slate of statewide candidates.

Cynthia Rapak, 62, of San Francisco, wore a Giants cap as a sign of her torn allegiances; she said she wanted Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown “to see that I’ll make the ultimate sacrifice.”

“The Giants might win tonight, but civic duty comes first – I always vote,” said the retired Oakland Unified School District teacher, noting she believes the campaign’s endgame bodes well for Brown. “Meg went 11 places, and Jerry is 72 and he went to 12. He talked about civic dialogue and she talked about managing; she doesn’t have a clue.”

She and the rest of the crowd heard from Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for attorney general; Dave Jones, the Democratic nominee for insurance commissioner; John Chiang, the incumbent state controller; and Debra Bowen, the incumbent secretary of state before the top of the ticket began to take the stage: incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. By then it was the bottom of the fifth inning, but the cheering, sign-waving crowd no longer seemed to mind.

“You’re the key to sending me back to fight for the middle class, to fight for jobs … to fight against the special interests,” Boxer said, exhorting the crowd to get everyone they know to the polls tomorrow.

Then, backdropped by Port of Oakland cargo cranes and a Bay sunset, Brown took the podium and thanked the Democratic slate for “making this a real team victory. We’ll win tomorrow, we’ll win for you.”

He noted the crisply uniformed Oakland Military Institute students lining the back of the stage, and said the Democrats’ goal is to make sure all California students have the resources and opportunities they need to achieve solid educations.

“Victory brings even more challenges – in fact, the campaign is a piece of cake (compared) to fixing the budget,” he said. “I didn’t make this mess, but I sure want to fix it.”

Just as Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman has claimed in her ads, California was working well when she arrived her 30 years ago, he said – and he was governor at the time. “And you know what? It’s going to start working again for everybody.”

In a final jab at his opponent, he directed supporters seeking details of his platform to his campaign website. “Whitman’s plan is mostly pictures, but I have more respect for you,” he said.

And then, by partway through the top of the sixth inning, it was over.

Posted on Monday, November 1st, 2010
Under: 2010 election, 2010 governor's race, Barbara Boxer, Dave Jones, Debra Bowen, Jerry Brown, John Chiang, Kamala Harris, Meg Whitman, U.S. Senate, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Bowen: Contractor messed up voter guide mailing

A contractor’s error was responsible for some Bay Area households never receiving their official state voters’ guides before the June 8 primary, Secretary of State Debra Bowen reports.

In a letter sent yesterday to Assemblyman Jerry Hill, who’d contacted Bowen’s office after taking complaints from San Mateo County residents, Bowen said managers at Admail West, the Sacramento firm contracted to mail the guides, admitted “their company is responsible for duplicate or triplicate mailings of state voter guides to voter households in some counties, while at the same time failing to mail a single state voter guide to other households.”

“No one at Admail West has ever been able to fully explain the extent of the mailing problem, or why the company did not have better quality-assurance procedures in place for such an important statewide project,” Bowen wrote. “Moreover, Admail West managers reported that the one employee who handled the mailing data and caused the San Mateo County mailing errors passed away in June, and many key details are not known by anyone else at the company.”

Regardless of who screwed up at Admail West, she wrote, “there is no excuse for the sloppy tracking and lack of quality control by any vendor when the Secretary of State’s office provides extremely clear mailing specifications and voter address data.”

Checking around online, I see that Admail West’s president is Kathleen Pescetti. Her husband is Anthony Pescetti, the Republican former Assemblyman from Gold River; their son, also named Anthony, is Admail West’s business development manager.

Hill, D-San Mateo, issued a news release today noting there are still unanswered questions that must be resolved to ensure this doesn’t happen again: “I will be working with the Secretary of State to identify corrective actions that may include legislation or a state audit.”

Hill on June 16 introduced AB 814, which would require that for a statewide election, officials include a notification with the sample ballot informing voters they can obtain a voter information guide on the Secretary of State’s website. The notice also would include the telephone number, designated by the county elections official, at which a voter could request that a ballot pamphlet be mailed to him or her; ballot pamphlets also would be made available at polling places. The bill passed the state Senate Appropriations Committee on a unanimous vote Monday, and now awaits a Senate floor vote.

Hill also this year authored AB 1717, authorizing county and city elections officials to create procedures letting a voter opt out of receiving their sample ballot, voter pamphlet and polling-place notice by mail and instead get them electronically by e-mail or on the county’s or city’s Web site. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed that bill into law last month.

Posted on Friday, August 6th, 2010
Under: Assembly, Debra Bowen, Elections, Jerry Hill | 2 Comments »

Dunn leads Bowen in fundraising for Sec’y of State

Campaign finance reports are due today, and incumbent Secretary of State Debra Bowen filed her report saying she raised more than $60,000 and spent more than $12,600 from May 23 through June 30, leaving her with more than $113,000 cash on hand at mid-year. She’s lagging behind Republican nominee for Secretary of State Damon Dunn, a former NFL player turned businessman, who reported raising more than $126,500 and spending more than $81,000 during this period, leaving him with cash on hand of almost $176,600.

In other statewide races, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s re-election committee reported having a mammoth $8.52 million cash on hand as of June 30, even after having spent more than a million in the first half of this year (including almost $258,000 from May 23 through June 30); that spending includes the more than $676,000 his committee has given to his wife’s campaign as she seeks a seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Meanwhile, Republican nominee for state Treasurer Mimi Walters, the state Senator from Laguna Niguel, reported raising $36,455 and spending $26,505.42 from May 23 through June 30, leaving her with cash on hand of almost $350,000.

Incumbent state Controller John Chiang’s re-election campaign reported raising $125,000 and spending more than $31,000 from May 23 to June 30, leaving almost $1.28 million cash on hand at midyear. Republican state Controller nominee Tony Strickland, the state Senator from Moorpark, reported raising $173,000 and spending almost $38,000 during this period, leaving him with almost $309,000 cash on hand as of June 30.

Still awaiting full readouts on the races for attorney general, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner…

Posted on Monday, August 2nd, 2010
Under: 2010 election, Bill Lockyer, campaign finance, Debra Bowen, John Chiang | No Comments »

GOP doesn’t think voting law should be enforced?

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced yesterday that Mark Anthony Jacoby — owner of a signature-gathering firm called Young Political Majors, which has been running the California Republican Party‘s controversial voter registration effort — was arrested Saturday night on suspicion of committing voter-registration fraud.

Jacoby allegedly registered himself to vote in 2006 and 2007 at the Los Angeles address of his childhood home, where he no longer lives. What’s the big deal? Well, state law requires signature-gatherers to sign a declaration stating they’re either registered to vote in California or that they are eligible to do so; Jacoby allegedly registered to vote where he didn’t actually live so he in turn could travel California collecting petition signatures and registering voters.

Voter-registration fraud is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, and providing false information on a voter registration card is perjury; the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office’s Public Integrity Unit has charged Jacoby with two counts of each. Bowen’s fraud unit and the Ontario Police Department arrested Jacoby, 25, near an Ontario hotel just before midnight Saturday, and he’s now awaiting arraignment.

These charges don’t yet address allegations that Jacoby’s firm was playing it fast and loose with voter registrations. YPM was banking $5 per new voter from a fund partially supported by 2010 gubernatorial candidate and California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, but the Ventura County Star reported last month that dozens of Ventura County residents had their party registration changed to Republican against their will; since then, allegations have been coming out of the woodwork all over Southern California about similar “slamming” of voters by YPM workers. County prosecutors reportedly are now reviewing affidavits about this.

The state GOP’s reaction was to attack Bowen in a news release issued yesterday:

On the eve of California’s voter registration deadline, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has decided to once again show her partisan colors and charge an individual for questions surrounding his own, personal voter registration stemming from 2006 and 2007.

The fact that these charges are being leveled against an individual operating in a highly-contested area of California, and the significant gap between recent allegations and the charges we’ve seen today suggests that this is politically motivated.

It’s clear that Bowen, herself the recipient of an ACORN endorsement (still displayed on her campaign website), has elevated these issues to achieve maximum political benefit and deflect attention from the Democratic Presidential nominee’s high-profiled problems and associations with the radical community activist group ACORN.

While we condemn voter fraud in all forms, it is evident that Debra Bowen is using her office to play politics with the public’s perception of political parties. This is inappropriate at least, and an abuse of her office and a willing suspension of her duties at worst.

The release goes on to question why Bowen hasn’t pursued a case against ACORN — the community-organizing group criticized by Republican presidential nominee John McCain and the national GOP for alleged voter-registration irregularities across the nation — in San Diego, where ACORN flagged as suspicious almost 18 percent of the 26,513 voter-registration cards it sent in 2008′s first nine months.

Wait, what’s that? Yes, ACORN flagged those cards as suspicious before sending them to the county registrar; all voter-registration organizations are required by law to turn in all registration forms even if they’re suspected to contain bogus information. Can you accuse an organization of fraud if it’s calling attention to the problem and following the law?

Besides, this isn’t the first time California Republicans have found themselves in voter-registration hot water: two years ago it was in San Bernardino County.

It seems the GOP is hot to have election law enforced only so long as it benefits the GOP.

Got fraud? If you believe you’re aware of a California Elections Code violation, contact the Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit at (800) 345-VOTE.

UPDATE @ 2:14 P.M. MONDAY: Steve Poizner’s office just called to clarify that his new-voter bounty is offered only to volunteer organizations, not to paid signature gatherers like Jacoby’s YPM. Sorry, my bad.

Posted on Monday, October 20th, 2008
Under: Debra Bowen, General, Republican Party | No Comments »

Debra Bowen wins ‘Profile in Courage’ award

bowen.gifCalifornia Secretary of State Debra Bowen is among this year’s recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, cited for her imposition of strict new controls on electronic voting despite the political fallout. John F. Kennedy Library Foundation president Caroline Kennedy and U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., will present Bowen with the award at a May 12 ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner received the same award for similar work to ensure the integrity of her state’s vote, while a special lifetime achievement award goes to former Mississippi Gov. William Winter for leadership in championing racial equality and educational opportunity.

“As we prepare to cast our ballots for the next President of the United States, our confidence in the integrity and reliability of the voting process has never been more important,” Caroline Kennedy said in a news release. “Secretaries of State Debra Bowen and Jennifer Brunner have each demonstrated exceptional leadership in working to ensure that voting systems provide a full and accurate count of the vote. Our democracy depends on voter trust. Debra Bowen and Jennifer Brunner’s efforts to earn that trust have made them true profiles in courage.”

Per the release:

After a $450 million investment by California counties in electronic voting systems aimed at modernizing elections, newly elected Secretary of State Debra Bowen ordered an independent review of the new voting technologies to ensure they adequately protected the integrity of the vote. When the study revealed troubling flaws in the systems, Bowen strictly limited the use of direct-recording electronic voting machines, and imposed significant security and auditing requirements on systems to be used in California’s February 5 presidential primary election. Bowen’s decision was met with resistance by voting system vendors and many county elections officials.

The JFK Profile in Courage Award goes to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. It’s named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, recounting the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers — incurring constituents’ or powerful interest groups’ wrath — by taking principled stands for unpopular positions. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the award in 1989.

More on the award, after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, March 18th, 2008
Under: Debra Bowen, Edward Kennedy, Elections | 1 Comment »

California’s final pledged delegate count…

…based on the Feb. 5 presidential primary results just certified Saturday by Secretary of State Debra Bowen is 204 for Hillary Clinton, 166 for Barack Obama. That’s based on the final certified results by congressional district; if you want to see ‘em by county, that’s here.

Hey, I was close!

California’s final results are part of how Obama widened his lead over this weekend. For the total, national delegate count, I find CNN‘s interface easiest to follow — they have it at 1,618 (1,411 pledged, 207 superdelegates) for Obama and 1,479 (1,242 pledged, 237 superdelegates) for Clinton. The Associated Press has it slighly different, at 1,617 to 1,498; that’s well presented by the Washington Post.

Posted on Monday, March 17th, 2008
Under: Barack Obama, Debra Bowen, Elections, Hillary Clinton | No Comments »