Monday, June 22, 2015

Senate consultant provides thorough answers to questions about SB 450

Going to the source, Etopia News contacted Darren Chesin, Chief Consultant to the California State Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, and the person most directly involved in the drafting of SB 450, a bill co-authored by California State Senators Ben Allen of Santa Monica and Bob Hertzberg of the San Fernando Valley that would allow California counties to opt-in, starting in January, 2018, to a plan based on all-mail-in ballots, vote centers, and an extension of the voting period beyond a single “Election Day,” and posed to him a list of questions about the bill. 

He was exceedingly thoughtful and thorough and answered all the questions.  Here are those questions, with his responses in bold italics.

What I’m most interested in learning more about is the difference between the “ballot dropoff locations” and “polling centers” referenced in SB 450.  A drop-off location is essentially a secured ballot box similar to a USPS mail box that a voter can deposit his/her ballot in.  We will require that they be available 24/7.  A polling center (soon to be renamed “vote center”) will be similar to a polling place where a voter can do several things: turn in their ballot, get a new one if mailed ballot is lost or damaged, vote on a disabled-compliant voting machine, etc.

If I properly understand the bill’s language, participating counties would be required to provide at least one ballot dropoff location for every 5,000 registered voters in the county and at least one polling center for every 15,000 registered voters.  Is that right?  Yes, but those ratios are subject of stakeholder discussions.

What exactly will be available for voters at the polling centers beyond ballots similar to the ones they already will have received by mail?  What role will VoteCal play in the process?  Will it obviate the need to collect unvoted mail-in ballots from in-person voters and thereby avoid the need to make them vote provisional ballots?  What kind of voting technology is envisioned for these polling centers, beyond the sample ballot and fill-in-the-circles card ballot that everyone will have already received in the mail?  See answer to first question.  Options for elimination of provisionals are being discussed but would require real time connectivity to VoteCal or the county’s election management system, or both.  Although it is possible to have a low tech vote center they would ideally be equipped with ballot on demand printing devices and e-poll books with aforementioned connectivity.

I see that the bill mandates the use of “newspapers, radio, and television” for public service announcements about the new program, but makes no reference to the use of increasingly-popular social media for the same purpose.  Has anyone suggested amending the bill to include social media among the ways to be used to inform and educate the voting public about the new system?  Yes, social media is part of the current discussion.

How much is all this going to cost and who is going to pay for it?  It will be an opt-in system on the part of the counties so they would incur any necessary start-up costs – most or all of which will be offset by not having to provide and staff a polling place for every 1,000 voters under current law.

How essential to the success of this bill’s plan is it that VoteCal be up-and-running by the time it goes into effect?  It is essential which is one of the reasons why the bill does not permit an election to be held under these conditions until 2018.

Do you have access to, and could you provide me with, a list of the participants in the SB 450 working group that includes representatives of legislators, the Secretary of State’s office, county election officials, and public advocacy groups? James Schwab is heading-up the effort on behalf of the SOS.  Assembly staff includes consultants from their Elections and Redistricting Committee.  We also have representatives from the elections offices of LA, Orange, Sacramento, and Santa Barbara Counties; CA Common Cause, NALEO, Disabled Rights California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and others.

When is this bill scheduled to be heard in committee in the Assembly?  Since it was drastically re-configured after being passed in its original, more-limited form by the Senate, will it need to go back to the Senate for concurrence after it passes the Assembly?  We will hear it in the Assembly E&R Committee late June or mid-July.  Yes, it will have to come back to our committee for a recommendation on concurrence.

Are you privy to any studies the state may have done about the likely benefits in terms of costs and levels of voter participation under this legislation, calculations that show the effect of these proposed changes on the “cost-per-vote” of election operations?  No formal studies but Colorado has been a good pilot and has seen greater participation and substantial cost savings according to discussions with their state and local elections officials.

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