Monday, June 22, 2015

Top LA election official supports reform, emphasizes that California is not Colorado

Dean Logan, Register-Recorder/County Clerk of Los Angeles County, testified at a California State Senate Joint Oversight Hearing of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments and Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committees on May 15, 2015, at the Capitol in Sacramento as they were considering the matter of SB 450, which would allow the state’s counties to opt-in, starting in January, 2018, to a new voting model, one based on an all-mail-in ballot, voting kiosks and centers, and the extension of the voting period prior to the official “election day.”

He began by acknowledging that low voter participation rates stem at least in part by factors unrelated to the mechanics of voting, saying that “We also know that when there are issues and candidates on the ballot that voters care deeply about and when they believe that their vote makes a difference, they tend to show up regardless of place, time and location.”

That said, he urged discussion about the “removal of the administrative barriers and obstacles that get in the way of voters who want to participate in the election.”

While he applauded all the attention being paid by electoral reformers to the Colorado system of all-mail-in ballots and voting centers, he reminded his listeners that the transition to this new system had been incremental in Colorado, and would have to be so in California as well. 

He also cited the enormous demographic disparities between Colorado and California, saying, “To put that in perspective, Los Angeles County has 4.9 million registered voters in the county alone -- one and a half million more voter than the entire state of Colorado which is served by 64 registrars rather than a single registrar of voters.”

He referred to the enormity of the task involved in providing all registered voters in Los Angeles County with a mail-in ballot under various scenarios, pointing out that “If the motor voter bill [Lorena Gonzalez’ AB 1461] passes we could very well be mailing 6 million vote by mail ballots.”  He continued:  “In fact, at our 33 percent total right now, Los Angeles County mails and processes more mail ballots than any jurisdiction in the country and there are a limited number of vendors and providers to support that system.”

Limitations on the number of vendors and providers to support a massive increase in mail-in ballots is not the only technical challenge involved in making the transition to an all-mail-in system.  Logan points out that the VoteCal [registered voter data base] system, the smooth operation of which is essential if the vote center concept is to work, “did not contemplate the vote center model and did not incorporate the elections management functions that still remain at the local level with the 58 counties. That is a component that will need to be built in and added on to VoteCal if we want to do this and do it right.”

He said he wanted to make sure “we provide accessible locations where all voters have the opportunity to vote an independent ballot with secrecy and dignity.”

He also raised some questions about how to accommodate all voters’ needs for the appropriate language in their voting materials, saying that “This will be a transformative process for both administrators and voters alike.”

Dean Logan, who identified himself at the start of his remarks as “Registrar of Voters for the largest local government in the country,” concluded his presentation by saying:

“I am optimistic and encouraged about the possibility of change and improvement for California elections and I believe that it will have the end result of helping us increase voter participation.  I don’t think changing the manner of voting can do it alone, but it can be an important part of the process and I look forward to the continued dialogue. I hope that it continues to be collaborative and that we take into account the various concerns of all jurisdictions from smallest to largest. I think we have the opportunity here to make a real difference for California.”

The bill in question, SB 450, will be the subject of additional testimony and attention in the Assembly Elections and Reapportionment Committee on Wednesday, July 1st.

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