BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                  AB 503
                                                                  Page  1

          Date of Hearing:   May 4, 2011

                        ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
                                Felipe Fuentes, Chair

                     AB 503 (Block) - As Amended:  April 4, 2011 

          Policy Committee:                              ElectionsVote:5-2

          Urgency:     No                   State Mandated Local Program: 
          Yes    Reimbursable:              Yes

           SUMMARY  

          This bill requires an elections official, upon the request of a 
          qualified write-in candidate, to hand tally the votes for the 
          write-in candidate, as specified, and to count each ballot if 
          the intent of the voter can be determined.  Specifically, this 
          bill:  

          1)Defines "undervote," for the purposes of this bill, as a 
            ballot on which a voter failed to cast any vote for a specific 
            office or failed to cast the maximum number of votes 
            permitted, as detected by an electronic, mechanical, or other 
            vote-tabulating device.

          2)Requires an elections official, after tallying all eligible 
            votes but prior to completion of the official canvass and the 
            issuance of the certified statement of the results, to hand 
            tally undervotes if any of certain specified conditions apply.

          3)Permits the elections official to stop the hand tally upon 
            determining that the conditions are no longer applicable or 
            when all of the undervotes for the office have been examined. 

          4)Requires the elections official, while conducting the hand 
            tally, to count each vote for the office if the intent of the 
            voter can be determined, regardless of whether the voter has 
            complied with the voting instructions.  

          5)Provides that the requirement of the elections official to 
            hand tally undervotes only applies:

             a)   If a request is received within five days of completion 
               of the semi-official canvass from a qualified write-in 








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               candidate for an office being voted on in that election for 
               an examination of undervotes. 

             b)   In an election that was conducted using a voting system 
               in which write-in spaces appear directly below the list of 
               candidates for that office and provide a voting space.

          6)Provides that a qualified write-in candidate is not 
            responsible for the costs of a hand tally requested pursuant 
            to this bill.

           FISCAL EFFECT  

          Statewide costs would depend on the number of recounts involved, 
          but could result in GF reimbursable costs in the millions of 
          dollars following any election. One large county, based on a 
          recent recount involving only 16% of county precincts, estimates 
          that a countywide recount would cost $250,000, which does not 
          incorporate the likely overtime costs of performing the recount 
          during the official canvas period.

           COMMENTS  

           1)Background and Purpose  . Donna Frye was a qualified write-in 
            candidate for Mayor of the City of San Diego at the November 
            2004 election. When the official canvass of election results 
            was completed, it showed Frye finishing second to incumbent 
            mayor Dick Murphy by 2,108 votes.  A recount requested by five 
            media organizations and two Frye supporters uncovered a total 
            of 5,551 ballots in which a voter wrote-in Frye's name on the 
            ballot in the correct location, but did not darken the oval 
            next to the write-in space.  Had those ballots been counted 
            for Frye, she would have won the election by 3,443 votes.  
            However, the registrar of voters in San Diego County refused 
            to count those votes, citing state law that requires the oval 
            to be filled-in in order for a write-in vote to count. A 
            subsequent lawsuit challenging the registrar's decision was 
            rejected by the court.

            This bill would require a recount of ballots at the write-in 
            candidate's request, including write-in ballots where, even 
            though not properly marked, the voters' intent can be 
            discerned, in those circumstances where it is mathematically 
            possible to change the election outcome. Under current law, 
            any candidate requesting a recount must pay for that recount 








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            unless it changes the outcome of the election.

           2)Elections Mandates  .  As recently passed by the Legislature, 
            the pending 2011-12 Budget suspends most existing 
            state-mandated local programs, including  all six existing 
            elections-related mandates, as a cost-savings mechanism. This 
            bill adds another expensive mandate.

           3)Related Legislation  . AB 461 (Bonilla), pending on the Assembly 
            floor, requires a write-in vote to be counted, in the event of 
            a manual recount,  if the voter's intent can be determined, 
            regardless of whether the voter has complied with the voting 
            instructions.

           4)Prior Legislation  . SB 439 (Calderon) of 2007, which was 
            similar to AB 461, was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger, who 
            wrote, "The bill does not specify how the voter's intent could 
            be determined.  If enacted this bill would introduce 
            subjectivity into the electoral process without providing any 
            direction or guidance to the elections officials?Requiring 
            that a voter fill in the corresponding bubble for a write-in 
            candidate is necessary for the efficient administration of the 
            vote count, and imposes a very small burden on a voter." 

          AB 43 (Vargas) of 2005, which was substantially similar to SB 
            439, was approved by the Assembly, but was never heard in the 
            Senate Elections Committee.

          SB 1050 (Bowen) of 2005, which would have required a hand tally 
            of all ballots at the request of a write-in candidate, if 
            specified conditions were met, was also vetoed by Governor 
            Schwarzenegger, who wrote, "This process will expand the 
            number of manual hand recounts, which will lead to an 
            unnecessary delay in completing the canvass and certifying 
            election results.  It will require county elections officials 
            to review every mark on ballots even in situations where it is 
            virtually impossible for the candidate challenging the vote to 
            prevail."

           Analysis Prepared by :    Chuck Nicol / APPR. / (916) 319-2081