BILL ANALYSIS Ó Senate Appropriations Committee Fiscal Summary Senator Kevin de León, Chair SB 589 (Hill) - Vote by mail ballots. Amended: April 1, 2013 Policy Vote: E&CA 4-1 Urgency: No Mandate: Yes Hearing Date: April 15, 2013 Consultant: Maureen Ortiz This bill does not meet the criteria for referral to the Suspense File. Bill Summary: SB 589 requires county election officials to offer a free access system whereby vote-by-mail (VBM) voters can learn whether their ballot was counted, authorizes elections officials to compare signatures to previous affidavits on file, and also authorizes the counties to elect not to mail sample ballots under specified conditions. Fiscal Impact: Potentially minor costs to counties for providing free-access system (General) Potential savings to counties for printing and mailing fewer sample ballots. (General) Background: The number of VBM voters in California has increased significantly over recent years. During the 2012 Statewide General Election, approximately 6.8 million (51%) Californians cast their ballots by mail. Existing law provides for all of the following: - Outlines procedures for voting by mail and establishes requirements for elections officials to compare the signature on a vote by mail (VBM) ballot envelope with that appearing on the affidavit of registration. If the ballot is rejected because the signatures do not compare, the envelope is not opened and the ballot is not counted. The cause of the rejection must be written on the face of the identification envelope. - Requires elections officials to establish procedures to track SB 589 (Hill) Page 1 and confirm the receipt of VBM ballots and to make this information available by means of online access using the county's elections division Internet website. If the county does not have an elections division Internet website, the elections official must establish a toll-free telephone number that may be used to confirm the date a voted VBM ballot was received. - Requires the Secretary of State (SOS) to establish a free access system to allow any voter who casts a provisional ballot to learn whether his or her provisional ballot was counted and, if not, the reason why it was not counted. - Provides that in order to facilitate the timely production and distribution of sample ballots, the county elections official may prepare a combined sample ballot, which also contains the voter information guide (VIG). The most common reasons why a VBM ballot is not counted is that either the ballot arrives after the close of polls on elections day, or that the signature on the identification envelope is missing or does not match the signature on the voter's affidavit of registration. Proposed Law: Under existing law, the county elections officials compare the signature on the identification envelope of VBM ballots with the signature on the affidavit of registration. SB 589 will allow the elections officials to also use the signature on the voter's previous affidavit of registration that is on file with the elections official, and to use the signature on the VBM ballot applications. SB 589 requires each county elections official to establish a free access system that allows a vote by mail voter to learn whether his or her ballot was counted and, if not, the reason why the ballot was not counted. The free access system must be available to voters for at least 30 days immediately following the completion of the official canvass. Existing law requires each county elections official to prepare, print and mail a sample ballot to every registered voter at least 29 days prior to an election. SB 589 will allow the counties to elect not to mail a sample ballot to a voter if that SB 589 (Hill) Page 2 voter is a permanent VBM voter, is in an all-mail ballot election, or is in an all-mail ballot precinct. SB 589 also provides that an election official does not have to mail a sample ballot if the voter has already received a Voter Information Guide which contained a sample ballot. Related Legislation: This bill is similar to AB 293 (Hill) of 2011, AB 2616 (Hill) of 2010, AB 84 (Hill) of 2009, and AB 2964 (Levine) of 2008 - all of which were vetoed based on cost concerns. Staff Comments: During the 2012 Presidential Election, approximately 59,000 of the 6.8 million VBM ballots were rejected throughout the state. SB 589 allows any VBM voter to contact his or her local elections official by using a free access system (walk in, toll-free number, or online) and learn if his or her ballot was counted, and if it was rejected the voter can learn the reason for the rejection.