BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                  SB 589
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          Date of Hearing:   June 11, 2013

                                  Paul Fong, Chair
                      SB 589 (Hill) - As Amended:  June 4, 2013

           SENATE VOTE  :   25-10
          SUBJECT  :   Vote by mail ballots: sample ballots.

           SUMMARY  :   Makes changes to vote by mail (VBM) procedures and  
          sample ballot mailings.  Specifically,  this bill  :   

          1)Requires the county elections official to establish a free  
            access system that allows a VBM voter to learn whether his or  
            her VBM ballot was counted and, if not, the reason why the  
            ballot was not counted.  Requires the elections official to  
            make the free access system available to a VBM voter upon the  
            completion of the official canvass and for 30 days thereafter.  

          2)Permits a county elections official to elect not to mail a  
            sample ballot to a voter if all of the following are  

             a)   The voter is one of the following:

               i)     A permanent VBM voter pursuant to existing law;

               ii)    A voter in an all-mail ballot election conducted  
                 pursuant to existing law; or,

               iii)   A voter in an all-mail ballot precinct pursuant to  
                 existing law.

             b)   The elections official prepares and mails to each voter  
               a voter information guide containing all of the information  
               required to be included in, and accompanied with all the  
               election materials required to accompany, the sample  
               ballot, except for both of the following:

               i)     An application for a VBM ballot; and,

               ii)    A notice that a VBM ballot application is enclosed.


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             c)   The voter is furnished a VBM ballot in accordance with  
               existing law.

          3)Provides that for each voter to whom the elections official  
            elects not to mail a sample ballot pursuant to the provisions  
            of this bill, the election official may cause to be printed  
            one less copy of the sample ballot. 


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           EXISTING LAW  :

          1)Outlines procedures for voting by mail and establishes  
            requirements for elections officials to compare the signature  
            on a VBM ballot envelope with that appearing on the affidavit  
            of registration. Provides that if the ballot is rejected  
            because the signatures do not compare, the envelope shall not  
            be opened and the ballot shall not be counted.  Requires the  
            cause of the rejection to be written on the face of the  
            identification envelope.

          2)Requires elections officials to establish procedures to track  
            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.  Provides that  
            if the county does not have an elections division Internet  
            website, the elections official shall establish a toll-free  
            telephone number that may be used to confirm the date a voted  
            VBM ballot was received. 

          3)Requires the Secretary of State to establish a free access  
            system to allow any voter who casts a provisional ballot to  
            discover whether his or her provisional ballot was counted  
            and, if not, the reason why it was not counted.

          4)Requires sample ballots be identical to official ballots and  
            that the sample ballots be printed on paper of a different  
            texture from the paper to be used for the official ballot. 

          5)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.

          6)Requires every ballot to contain all of the following:

             a)   The title of each office;

             b)   The names of all qualified candidates;

             c)   The titles and summaries of measures; and,

             d)   Instructions to voters.

          7)Requires the sample ballot to contain, among other things, the  


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            following items:

             a)   A copy of the official ballot used in the election;

             b)   A notice of the polling place to each voter;

             c)   A complete copy of each local measure;

             d)   A copy of the arguments and rebuttals for and against  
               each local measure; and, 

             e)   A copy of the analysis of each local measure.

           FISCAL EFFECT  :  Unknown.  State-mandated local program: contains  
          an offsetting savings disclaimer.

           COMMENTS  :   

           1)Purpose of the Bill  :  According to the author:

               For the first time in California's history, a majority of  
               voters in a general election cast their ballots by mail.   
               Fifty-one percent, or 6,753,688 out of the 13,202,158  
               Californians who voted in the November 6, 2012 election,  
               voted by mail.  Unfortunately, 59,370 vote-by-mail ballots  
               were rejected by county registrars throughout the state  
               during the November 6, 2012 election.  These vote-by-mail  
               voters submitted their ballots and thought they voted, not  
               knowing that their ballots were actually rejected.   
               Existing law already provides voters who cast a provisional  
               ballot at a polling place with the ability to verify with  
               county election officials if their provisional ballot was  
               counted, and if not, to learn why it was not counted.  
               Vote-by mail voters do not have this same ability.

               SB 589 would also allow vote-by-mail voters to contact  
               their local registrar of voters to determine if their  
               ballot was counted.  If their ballot was rejected, the bill  
               requires the registrar to inform the vote-by-mail voter why  
               their ballot was rejected so they can remedy the problem  
               for future elections. Under current law these vote-by-mail  
               voters have no way of knowing there's a problem and don't  
               know to fix the problem.  The most common reasons for a  
               rejected vote-by-mail ballot are late submission (registrar  
               receives the ballot in the mail after the election) and the  


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               signature on the ballot not matching with the signature on  
               the registration form.  

               The "free access system" requirement in the bill provides  
               county registrars with flexibility to determine how they  
               want to comply with the provisions of the bill.  County  
               registrars can comply with the bill by informing voters on  
               a walk-in basis, informing voters over the phone, or  
               informing voters online.  

               SB 589 also provides county registrars with flexibility on  
               printing requirements in order to reduce redundancy for  
               voters.  The bill allows county registrars to omit the  
               sample ballot language when they mail the voter information  
               guide to vote-by-mail voters.  This is a reasonable option  
               since vote-by-mail voters will receive the actual ballot  
               containing complete ballot language for all measures  
               shortly after the voter information guide is delivered.   
               Instead of receiving the ballot language twice,  
               vote-by-mail voters will only receive it once when they  
               receive their ballot.

           2)VBM Voting in California  :  Since the passage of AB 1520  
            (Shelley), Chapter 922, Statutes of 2001, which allowed any  
            voter to become a permanent VBM voter, the number of voters  
            choosing to vote using a VBM ballot has increased  
            significantly.  In the 2000 general election, 24.5% of votes  
            cast were VBM ballots, compared to 41.6% in the 2008 general  
            election, 48.4% in the 2010 general election, and 51.1% in the  
            2012 general election.  These trends suggest that the number  
            of voters opting to vote by VBM ballot will continue to  
            increase in the future.

           3)Reasons Why a VBM Ballot Might Not be Counted  :  Historically,  
            there have been two primary reasons why a VBM ballot that was  
            completed and returned to the elections officials may not be  
            counted.  One of the most common reasons is that many ballots  
            are received by the elections office after election day, and  
            state law requires that VBM ballots be received by the close  
            of polls on election day in order to counted.  A voter who was  
            under the mistaken impression that his or her ballot would be  
            counted as long as the envelope was postmarked by election day  
            could repeatedly have his or her ballot not counted, if that  
            voter regularly waited until election day to put the VBM  
            ballot in the mail.


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          The other primary reason why a VBM ballot might not be counted  
            is that the signature on the identification envelope does not  
            match the one on the voter's affidavit of registration.   
            Illness and age can be factors that contribute to a signature  
            changing over time.  For example, many older voters do not  
            realize that the signature on file with the registrar of  
            voters no longer matches their current signature and as a  
            result their VBM ballot may not be counted.  In addition,  
            recent county reports show that there has been an increase in  
            signatures being rejected for "no match" among young voters.    
            According to Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder's November 6,  
            2012 General Presidential Election Report, at the November  
            2010 election, they found that voters less than 50 years of  
            age and clustered in the 20-39 age groups represented a  
            disproportionately high number of rejected ballots for no  
            signature match.

          This bill provides a mechanism for voters to verify if their  
            ballot has been counted and, if not, a reason why it was not  
            counted.  Voters whose ballots were not counted would be able  
            to take appropriate steps to ensure their VBM ballots are  
            counted in the future.

           4)Will This Be Helpful to Counties  ?  As mentioned above, current  
            law requires county elections officials to send all voters,  
            including VBM voters, a sample ballot that is an identical  
            copy of the official ballot.  In addition to a copy of the  
            official ballot, current law requires the sample ballot to  
            contain, among other things, a notice of the polling place to  
            each voter, a complete copy of each local measure, and an  
            analysis of each measure.  This bill instead would allow  
            county elections officials to elect not to send a sample  
            ballot to a VBM voter, as specified, as long as the  
            information that accompanies the sample ballot is provided to  
            the voter.  Proponents argue that the sample ballot duplicates  
            the information on the VBM ballot already being sent to those  
            same voters and that this bill will simplify the information  
            going to VBM voters, increase efficiency, and reduce printing  
            and postage costs incurred by county elections officials.  

          While this option may be helpful to some county elections  
            officials, others will not be able to utilize this option.   
            For example, Los Angeles County has been using the InkaVote  
            Plus Voting System for all their elections since 2003.  This  


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            device uses an ink marker and requires each voter to insert  
            their ballot card into the voting device, or vote recorder,  
            securing the ballot over fixed red pins and then "inks" the  
            ovals on their ballot card accordingly.

            According to staff with the Los Angeles County Registrar  
            Recorder's Office, in addition to their ballot card, VBM  
            voters receive a VBM instruction guide/sample ballot.  All  
            candidates and measures up for election have corresponding  
            numbers printed inside the instruction guide and correspond to  
            the numbers printed on the voter's ballot.  The ballot can  
            accommodate up to 360 offices and or measures.  Consequently,  
            Los Angeles County would likely be unable to elect not to send  
            sample ballots to VBM voters, as specified. 

            On the other hand, according to the proponents of the bill,  
            other counties do currently have the infrastructure and  
            capability to elect to not mail sample ballots to voters, as  
            specified.  Moreover, depending on the county, this bill could  
            be beneficial and result in a reduction in printing and  
            mailing costs.  Additionally, proponents of the bill state  
            that this option may also help reduce voter confusion, as VBM  
            voters will only receive ballot language once when they  
            receive their official ballot.  With the continued increase in  
            voters choosing to vote by mail, this bill could be a helpful  
            option for some counties.  

           5)Related Legislation  :  AB 1135 (Mullin), which is pending in  
            the Senate Elections & Constitutional Amendments Committee,  
            allows an elections official to use supporting documents, as  
            specified, in the voter's file when comparing the signature on  
            the voter's VBM ballot.  AB 1135 passed this committee on a  
            5-2 vote.

           6)Previous Legislation  :  AB 293 (Hill) of 2011, which is similar  
            to this bill, was vetoed by Governor Brown.  In his veto  
            message, the Governor stated that while he supports the  
            author's goal, under existing law, local governments can  
            already implement this type of database on their own. 

            AB 2616 (Hill) of 2010, which is similar to this bill, was  
            vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.  In his veto message, the  
            Governor wrote, "I cannot support mandating additional costs  
            in this time of fiscal crisis.  Nothing in current law  
            prohibits county elections officials from providing this  


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            information and I would encourage them to do so as resources  


          Secretary of State Debra Bowen (sponsor)
          California Common Cause
          California Federation of Teachers 
          California State Council of the Service Employees International  
          None on file.

           Analysis Prepared by  :    Nichole Becker / E. & R. / (916)