BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



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          Date of Hearing:  May 13, 2015


                  ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON ELECTIONS AND REDISTRICTING


                           Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Chair


          AB 363  
          (Steinorth) - As Amended May 6, 2015


          SUBJECT:  Closing of the polls.


          SUMMARY:  Authorizes county elections officials, on election  
          day, to begin accounting and processing polling place ballots  
          during the day, instead of waiting until the closing of the  
          polls, as specified.  Specifically, this bill:  


          1)Authorizes a precinct board, when accounting for ballots at  
            the closing of the polls, as specified, to either account for  
            the ballots at a polling place or to be performed by the  
            elections official at a central counting place, instead of  
            only allowing a precinct board to account for ballots at a  
            polling place.


          2)Permits a county elections official, before the closing of the  
            polls instead of at the close of the polls, to direct a  
            precinct board to seal the ballot container and record on  
            forms prescribed by the elections official the information  
            needed for the reconciliation of ballots, as specified. 


          3)Allows a county elections official to direct a precinct board  
            to seal the ballot container prior to the closing of the polls  








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            in accordance with existing law.  Permits a county elections  
            official, as soon as the container is sealed, to direct at  
            least two elections officials to remove the sealed ballot  
            container of voted untallied ballots from the polling place  
            and, in the presence of any bystanders, to deliver the  
            container to a receiving center or central counting place as  
            directed.  Allows a county elections official, upon receipt of  
            a container at a receiving center or central counting place,  
            to process the voted untallied ballots.  Prohibits the tally  
            of ballots or release of any results prior to the closing of  
            the polls.  Provides that the procedures described shall not  
            be construed as relieving a precinct board of its  
            responsibility to account for ballots in accordance with  
            existing law. 


          4)Makes other technical changes.  


          EXISTING LAW:  


          1)Requires members of a precinct board to account for ballots  
            delivered to them by returning a sufficient number of unused  
            ballots to make up, when added to the number of official  
            ballots cast and the number of spoiled and canceled ballots  
            returned, the number of ballots given to them. 


          2)Requires members of a precinct board, as soon as the polls are  
            closed, to remove the voted ballots from the ballot container  
            and take them out of the secrecy envelopes or detach them from  
            the secrecy stubs.  Requires the precinct board to count the  
            number of ballot cards in each group, and certify the number  
            of ballots cast on the voting roster, as specified.  Requires  
            the precinct board, if there is any discrepancy between the  
            number of voters listed in the roster and the number of  
            ballots voted, to note this fact with an explanation of the  
            difference signed by all the members of the precinct board.  








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          3)Requires precinct board members to group voted ballot cards  
            and voted separate write-in ballots, as directed by the  
            elections official, and place them in containers.  Requires  
            the board to place spoiled and void ballots, if any, in  
            containers as directed by the elections official.  Requires  
            all the containers to be placed in one or more boxes and  
            sealed and delivered as soon as possible to the receiving  
            centers or central counting places with the unused ballots,  
            supplies, and other materials as directed by the elections  
            officials. 


          4)Prohibits the removal of a ballot container from a polling  
            place or the presence of any persons assembled at the polling  
            place until all the ballots are counted and prohibits the  
            ballot container from being opened until after the polls are  
            closed. 



          FISCAL EFFECT:  None.  This bill is keyed non-fiscal by the  
          Legislative Counsel. 


          COMMENTS:  


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


               AB 363 will improve election efficiency by allowing for  
               ballots to be picked up from Election Day polling places  
               and processed at a central counting location before the  
               polls are closed. In doing so, election results will be  
               reported much sooner on election night, and counties will  
               save taxpayer dollars by reducing overtime costs. Further,  
               this bill will give election officials the option to modify  








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               current ballot reconciliation procedures in an attempt to  
               make them more effective and secure.



               Existing law allows for absentee ballots which have been  
               dropped off at polling places to be transported prior to  
               the close of polls, but inconsistently, the law does not  
               allow for early pick-up of ballots which had been cast at  
               the polling place. Allowing for early pick-up of all  
               ballots will make a critical difference in geographically  
               expansive counties, within which it may take hours to  
               transport ballots from a remote polling location to the  
               counting location.



               AB 363's improved ballot reconciliation process will make  
               results more accurate and secure, because reconciliation  
               will take place in a controlled environment, under the  
               supervision of election professionals. If a discrepancy is  
               found by the elections official, he/she has the authority  
               to investigate further, as opposed to poll workers who have  
               no authority to act upon any inconsistencies. Voters may  
               feel more secure in knowing that their voted ballot cannot  
               be tampered with, because the ballot box will be sealed and  
               quickly moved to the counting location, rather than counted  
               and handled by poll workers at the polling place.



               This practice exists in many other counties in the United  
               States and has proven to be highly effective and secure.


          2)Closing of the Polls Procedures: Existing law establishes  
            procedures for processing ballots following the closing of the  
            polls on election day.  Specifically, once the polls close,  
            current law requires members of the precinct board to account  








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            for ballots delivered to them whether voted, unused, spoiled,  
            or canceled.  This process is commonly known as ballot  
            reconciliation.  Existing law prohibits a ballot container  
            from being opened until after the polls are closed and further  
            prohibits the removal of a ballot container from a polling  
            place until all ballots are counted.  Once reconciliation is  
            completed ballot containers are allowed to be delivered to  
            their assigned receiving center or central counting location  
            for processing.  

          This bill creates and authorizes county elections officials to  
            utilize an additional reconciliation procedure.  First, this  
            bill permits the ballot reconciliation process to begin before  
            the polls close, instead of after the polls close.  Second,  
            this bill allows ballot containers to be transported to a  
            receiving center or central counting place for ballot  
            reconciliation and processing before the polls close.  These  
            are significant departures from current practice which  
            prohibits the removal of a ballot container from a polling  
            place until all ballots are counted and further prohibits a  
            ballot container from being opened until after the polls are  
            closed.  According to the author and the proponents of this  
            bill, this new procedure is a much needed option for county  
            elections officials, especially those counties that are  
            geographically expansive.  Proponents contend that the new  
            ballot reconciliation process outlined in this bill will  
            expedite ballot processing by allowing ballots to be processed  
            and transported to counting locations prior to the closing of  
            the polls as well as provide for more timely results, reduce  
            election administrative costs, and increase overall election  
            efficiency.
          3)Security Concerns:  As mentioned above, current law only  
            allows ballot reconciliation to begin once the polls close.   
            This bill instead permits ballot reconciliation to begin  
            before the polls close and allows county elections officials  
            to collect and transport voted ballots to receiving centers or  
            central counting locations multiple times on election day.   
            This bill, however, does not place any limitations on how many  
            times throughout election day ballot containers may be  








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            transported.  As a result, ballots may be transported multiple  
            times and ballot reconciliation will need to occur each time.   
            Because this bill does not place any limitations on how many  
            times ballot containers may be transported, the ability to  
            identify and correct any error during ballot reconciliation  
            may be challenging.  


            Moreover, this bill does not contain any security measures to  
            ensure the secure delivery and transfer of the ballots to the  
            receiving center or central counting place.  If an elections  
            official chooses to utilize the option to transport ballot  
            containers before the polls close, the bill only requires that  
            there are at least two elections officials to remove the  
            sealed ballot containers of voted ballots from the polling  
            place, and in the presence of any bystanders, deliver the  
            container to a receiving center or central counting place.   
            The bill does not contain any security requirements beyond  
            those provisions.  



            While an argument can be made that placing a limitation on the  
            number of times ballots may be transported in statute may be  
            too prescriptive, the lack of security requirements is still  
            concerning.  The committee may wish to consider whether the  
            lack of security measures may lead to mishandling of voted  
            ballots.  Furthermore, the author and the committee may wish  
            to consider whether the bill should be amended to require the  
            Secretary of State (SOS) to adopt regulations to ensure ballot  
            containers are securely transported. 
          4)Greater Transparency?  Many counties, especially large  
            counties, encounter late reconciliation issues partly due to  
            the size of the county which requires elections staff to be on  
            the road for hours driving to remote polling places to pick up  
            ballot containers and then delivering them back to a central  
            processing location.   Due to their large geographical size,  
            these large counties are unable to report election night  
            reports until late into the morning of the day after election  








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            day.  Moreover, while current law requires the reconciliation  
            process to be open to the public, in practice, once the polls  
            close many individuals are not around to monitor and ensure  
            ballot reconciliation is done properly.  This bill, which  
            permits the reconciliation of ballots to be accomplished at a  
            central counting location, may provide more transparency by  
            making it easier for the public to ensure ballots are properly  
            being handled as the ballots will be reconciled, processed,  
            scanned, and tabulated at the same place at certain times  
            throughout the election day.

            As mentioned above, this bill permits ballot reconciliation to  
            begin before the polls close and allows county elections  
            officials to collect and transport voted ballots to receiving  
            centers or central counting locations multiple times on  
            election day.  However, this bill, does not prescribe when the  
            new reconciliation process will occur nor does the bill  
            contain any public notice requirements to ensure the public is  
            made aware of when and where the reconciliation process will  
            occur during election day.  The committee may wish to amend  
            the bill to require the elections official to provide a public  
            announcement to ensure the public is made aware of when and  
            where ballots are being processed.  


          5)Logistics:  This bill permits ballot reconciliation to begin  
            before the polls close and allows county elections officials  
            to collect and transport ballot containers to receiving  
            centers or central counting locations multiple times on  
            election day.  What happens once a ballot container is removed  
            from a polling place?  Is it replaced with a new ballot  
            container?  Will polling places be required to have more  
            ballot containers now that this bill allows for a ballot  
            container to be removed during election day?  The committee  
            may wish to amend the bill to resolve this issue.


          6)Related Legislation:  SB 417 (Stone), authorizes the precinct  
            board of a county with a geographic area of at least 2500  








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            square miles to remove the ballot container or containers from  
            the polling place while the polls remain open only to  
            facilitate the early delivery of ballots to the receiving  
            centers or central counting places.  SB 417 also requires the  
            SOS to adopt regulations for the secure delivery and transfer  
            of the ballots to the receiving center or central counting  
            place.  SB 417 is pending on the Senate Appropriations  
            Committee's suspense file. 


          7)Arguments in Support:  In support, the California Association  
            of Clerks and Election Officials, writes:


               Many large counties' final election night reports are late  
               into the morning of the day after the election due to  
               technological, logistical, and geographic limitations.   
               This bill does not require election officials without such  
               challenges to change any current procedures.



               The bill permits the sealing and delivery of ballot  
               containers to a central location where the containers will  
               be opened and the ballots will be processed. The complex  
               and time consuming reconciliation of the ballots cast would  
               be performed centrally with greater accuracy. This would  
               have the dual effect of speeding up the return of ballots  
               on Election Night as well as reducing the time required to  
               complete the count and produce a final unofficial report of  
               results. A further benefit would be a reduction in labor  
               and overtime costs.

               We appreciate your recognition of the challenges faced by  
               large counties that count ballots centrally. This bill  
               represents a viable solution for many until new voting  
               technology, without these constraints and limitations, is  
               authorized and fielded in the state.









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          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:




          Support


          County of San Bernardino (sponsor)


          California Association of Clerks and Election Officials


          California State Association of Counties


          Rural County Representatives of California


          Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors


          Urban Counties Caucus




          Opposition


          None on file.




          Analysis Prepared by:Nichole Becker / E. & R. / (916) 319-2094









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