BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



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          Date of Hearing:   April 29, 2015


                  ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON ELECTIONS AND REDISTRICTING


                           Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Chair


          AB 800  
          (Gomez) - As Amended March 23, 2015


          SUBJECT:  Elections:  vote by mail ballots.


          SUMMARY:  Requires the postage on return envelopes for vote by  
          mail (VBM) ballots to be prepaid.  Specifically, this bill  
          requires an elections official, when delivering a VBM ballot to  
          a voter, to include a return envelope with postage prepaid if  
          the ballot is to be mailed within the territorial limits of the  
          United States or the District of Columbia.


          EXISTING LAW requires an elections official to deliver all of  
          the following to each qualified applicant for a VBM ballot:


          1)The ballot for the precinct in which the voter resides and, in  
            the case of a presidential primary election, the ballot for  
            the central committee of the party for which the voter has  
            declared a preference, if any; and,


          2)All supplies necessary for the use and return of the ballot.











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          FISCAL EFFECT:  Unknown. State-mandated local program; contains  
          reimbursement direction.


          COMMENTS:  


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


               Increasing voter turnout is crucial to the future of  
               California. AB 800 will provide paid postage envelopes  
               for registered voters who elect to vote-by-mail and  
               removes one obstacle for voters.


          2)Vote by Mail Voting: AB 1520 (Shelley) Chapter 922, Statutes  
            of 2001, allowed any voter to become a permanent VBM voter.   
            Since that time, the percentage of voters in California who  
            choose to receive a VBM ballot has increased significantly.   
            While just under 25 percent of voters who participated in the  
            2000 statewide general election cast a VBM ballot, more than  
            60 percent of voters who participated in the 2014 statewide  
            general election voted using a VBM ballot. 

          While these figures demonstrate that there has been a  
            substantial increase in the number of voters who are casting a  
            VBM ballot, they also give a somewhat misleading picture of  
            the portion of voters who are returning their ballots by mail,  
            since many voters who receive a VBM ballot return their  
            completed ballots in person to polling places or to ballot  
            drop-off sites established by elections officials. In August  
            2014, the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit,  
            nonpartisan organization that works to advance the responsible  
            use of technology to improve the democratic process, released  
            a study that looked at the VBM process in three California  
            counties (Orange, Sacramento, and Santa Cruz), and made  









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            recommendations to improve the VBM process based on that  
            study. While statewide figures are not available, the report  
            found that at the 2012 general election, approximately 30  
            percent of VBM voters in the three counties studied returned  
            their ballots in person.  In Santa Cruz County, 48 percent of  
            VBM voters who cast a ballot at the 2012 general election did  
            not mail back their ballots, but instead returned their  
            ballots to the office of the elections official, to a ballot  
            drop-off site, or to a polling place on election day.

          3)Jurisdictions that Prepay Return Postage: Although it is not  
            currently required by state law, some jurisdictions  
            nevertheless prepay the return postage for VBM ballots.   
            Alpine and Sierra Counties, both of which conduct elections  
            entirely by mailed ballot, both prepay the return postage on  
            all VBM ballots, as does the City and County of San Francisco.



          4)San Mateo County Study: A study undertaken by a group of  
            academics, conducted in San Mateo County and published in the  
            Election Law Journal (Volume 11, Number 3, 2012) suggests  
            providing prepaid postage for VBM ballot return envelopes may  
            have little effect on overall turnout, and could create  
            confusion for voters. In their study, conducted at the  
            November 2010 statewide general election, postage-paid return  
            envelopes were provided to 10,000 permanent VBM voters in San  
            Mateo County who were selected at random.  The researchers  
            compared participation rates between those voters who received  
            a postage-paid return envelope and those who did not.  The  
            researchers found that the voters who received a postage-paid  
            envelope were no more likely to vote than those who did not,  
            but also found that voters who received a postage-paid  
            envelope were more likely to vote in person (i.e., not by  
            mail) than those who did not.  Voters who had regularly voted  
            by mail in prior elections and who received a postage-paid  
            envelope were even more likely to vote in person than voters  









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            who voted by mail more infrequently in the past.  The  
            researchers hypothesized that the disruption in the routine to  
            VBM voters who were receiving a postage-paid return envelope  
            for the first time, combined with potentially confusing  
            instructions, may have caused some voters to vote in person in  
            order to ensure that their ballots were counted.  The  
            researchers concluded that carefully worded ballot  
            instructions and highlighting changes to voting procedures may  
            help ease voter confusion and concerns.



          5)Could Prepaid Return Postage Delay Ballots?  As detailed  
            above, last summer, the California Voter Foundation released a  
            study of the VBM process in three California counties.  One of  
            the counties studied-Sacramento County-prepays the return  
            postage on ballots for voters who live in all-mail ballot  
            precincts through the use of business reply mail (California  
            law allows elections officials to convert any precinct with  
            fewer than 250 voters into an all-mail ballot precinct, where  
            all voters in the precinct are mailed a ballot and no polling  
            place is established for that precinct on election day).  The  
            study found that the ballots that had prepaid postage through  
            the use of business reply mail could be delayed at the post  
            office, because those ballots had to be processed through the  
            business reply unit of the post office in order to be canceled  
            against the county's business reply account.  The study noted  
            that "[w]hen only one person works in the business reply unit,  
            mail can be delayed if that person is out of the office or if  
            there is a surge of business reply mail from other sources,  
            possibly disenfranchising a voter who waited until close to  
            the election to return his or her ballot."  While the report  
            did not recommend against providing prepaid return postage for  
            VBM ballots, it cautioned that "[w]hile some have suggested  
            providing postage-paid envelopes to all VBM voters (and not  
            just those overseas or living in an all vote-by-mail precinct  
            as current law provides), doing so can actually delay VBM  









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            ballot processing since postage paid mail is typically sent  
            business class, not first class. In addition, the cost must be  
            debited from the account holder before the mail piece can be  
            delivered. Ensuring postage-paid mail is debited from the  
            correct account adds extra time to ballot processing and can  
            further delay the return of voted ballots."



          Last year, the Legislature approved and the Governor signed SB  
            29 (Correa), Chapter 618, Statutes of 2014, which allowed  
            ballots that are mailed by election day to be counted if they  
            are received by the third day after the election.  While SB 29  
            may help protect against voters being inadvertently  
            disenfranchised if ballots are delayed due to the use of  
            business reply mail under this bill, if delays in the return  
            of VBM ballots nonetheless persist, the timeframe for ballots  
            to be received that was established in SB 29 may need to be  
            revisited to ensure that voters are not inadvertently  
            disenfranchised. 
          
          6)Postal Service Policy Regarding Ballots With Insufficient  
            Postage: In order to protect against the inadvertent  
            disenfranchisement of voters, it is the policy of the United  
            States Postal Service that VBM ballots with insufficient  
            postage "must not be detained or treated as unpaid mail."   
            Instead, under Postal Service policy, postal workers are  
            supposed to deliver the ballot to the appropriate elections  
            official, and to seek to recover the postage due from the  
            elections official.  Notwithstanding this policy, ballots are  
            nonetheless occasionally returned to voters for insufficient  
            postage. 



          7)State Mandates: The last four state budgets have suspended  
            various state mandates as a mechanism for cost savings. Among  









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            the mandates that were suspended were all existing  
            elections-related mandates. All the existing elections-related  
            mandates have been proposed for suspension again by the  
            Governor in his budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year. This bill  
            adds another elections-related mandate by requiring local  
            elections official to prepay the return postage for VBM  
            ballots.  The Committee may wish to consider whether it is  
            desirable to create new election mandates when current  
            elections-related mandates are suspended.



          8)Previous Legislation: This bill is similar to SB 1062 (Block)  
            of 2014, which was held on the Senate Appropriations  
            Committee's suspense file, and to AB 1519 (De La Torre) of  
            2009 and SB 117 (Murray) of 2005, both of which were held on  
            the Assembly Appropriations Committee's suspense file.  


          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:




          Support


          American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,  
          AFL-CIO


          Service Employees International Union, California State Council




          Opposition









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          None on file.




          Analysis Prepared by:Ethan Jones / E. & R. / (916) 319-2094