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Partisanship roils voting reform efforts

A sign outside a Los Angeles voting location in 10 languages. (Photo: Underawesternsky, via Shutterstock)

Moves to make voting easier in California have caused yet another divide between Republicans and Democrats.

The Republicans say they are worried because the door to voter fraud might swing wide open. Democrats say California needs greater civic participation by groups who have historically shown lackluster voting turnouts, and automatic vote-by-mail and electronic registration will help.

The general consensus among political types is that Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s “Motor Voter” program, which registers Californians when they apply for driver’s licenses, along with automatic vote-by-mail will increase voter registration and turnout — and that probably adds up to more Democratic votes.

Voters could return their ballot by mail, take it to a drop-off location, or cast it in-person at any vote center in their county.

That’s because Motor Voter has the potential for increasing registration among historically under-registered minorities, and they are generally more inclined to vote for Democrats.

But Motor Voter also has been handicapped by problems at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“In the last several months, DMV officials have come clean about mishandling voter registration information for 23,000 drivers and double registering as many as 77,000 people. The latest bombshell? As many as 1,500 ineligible voters were registered, including an unknown number of non-citizens,” noted GOP Assemblymembers Jim Patterson and Vince Fong in an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee.

“What DMV officials didn’t acknowledge — and still haven’t — was what may be the underlying problem: The agency rolled out a massive new voter-registration effort with a piecemeal computer system,” CALmatters reported.

“A little over 12 million vote-by-mail ballots were issued in the June Primary. I would anticipate a similar number this November.” — Sam Mahood

The latest legislative move by Padilla and Gov. Jerry Brown, both Democrats, is SB 450, which Brown and Padilla say will “modernize” California voting by phasing in automatic vote-by-mail.

Under the legislation, which Brown signed in September of 2016, registered voters would automatically receive a ballot in the mail 28 days before an election. Voters could return their ballot by mail, take it to a drop-off location, or cast it in-person at any vote center in their county. There would no longer be a need to request an absentee or mail-in ballot.

“A little over 12 million vote-by-mail ballots were issued in the June Primary. I would anticipate a similar number this November,” said Sam Mahood, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office.

The all-Republican Orange County Board of Supervisors, without discussion, voted unanimously not to participate.

In an email to Capitol Weekly, Mahood added that there will be savings of taxpayer dollars:

“There are long term savings expected when a county adopts the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA). Under the VCA every voter is automatically mailed a ballot, and polling places are replaced with fewer vote centers (which offer more early voting opportunities and geographic flexibility). For example, Sacramento County was required to operate 538 polling place locations for the 2016 Presidential Election, but under the VCA they only had 78 Vote Centers open for the 2018 Primary.”

Padilla listed the counties eligible to participate in the 2018 beginning of the phase-in as Calaveras, Inyo, Madera, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sierra, Sutter, and Tuolumne. All other counties would be allowed to adopt SB 450 reforms in 2020.

The all-Republican Orange County Board of Supervisors, without discussion, voted unanimously not to participate.

“I have real concerns about voter fraud,” Supervisor Todd Spitzer told the Orange County Register.

“There have been so many changes to the voting systems that no one is on top of them.” — Cynthia Bryant

Padilla, a former Democratic legislator, was outraged, saying the board’s action “was driven less by the interests of the people of Orange County and more by political considerations.”

Cynthia Bryant, executive director of California Republican Party, said this:

“Neither the secretary of state, the governor, nor the Democrats in the Legislature have the integrity of the election system in mind. There have been so many changes to the voting systems that no one is on top of them. A system without integrity is ripe for fraud, but, more importantly, the voters will lose interest in a system that they don’t have confidence in.”

The Republican Party platform adopted in 2015 does not oppose the vote-by-mail idea directly, declaring only:

“Every time a fraudulent vote is cast, it disenfranchises another voter who casts a legitimate vote. We therefore support requiring photo identification for voting in person, robust signature verification for voting by mail, and proof of citizenship for voter registration.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that as of January 2017, three states —Oregon, Washington and Colorado — hold all elections entirely by mail.

Hans A. von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, wrote an article for the conservative Heritage Foundation website in October 2017 entitled, “Early Voting Disadvantages Seem to Outweigh Benefits.”

By a lopsided vote of 69.4 percent to 30.6 percent, Oregon voters in 1998 established vote-by-mail as the standard mechanism for casting ballots. Oregon thus became the first state to conduct its elections exclusively by mail.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that as of January 2017, three states —Oregon, Washington and Colorado — hold all elections entirely by mail.

Dennis Richardson, Oregon’s secretary of state, brags that “Oregon has the most convenient voting system in the country. Since adopting vote-by-mail, Oregon consistently ranks as a national leader in voter turnout.”

Although vote-by-mail has been around since 1962, a majority of us have been voting by mail only since 2012. In 1962, a mere 2.63 percent of California voters cast ballots by mail. You couldn’t vote by mail in the primary, just the general. By contrast, in 2016, almost 58 percent of us voted by mail and that was down slightly from the 60.52 percent who voted by mail in 2014. (For a more detailed description in Capitol Weekly of voting by mail, click here.

While vote-by-mail may be the coming thing in California, there are those who mourn the loss of community when friends and neighbors meet each other at a polling place and enjoy doing their civic duty together.

The NCSL cites as a possible disadvantage “Tradition — The civic experience of voting with neighbors at a local school, church, or other polling place no longer exists.”

 


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