Elections Procedures

INTRODUCTION

The 1992-93 Grand Jury released a report on "Elections Procedures." The report stated that in any election, each individual vote is important, but usually individual problem ballots are not critical in deciding the overall result of an election. They refer to the November 1992 election, subsequently successfully contested, where two supervisorial candidates were initially separated by five votes out of "approximately" 35,000 ballots cast. They also refer to "approximately" 100 ballots in dispute. The large numbers of uncounted ballots that remain in any election were not mentioned.

The 1994-95 Grand Jury reviewed the response of the Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor to the 1993-94 Grand Jury "Review of Responses to the 1992-93 Grand Jury Final Report". The decision to investigate current procedures was implemented following the November 1994 election. The widely publicized claims of voter fraud were an additional impetus.

Prevailing laxity of voter registration laws, toleration of deceased and otherwise ineligible voters on the rolls and extensive use of absentee and mail ballots combine to seriously undermine the voting process. Complicating the situation even further at this time is the status of the "Motor Voter" law passed by Congress in 1993 and challenged in court by this state. The consensus for appropriate action on the county level changes daily.

The handling of election procedures is cause for considerable concern, especially the problem of uncounted ballots. Voters need to be aware that large numbers of ballots go uncounted or unreported, and that individuals are not notified when a ballot they cast is disqualified.

OBJECTIVE

The investigation will identify significant problems and propose reasonable solutions.

PROCEDURE

The Grand Jury again examined a wide variety of elections materials including, but not limited to, registration forms, sample ballots, actual ballots (absentee, mail, provisional, and duplicate) and the envelopes used, as well as precinct worker materials. The Grand Jury interviewed the Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor and Elections Division officials and staff. The Grand Jury consulted the 1995 California Elections Code and the current County Elections Officers Handbook.

The Grand Jury observed the March 7, 1995 election and the canvass (count) of the vote, noting practices at polling places and district offices. The opportunity to observe any actual instruction of election workers prior to this election was not made available.

OBSERVATIONS

Creating and maintaining voter rolls

The registration form provided by the state may be filled in by someone other than the voter, with substantial possibilities for error and confusion, especially for voters with compound surnames. No identification is required.

Deceased and ineligible voters' names have remained on the rolls by default. When telephone callers are unable to give the Elections Division adequate information over the telephone to have a name purged from the list, frustration and confrontation was reported for both callers and staff members. Most members of the Grand Jury were aware of deceased or former residents still on the rolls. A March 20, 1995 Wall Street Journal article cited estimates of 10% to 20% of registrations being "dead wood" and an invitation for abuse by people who would vote under other names.

New procedures put in place beginning this year could partially allay the problem for voter deaths occurring in this county. Other new procedures being implemented presently provide for an Inactive Voter File.

Polling places

The Grand Jury observed that procedures at polling places continue to vary significantly as previously noted in the 1992-93 Grand Jury report. While the overall process as detailed in the California Elections Code is very complicated, simple basic requirements were not consistently observed, such as requiring the voter to announce his/her name and residence address, appropriately displaying the American flag to identify the polling place, and providing directions when needed to the nearest telephone. This last requirement can encompass the necessity of actually maintaining access to telephones in public polling places at other than normal work hours. As voting in the wrong precinct will result in the ballot being disqualified, timing for telephone assistance can be critical. Workers did not always direct voters to drop absentee or mail ballots directly in ballot boxes, when voters brought them to polling places, or to place regular ballots directly in the ballot box. During the inspection of ballots prior to the machine count, one of the cards was observed to be repaired at the stub tear edge with clear tape.

Although the Handbook begins with a message to polling place workers, the Handbook is not generally available for workers to study well before the elections. Individual copies are not provided.

Absentee, Mail, and Provisional Ballots

Signatures on all envelopes for absentee, mail, and provisional ballots were compared with the signatures on the registration affidavits. If the signatures did not compare, the envelopes were not opened and the ballots were not counted. Unsigned envelopes resulted in the ballots being rejected similarly.

Many absentee and mail ballots arrived after the closing of the polls. Voters may not realize that although the count of absentee and mail ballots can continue for several days after the election, the receipt time and date, and not the post-marked time and date, determine if the ballot will be counted, unlike tax returns.

Provisional ballots, unlike absentee or mail ballots, must be cast in the correct precinct or they will not be counted.

Elections Division

The canvass (count) of the election vote is open to public observation. The Grand Jury noted that appropriate provision for observers was lax in significant ways at the Elections Division in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on the night of the election. Public entrances that were reported to be open were locked and entrances that were not intended for public use were not secured. Information that was confidential was openly available to observers wandering through the Elections Division office space and using computers at employees' desks. Sheriff's Department deputies, acting as security officers, were clustered together and did not prevent the public from bringing in champagne and later consuming it as reported in a Santa Barbara News-Press article the following day. Security was not a problem at the North County office.

Commendation

The Grand Jury commends the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor and the Elections Division for solving the difficulties that had presented serious obstacles to voters in Isla Vista and the UCSB dormitories in prior elections.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

FINDING #1: The information telephone callers need to provide to the Elections Division in order to remove the names of deceased or ineligible voters from the rolls is not always being communicated effectively.

RECOMMENDATION #1: Forms explaining necessary documentation should be created by the Elections Division and mailed to callers who cannot provide adequate information over the telephone to achieve their purpose and benefit the County.

FINDING #2: Procedures vary unacceptably at the polling places.

RECOMMENDATION #2a: A training session should be videotaped by the Elections Division before each election and copies made available to Inspectors for use in training polling place workers.

RECOMMENDATION #2b: The Elections Division should train all Inspectors to display the American flag appropriately and make certain that polling places display the flag. This duty should be specified in the Handbook.

RECOMMENDATION #2c: Polling place workers must have each voter state his/her name and residence address and resist the temptation to be overly helpful.

RECOMMENDATION #2d: Inspectors should prepare and provide written instructions to the nearest available telephone. This duty should be specified in the Handbook.

RECOMMENDATION #2e: A list of supplies and how they are to be used should be included in the Handbook.

RECOMMENDATION #2f: Copies of the Handbook should be available to workers well ahead of the election.

RECOMMENDATION #2g: Inspectors should instruct workers that if they damage a ballot card when they tear off the stub, they should drop the ballot into the box and not tamper with the ballot. This information should be added to the Handbook.

FINDING #3: Absentee, mail, and provisional ballots are held to a higher level of scrutiny and voters casting ballots in these ways may be penalized without their knowledge if they use a variant signature or fail to sign their envelope. If they cast a provisional ballot in the wrong polling place, or fail to get their ballot in before the polls close, they will be similarly left out WITHOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE. The following recommendations are addressed to the Elections Division:

RECOMMENDATION #3a: A distinctive warning should be printed on envelopes about the consequences of variant signatures or unsigned envelopes.

RECOMMENDATION #3b: A distinctive warning should be printed on envelopes that ballots recieved after the close of the polls will not be counted.

RECOMMENDATION #3c: A distinctive warning should be printed on provisional envelopes that ballots cast in the wrong precinct will not be counted.

FINDING #4: Adequate arrangements were not made for public observers of the election count at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse by the Elections Division.

RECOMMENDATION #4a: Public entrances should be clearly marked and kept open.

RECOMMENDATION #4b: The delivery entrance should be appropriately secured at all times on election night.

RECOMMENDATION #4c: Security officers, from the Sheriff's Department, should keep the public under observation in the Elections Division office space and control the area for alcohol.

RECOMMENDATION #4d: Confidential materials should not be left out accessible to the public.

RECOMMENDATION #4e: Public access areas should be clearly designated and maintained.

FINDING #5: The California elections system is in a state of transition that threatens reasonable accountability.

RECOMMENDATION #5: The Grand Jury should continue to monitor County elections procedures.

AFFECTED AGENCIES (California Penal Code Section 933c requires that comments to Findings and Recommendations be made in writing within 60 days by all affected agencies except governing bodies, which are allowed 90 days.)

1. Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor (Findings and Recommendations 1-4) - response

2. Santa Barbara County Grand Jury (Finding and Recommendation 5)

3. Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department (Recommendation 4c) - response