SANTA BARBARA COUNTY
KENNETH A. PETTIT
105 E. Anapamu Street, Room 204
P.O. Box 159
Santa Barbara, CA 93102-0159
June 30, 1995
Honorable Rodney S. Melville
Presiding Judge, Superior Court
31 2 East Cook Street
Santa Maria, CA 93454
RE: Grand Jury Interim Final Report
Election Procedures - May 10, 1995
Dear Judge Melville:
I welcome the Grand Jury's scrutiny of the County's election procedures and encourage their continued observations and recommendations to instill and ensure the public's trust and confidence in the voting process. Additionally, I support the Grand Jury's declaration of the seriousness of voter accountability, ballot security and proper voting procedures.
Pursuant to Penal Code Section 933(c) the following comments are submitted in response to the above-entitled Grand Jury report. Responses are presented for each recommendation identified by the Grand Jury.
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 of the County.
RESPONSE: Section 2201 of the Election Code specifically requires written notification prior to cancellation of any registered voter from the rolls for whatever reason. Written notice is presented in a variety of ways - a simple handwritten letter requesting removal, a formal court order directing removal, a certificate of death or a magnetic computer tape from the postal authorities. These forms of written communication cause the removal of names.
In the event of telephone communication, voters will be requested to submit written documentation to remove deceased or ineligible names from the rolls. I believe it an unnecessary public expense to create all-encompassing forms and mail such forms to voters. The direction to submit written requests is in conformance with the Election Code and fulfills the effective communication as recommended by the Grand Jury.
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.
RESPONSE: While no two elections are exactly alike, there are significant procedures and milestones in every election that are redundant. Accordingly, a videotape can be produced that defines these generic procedures. Such a medium can be used for public education as well as a training guide for precinct workers. The Elections office will pursue this recommendation, after considering costs of production as well as costs for maintaining the currentness of instructional value.
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.
RESPONSE: The Elections office recognizes the appropriateness for the proper display of the American flag and will include instructions for its display in the Handbook.
RECOMMENDATION #2c: Polling place workers must have each voter state his/her name and residence address and resist temptation to be overly helpful.
RESPONSE: Both the Election Code (section 14216) and the Elections Officer Handbook (page 5) require the voter to state his or her name and address. There is a strong presumption that when a voter enters a polling place a dialogue occurs between the voter and worker to the extent that the eligibility of the voter to cast a ballot in that polling place is established. It is highly improbable that both confront one another in a stony silence - the voter not knowing what to utter and the worker resisting the temptation to be overly helpful. Again, we accept the Grand Jury's recommendation and will reinforce this voter identification in precinct training. The Elections office will also determine the efficacy of appropriately displayed signs that request voter utterance of name and address.
RECOMMENDATION #2d: Inspectors should prepare and provide written instructions to the nearest available telephone. This duty should be specified in the Handbook.
RESPONSE: Both the Elections Code (section 1421 7) and the Handbook (page 1 5) require that a card containing the toll free telephone numbers (Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Solvang areas) of the County Elections offices be available to voters. The Elections Code requires a precinct board to direct the voter to the nearest telephone. The Handbook does not. There are in excess of 200 polling places throughout the County in a major election. To reconnoiter over 200 neighborhoods in search of the nearest telephone (that works and is available) is a task that exceeds value. In light of the admonition to resist the temptation to be overly helpful, this is a responsibility whereby the voter can best be served by self-help. However, to conform with the law as presently written, the Handbook will be modified to specifically instruct precinct workers to direct voters to the nearest telephone.
RECOMMENDATION #2e: A list of supplies and how they are to be used should be included in the Handbook.
RESPONSE: A list of supplies, while not incorporated in the Handbook, is supplied to precinct workers. The 'How To' are plainly written in the Handbook. This recommendation is accepted and the list of precinct supplies will be published in the Handbook.
RECOMMENDATION #2f: Copies of the Handbook should be available to workers well ahead of the election.
RESPONSE: The Handbook is issued to precinct inspectors one week prior to election day. Inspectors are encouraged to read the Handbook and become familiar with its contents. I believe the cost of mailing (in excess of $1,200.00) does not justify the early issuance.
RECOMMENDATION #2g: Inspectors should instruct workers that if they damage a ballot card when they tear off a stub, they should drop the ballot into the box and not tamper with the ballot. This information should be added to the Handbook.
RESPONSE: Precinct workers are instructed both in training classes as well as in the Handbook to issue the voter another ballot whenever a ballot is damaged. (Up to three ballots may be issued to a voter and an accounting maintained reflecting such damage.) In the instance of damaged ballots caused by precinct workers I accept the Grand Jury's recommendation and instructions to this effect will be included in 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 similarly left out WITHOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE. The following recommendations are addressed to the Election Division:
RECOMMENDATION #3a: A distinctive warning should be printed on envelopes about consequences of variant signatures or unsigned envelopes.
RESPONSE: Absentee, mailed and provisional ballots are indeed held to a higher standard of scrutiny because of the physical absence of the voter. Therefore, specific admonitions and directions are printed on these envelopes to both assist the voter as well as to maintain the integrity of the ballot.
With respect to provisional voting, the envelope clearly bears two admonitions. On the front of the envelope the following statement is printed:
"1. Give the voter a card with the telephone number of the Elections Office. Direct the voter to the nearest phone to call the office. 2. Advise the voter that it is very important that he/she call the office to verify eligibility to vote because, if the voter casts a provisional ballot in the wrong precinct, it will not be counted." (Emphasis added).
On the back side of the provisional ballot envelope the following advisement is plainly printed:
Your provisional ballot will not be counted unless:
The Elections Office, prior to the certification of the election results, can establish your right to vote from the records in the office and your vote is cast in the precinct in which you are legally entitle to vote; or Prior to the certification of the election results, you obtain an order from the Superior Court in the county of your residence, directing the Elections Office to count your vote.
It is imperative that you call the Elections Office at 568-2200 or 681-4200 (toll free) to verify your eligibility to vote before you vote this provisional ballot.
This admonition is printed less than two inches from the voter's signature of acknowledgment! The above statements advise the voter the requirement to vote in the proper precinct and to take legal actions to direct the Elections Office to count the vote.
With respect to absentee voting, the two envelopes utilized contain a combined total of eight admonitions regarding signature and deadline for receipt of ballot. The outgoing envelope twice advises the voter to sign and, in 1 2 point type, reminds the voter to take the responsibility to timely return his/her absentee ballot. The return envelope advises the voter no less than four times to sign his/her ballot and, again, advises the voter to return the ballot...... NO LATER THAN 8:00 P.M. ON ELECTION DAY."
The Grand Jury's recommendation regarding variant signatures is well-intended but, upon closer examination, is too subjective and would tend to confuse and make the voter apprehensive. Signatures will vary because of age, physical conditions, carelessness, ego and whim. The Elections staff allow some liberality when examining signatures. Few, absentee ballots are rejected because of signature variance. In the Gubernatorial election of November 1 994, seventy-one absentee ballots were rejected for signature mis-match out of 30,283 ballots returned.
Presently, the advisements printed on provisional and absentee ballot envelope are adequate for proper voter performance.
RECOMMENDATION #3b: A distinctive warning should be printed on envelopes that ballots received after the close of the polls will not be counted.
RESPONSE: Refer to response to Recommendation #3a.
RECOMMENDATION #3c. A distinctive warning should be printed on provisional envelopes that ballots cast in the wrong precinct will not be counted.
RESPONSE: Refer to response to Recommendation #3a.
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.
RESPONSE: I agree with this recommendation and will strive to accomplish this goal. Specific directions will be given to the Courthouse custodial services and Courthouse security to keep the public entrances open.
RECOMMENDATION #4b: The delivery entrance should be appropriately secured at all times on election night.
RESPONSE: Sheriff's personnel and Election workers have and will continue to be positioned at the delivery entrance in order to provide security at all times. Written instructions have and will continue to be provided to affected staff.
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.
RESPONSE: Elections with their attendant campaigns, candidates and supporters are noisy, raucous affairs. Zeal, emotion and especially victory occasionally and unintentionally cause for bottles to be uncorked and the champagne to flow.
Of course, the County Elections Office is both a polling place and part of a public building and, as such, prohibits the consumption of alcohol without permit. Sheriff's personnel will continue to monitor public behavior.
RECOMMENDATION #4d: Confidential materials should not be left out accessible to the public.
RESPONSE: I accept this recommendation and will ensure that confidential material will not be accessible to the public. Staff will be instructed as to what documents are confidential and procedures developed and implemented to safeguard confidentiality.
RECOMMENDATION #4e: Public access areas should be clearly designated and maintained.
RESPONSE: I accept this recommendation. While public access areas have been designated, measures will be implemented to improve the accessibility.
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.
RESPONSE: I support the Grand Jury's recommendation to continue its monitoring of elections procedures. As indicated by the Grand Jury, California's elections procedures are in a state of transition. The Federal 'motor-voter' law while certain to increase voter registration, will likewise test the ability of local elections offices to maintain current rolls in an otherwise transient population. While California's voter registration laws provide easy accessibility for its citizens, they also present opportunities for unscrupulous 'bounty hunters' who improperly register citizens for personal profit rather than a commitment to civic responsibility. Finally, no government agency, judicial court, or legislative body should become so complacent to the extent that its citizens are no longer effectively served. For these reasons I welcome the Grand Jury's continued review of the democratic process.
Kenneth A. Pettit
cc: Robert Glick, Foreman Santa Barbara Grand Jury
Kent Taylor, County Administrator