OFFICE OF COUNTY CLERK-RECORDER-ASSESSOR
KENNETH A. PETTIT
July 5, 1995
Honorable Rodney S. Melville
RE: Santa Barbara County Grand Jury Final Report
Election Procedures for the June 7, 1995 Election
Dear Judge Melville:
The following comments constitute my response to the above-entitled Grand Jury Report pursuant to Penal Code Section 933(c).
I welcome the Grand Jury's scrutiny of the County's election procedures and encourage their continued review and recommendations so as to instill and ensure the public's confidence and trust in the voting process.
The Grand Jury has recognized the state of the transition of California's election procedures and has expressed its concern regarding impacts of the transition. I concur with their concerns. Free elections are essential to the continued well-being of our local, state and federal jurisdictions. We must be ever vigilant to guarantee that fair and impartial elections will not be eroded nor threatened.
The state's current voter registration laws provide opportunities for unscrupulous "bounty hunters" who financially profit rather than achieve the higher goal of properly assisting citizens to register to vote. During the past year eight individuals were referred to the District Attorney for investigation and, if warranted, prosecution. We will continue close scrutiny of the elections registration process.
Present voter registration laws allow voters' names to be listed on the rolls despite their decision not to vote or their decision to change their domicile. The majority of voters take the initiative and responsibility to re-register when they move, change their names or their political affiliation. However, in a minority of instances, voters move about without notifying the Elections Office of any change in status.
Names of voters who died intra-county are immediately presented by the County Recorder to the Election Office for purging from the rolls. However, there is significant delay by the State Department of Health of names of voters who died out-of-county. (Presently, this delay dates to 1 99 1). I will continue efforts to improve processes to the extent that the county's voter registration rolls are as current as possible.
Pursuant to Penal Code Section 933(c), the following comments are submitted in response to the above-entitled Grand Jury. Some responses will be identical to responses made in my June 30, 1995 letter in response to the Grand Jury's May 10, 1 995 interim final report, as much of this report is a reiteration of the earlier report.
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: The Elections Office is mandated by Elections Code Section 2201 whenever a voter's name is to be removed from the rolls. We cannot rely nor are we required to act upon third-party information. A name may be removed only upon written request of the voter him or herself or, upon documentation furnished by another government agency, i.e., court order, notice from the U.S. Postal Service.
On election day a form entitled Precinct Snag Sheet serves as communication between the precinct worker and the Elections Office. This form is used to report any discrepancies or problems encountered by and with voters at the polling places. Whenever issues are reported the Elections Office will 'outreach' the voter by letter to rectify the discrepancy. While it remains the voter's responsibility to re-register upon name, address or party change, the Snag Sheet will be modified for the precinct worker to likewise report changes. The Elections Office will then 'outreach" the voter to furnish the requested documentation.
FINDING #2: Procedures vary unacceptably at the polling places.
RECOMMENDATION #2a: A training session for all workers should be mandatory. Substitutes should be provided for inspectors who have not attended a current training session.
RESPONSE: Mandatory training for all polling place workers, while desirable, would be extremely difficult to achieve. There are approximately 1 200 workers to
staff the nearly 300 polling places for a countywide election. These dedicated workers come from all walks of life. Some are retired, some work full-time jobs, some are students, others without profession. If is simply a near-impossibility for all to attend training classes. While we do not discourage workers from attending, we do not expect 100% attendance.
In lieu of mandatory training for all workers, we do require mandatory training for inspectors. These are the lead workers at the polling places who carry primary responsibility for polling place operations. One hour classes, complete with written manuals and visual aides, are presented to inspectors one week prior to election day.
In the event an inspector is unable to attend the training class, a make-up class is scheduled in the elections office. In the event an inspector cannot attend either the scheduled class or the make-up class, he or she is dismissed and a substitute inspector with training is brought onboard.
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: This recommendation is accepted. Inspectors will be trained to properly display the American Flag and such training will be contained in the Handbook. In addition, inspectors will be trained as to the location the flag must be displayed. Proper location is important so that voters approaching will know the actual site of the polling place. This is especially true with respect to retirement communities, mobile home parks and large housing developments where the actual polling place is located in the midst of multiple buildings. Likewise, this will be specified 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 1421 6) 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 be omitted 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:
l. 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:
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 wellintended 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 1994, seventy-one absentee ballots were rejected for signature mis-match out of 30,283 ballots returned.
Presently, the advisement's 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.
RECOMMENDATION #3d: The final count released after the full canvass should include the number of uncounted ballots.
RESPONSE: The final count released after the full canvass of votes cast is governed by sections 1 5308 and 1 5309 of the Election Code. Section 1 5308 requires that the Elections Official prepare a certified statement of the results of the election.
Section 1 5309 mandates that the statement of the result shall show: (a) The total number of ballots cast. (b) The number of votes cast at each precinct for each candidate and for and against each measure. (c) The total number of votes cast for each candidate and for and against each measure. The statement of the result shall also show the number of votes cast in each city, assembly district, congressional district, senatorial district, State of Board of Equalization district and supervisorial district located in whole or in part in the county, for each candidate for the offices of presidential elector and all statewide offices, depending on the offices to be filled, and on each statewide ballot preposition.
There is no legal provision for uncounted ballots to be included in the statement of results.
The Elections Office does prepare a written report of absentee ballots not counted. While the report is a public record; it is not publicly circulated. It is used as an internal document to audit the absentee ballot process.
I disagree with the recommendation to include the number of uncounted ballots in the final canvass of votes. Such an inclusion would tend to unduly alarm voters and cause one to question if their vote was arbitrarily left out. The result would be confusion, anger and distrust of the system.
However, there may be wisdom in the Grand Jury's recommendation. Publication of uncounted ballots prior to the absentee voting period would heighten the citizen's awareness of his or her responsibility with respect to current registration and timely voting.
During the November 1994 gubernatorial election, 1,802 absentee ballots were rejected primarily for tardiness, lack of signature, lack of current address or no address at all. These are voters' responsibilities. Public education such as publishing the number of uncounted ballots may improve voter responsibility and increase the number of ballots 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 #4: 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.
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.
In conclusion I thank and applaud the Grand Jury's commitment to improved processes with county election procedures. Elections is a complex maze of laws and words primarily crafted by elected politicians. There are 347,204 words contained within 21,620 sections of the Election Code. To master these words, comprehend these sections and understand the intent of the legislators is truly a Herculean effort. The Grand Jury nearly scaled Mt. Olympus.
Kenneth A. Pettit
c: Robert Glick, Foreman Santa Barbara Grand Jury
Kent Taylor, County Administrator