California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Tuesday that his office is working to verify claims that confidential voter information had been publicly posted online. Padilla said the records were not posted by the California Secretary of State, and that he is collaborating with Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office to provide any necessary assistance. Harris’ office would not comment on a potential or ongoing investigation, to protect the integrity of any probe, a spokeswoman said. CNET, citing DataBreaches.net researcher Chris Vickery, reported that a massive trove of voter data was found on a publicly available Web server. The database of 191 million registered voters, including many in California, is no longer publicly accessible, Vickery wrote in an update.
If Americans needed any further proof that voting itself has become a partisan battleground, look no further than proposals calling for automatic voter registration. California this month enacted a law that will automatically register people to vote when they get or renew a driver’s license or state identification card from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), following the example set by Oregon several months ago. Over time, this could bring most of the 6.6 million Californians who are eligible but not yet registered onto the voting rolls. Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state and sponsor of the measure, calls it potentially the largest voter registration drive in U.S. history. Other states could soon follow. Legislators have introduced automatic voter registration bills in 16 additional states, including Hawaii, Illinois and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia. New Jersey lawmakers approved a package that includes automatic voter registration in June. Republican Gov. Chris Christie hasn’t acted on it, but he’s made his opposition clear.
When people go to the DMV to obtain or renew a driver’s license, or to get a state identification card, they’ll be asked for the usual information in such transactions, such as their name, date of birth and address. They’ll also be asked to affirm their eligibility to vote and will be given the choice of opting out of registering at that time. Information about anyone who does not decline registration will be electronically transmitted from the DMV to the secretary of state’s office, where citizenship will be verified and names will be added to the voter rolls. … The law goes into place on Jan. 1, 2016, but the DMV said in a statement that it would not send information to the secretary of state until that office “develops regulations, completes a statewide database system and funding is secured to implement this program.” The regulations, which must be agreed upon between the DMV and the secretary of state, will have to settle basic procedural issues, such as how the “opt-out” question will be phrased and how often the DMV will transmit data.
In recent weeks Alabama has been in the news for passing a strict voter-ID law and then closing 31 DMV locations, particularly in majority-black counties where civil rights activists like Jimmie Lee Jackson and Jonathan Daniels died fighting for voting rights. This from the state that was the birthplace of the Voting Rights Act and currently ranks last in the nation in voter access. Over the weekend California moved in a dramatically different direction, becoming the second state–following Oregon–to automatically register citizens who request a driver’s license or state ID from the DMV unless they opt out. The law could add 6 million unregistered voters to the rolls, which would be the largest voter-registration drive in state history. Unlike Alabama, California is using the power of the government to bring millions of new voters into the political process– treating the vote as a fundamental right, rather than a special privilege.
Targeting California’s recent record-low voter turnout, Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed a measure that would eventually allow Californians to be automatically registered to vote when they go the DMV to obtain or renew a driver’s license. The measure, which would also allow Californians to opt out of registering, was introduced in response to the dismal 42% turnout in the November 2014 statewide election. That bill and 13 others the governor signed Saturday, will “help improve elections and expand voter rights and access in California,” Brown’s office said in a statement. Some 6.6 million Californians who are eligible to register to vote have not registered, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who supported the legislation as a way to increase voter participation.
California: San Francisco faces dilemma in planning for new voting machines | San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco is in the market for new voting machines, but the fast-changing landscape of California elections means the city might need a crystal ball to go alongside its purchase orders. With more and more voters casting ballots by mail, many of the city’s 597 precincts are lonely places on election day. Recognizing the new reality, state election officials already have authorized a test of mail-only elections in San Mateo and Yolo counties. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla also is sponsoring a bill, SB450, that would allow counties to send ballots to every voter and slash the required number of polling places to as few as 15 in a city the size of San Francisco. … The city also is asking that the new voting system operate using open-source software, which would allow the public to see and review the actual operating code that runs the voting machine, counts the ballots and releases the results. Currently, voting systems across the country rely on the proprietary software of the private companies that build them, which critics argue gives those companies the opportunity to game the system and influence or chance the final vote count. “Voting systems are at the heart of our political system and need the public’s complete confidence,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who last year backed a measure calling for a feasibility study on an open-source elections system for the city. Using open-source software “is definitely a new and innovative approach, but San Francisco is all about innovation and leading the United States.”
Californians will have an easier time determining who is giving money to political candidates and causes starting Thursday, when a new tool becomes available on the secretary of state’s website. The antiquated CalAccess system, which shows political donations and lobbying information on the site, is clunky and difficult to use, especially for searching and sorting the data. A new search engine has been added to help users see more fully and easily, for example, the money received by candidates and ballot-measure campaigns. It will also be easier to see where industries and other special interests are concentrating their money.
There is an intense tug-of-war in this nation between those who want to make it easier and those who want to make it more difficult to vote. The simplistic, and largely accurate, narrative is that Democrats want more people to vote and Republicans want fewer. Each side has a high-minded argument: Democrats want to encourage citizen participation in the process; Republicans want to discourage fraud. But let there be no mistake: In each case, principle dovetails neatly with party interest. Democrats tend to gain from higher turnout; Republican voters are likely to be overrepresented when turnout is lower. In many corners of the nation, the trend is clearly favoring voter suppression, especially after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling eliminated the nearly half-century-old requirement that areas with a history of discriminatory voting practices — concentrated in the South — would be required to gain federal or court permission before making any changes in their voting procedures.
Yesterday, about 60,000 former felony offenders in California were officially granted the right to vote. Earlier this week, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that the state would settle litigation over laws that had barred low-level felony offenders under community supervision from voting. In 2011, California lawmakers passed bills to reduce overcrowding in state prisons by diverting low-level felony offenders to county jails and community supervision, in which recently released prisoners are monitored by county agencies. Then-Secretary of State Debra Bowen told election officials in December 2011 to extend the state’s ban on felon enfranchisement to those offenders, noting that being under community supervision was “functionally equivalent” to parole. Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit last year to challenge Bowen’s directive.
Editorials: Automatic Voter Registration: The Next Step in the Battle for Ballot Access | Alex Padilla/Huffington Post
“This most basic right of all is the right to choose your own leaders. The history of this country is in large measure the history of expansion of the right to all of our people.”
President Johnson delivered these words in his eloquent speech to the full Congress on March 15, 1965, a week after African Americans were attacked while preparing to march to Montgomery to protest voting rights discrimination. On August 6, 1965 President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, empowering millions of Americans to fully participate in our democracy. The progress made possible by the Voting Rights Act is undeniable. Literacy tests, poll taxes and other obstacles used at the time which excluded millions of eligible voters are a thing of the past. In 2012, we saw record turnout by African American and Latino voters. We elected a record number of Asian Americans to Congress, and nearly 10 million more women than men reported casting a vote. That’s progress. But as we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we still have work to do. Voting rights are once again under attack.
Tens of thousands of Californians who served sentences for nonviolent felonies will be allowed to vote after their release under an agreement announced Tuesday by the state’s top elections official, who reversed his predecessor’s policy. Secretary of State Alex Padilla said he was dropping an appeal filed by fellow Democrat Debra Bowen, who was sued after declaring the former inmates ineligible to vote in December 2011. Bowen appealed a judge’s ruling last year in favor of the plaintiffs in the suit. In dropping that appeal, Padilla, who took office in January, said he wanted to ensure that lower-level felons who were sent under Gov. Jerry Brown’s “realignment” program to county jail as a way to remedy state prison overpopulation retained their voting privileges.
California: Legislative leaders shelve bill overhauling elections until next year | Los Angeles Times
California legislative leaders have put a hold on a bill by Secretary of State Alex Padilla that would overhaul California elections in response to last year’s dismal voter turnout. A bill introduced for Padilla by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) would allow counties, beginning in 2018, to mail all voters ballots that could be marked and then cast at any of several voting centers to be opened around the county. Ballots could be cast at the centers during a 10-day period that includes election day. They also could be dropped off in secure boxes available 24 hours per day. The measure was scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee, but legislative leaders have put it on hold until January 2016, according to an email by Darren Chesin, chief consultant for the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments.
The Adams’ house in Northern California is a house divided. Marcia prefers to cast her ballot by mail and is on a permanent vote-by-mail list. Ted prefers to make his way to his local polling place on Election Day. “I enjoy seeing how many people in my local precinct have voted, getting an “I Voted” sticker, Ted Adams said. “When my children were of an appropriate age, I took them along a number of times, which I felt was beneficial. It is a positive experience.” However, if Senate Bill 450 is approved, Ted may soon be joining Marcia at the kitchen table to fill out his ballot before dropping it in the mail.
The era of the neighborhood polling place with its paper voter rolls and rickety booths isn’t quite over, but it is well on its way out in California. No tears will be shed here: It’s high time the state entered the 21st century. That’s the opinion of new Secretary of State Alex Padilla as well. Last week he unveiled his second proposal to encourage voter participation in California: a plan to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter and to encourage counties to set up voting centers for their voters to use, regardless of precinct, up to 10 days before election day.
Voter turnout is so abysmal in California that something has to change. So while it may not be the ultimate or perfect solution, legislators ought to seriously consider Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s proposal to overhaul how Californians vote. Padilla does not envision a statewide edict. Instead under Senate Bill 450, counties would be allowed to use a new election system starting in 2018. If all goes well, it could be expanded.
California’s top elections officer on Wednesday expanded his proposed overhaul of the way citizens vote, aiming to make it easier for them to cast ballots. Secretary of State Alex Padilla wants the state to mail all voters a ballot and allow them to use it at any of several voting centers during a 10-day period before elections. That would allow people to vote near their jobs or other convenient locations rather than limit them to visiting polling places near their homes on election day or mailing in their ballots. Voters also would be able to drop ballots off 24 hours a day at secure locations during a 14-day period before elections.
In a bid to improve California’s lagging voter participation, lawmakers in the Assembly approved two measures Tuesday that aim to increase registration among eligible citizens. One bill, by Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to satisfy the existing federal “Motor Voter” law, under which eligible individuals can choose to register to vote when getting a drivers license at the DMV. “For 22 years, the DMV has only partially complied with Motor Voter,” said Levine. “Because of this partial compliance, Motor Voter has been a failure in California.” Levine noted that Gov. Jerry Brown had set aside money to update the department’s technology, making such compliance possible. His bill, AB 786, passed the Assembly on a 53-13 vote.
Alex Padilla is looking beyond the state’s borders for programs that could dramatically change the way Californians vote. Among the ideas that California’s new secretary of state hopes will boost anemic turnout: automatically registering people through the Department of Motor Vehicles and mailing a ballot to every registered voter. “It will take two big steps to tackle the problem,” said Padilla, a former Democratic legislator from the San Fernando Valley who replaced the termed-out Debra Bowen after winning election in November. “First we have to register the estimated 6.7 million Californians who are eligible to vote but not registered,” he said. “Then we need to have them actually cast ballots.” Voting officials across the state agree that something has to be done to get more people to the polls. The 42 percent turnout in November’s general election and the 25 percent for the June primary were both record lows for California.
California: US Probes Alleged Voting Rights Violations Involving Disabled Californians | International Business Times
U.S. Justice Department agents are looking into allegations that the state of California and its courts are denying voting rights to residents with intellectual disabilities, according to media reports Wednesday. The Justice Department disclosed a letter sent last week to California’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, asking for detailed records on how and why certain residents with disabilities were disqualified from voting, according to the Los Angeles Times. The department is now investigating whether the state’s voting practices violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The probe was opened after a 2014 complaint by the Disability and Abuse Project, an advocacy group, which alleged widespread abuse of California’s limited conservatorship program, wherein developmentally disabled citizens have an appointed caretaker who has special rights over them.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether California illegally denied voting rights to people with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and other intellectual or developmental disabilities, officials said Wednesday. The agency disclosed the probe in a May 15 letter to Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the California Supreme Court, in which investigators sought detailed records on how certain voters with disabilities are disqualified, an explanation of the rationale behind it and an account of how frequently it is happening.
A proposal to automatically register Californians to vote when they get a driver’s license was approved Monday by a state Assembly panel after Secretary of State Alex Padilla noted there are about 6.7 million state residents who are eligible but not registered. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) modeled her bill on a new law in Oregon and said it is needed after the 42% record-low turnout in the November statewide election.
Proponents say the bill, dubbed the “California New Motor Voter” law by sponsors, could provide a big boost to voter participation in the Golden State — where there are nearly seven million residents who are eligible, but not registered, to vote. “Our democracy is stronger when more people in the community have a voice at the ballot box,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, the bill’s sponsor. “Even as some states are becoming more restrictive in guaranteeing the public a voice in our democracy, California should do everything it can to ensure people’s right to be a voter.” There are 1.2 million unregistered eligible voters in Los Angeles County, according to information from county election officials. The bill would allow information collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles to be sent to the Secretary of State to verify if residents are eligible to vote.
Every eligible Californian with a driver’s license would be automatically registered to vote under a proposal Thursday by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who estimated it would add millions of people to the voter rolls. Padilla and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) are modeling their legislation on a “motor voter” law signed last week by the governor of Oregon in an attempt to boost voter turnout. The California proposal is partly in response to the 42% record low turnout in California’s November election, as well as this month’s Los Angeles election, which saw about 10% of eligible voters go to the polls.
California: Secretary of State Alex Padilla wants to adopt Oregon’s ‘motor voter’ law | Statesman Journal
Gov. Kate Brown’s “Motor Voter” law received significant national attention when it passed this month, and it has already found its first adopter in California, whose secretary of state said this week he plans to push for the same law. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said he believes the law could register millions of people to vote in his state, where about 7 million eligible voters have not signed up. “While many states are making it more difficult for citizens to vote, our neighbor to the north offers a better path,” Padilla said in a Tuesday press release. “I believe the Oregon model makes sense for California,”
When hundreds of Californians got together to roll up their sleeves and talk about elections last week, they were joined by a looming, unwanted problem. “And that voter turnout. That’s really the elephant in the room, isn’t it?” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “November 2014. June 2014. We can and must do better. And there is no magic wand to get more and more Californians to vote.” The room was filled for the Future of California Elections (FOCE) annual conference in Sacramento. The theme of the conference was building a more inclusive democracy, taking up issues of elections funding, language and disability access, election data and other nuts-and-bolts. But, the low voter turnout and what to do about it dominated several of the discussions.
After abysmal voter participation in California’s last election and in Los Angeles County in particular, some state officials want to follow in the footsteps of Oregon and look into creating an automatic voter registration system. Proponents say creating a system that automatically signs up eligible voters instead of requiring them to take the initiative would remove a major barrier to participation and free up resources that could be spent on getting more people interested in voting. That proposal came up Friday at a joint legislative hearing in Los Angeles that focused on increasing voter turnout in Los Angeles County. The county is the largest in the nation and has 4.8 million registered voters. But its turnout was the lowest in the state in last November’s general election. Statewide turnout of registered voters was 42%, but in Los Angeles County only 31% of registered voters cast ballots. Turnout was particularly low among Latino registered voters, at only 23%, and Asian and black voters, at 26%, according to a report by the bipartisan firm Political Data Inc. The number of people eligible to vote — citizens 18 and older — who cast ballots was even lower: 31% statewide and 25% in Los Angeles County.
California: Activists say California violates Motor Voter Act, lawsuit threatened | Los Angeles Times
Voting-rights advocates warned Thursday that they may sue California based on claims that the state is not complying with the so-called Motor Voter Act, a federal law mandating that states offer people an easy way to register to vote when they obtain their driver’s licenses. The law firm of Morrison & Foerster sent a “pre-litigation” letter to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on behalf of the League of Women Voters of California, the ACCE Institute, California Common Cause, the National Council of La Raza and several individuals.
Editorials: Low-turnout Los Angeles perfect place to test innovative election ideas | Joe Matthews/San Francisco Chronicle
Like a man who bangs his head against the wall to cure a headache, Los Angeles will hold more municipal elections this March. The certain result: another low-turnout embarrassment that draws the usual lamentations about how our democracy is in peril. Enough crying. If California’s civic leaders are so sure that Los Angeles elections are democratic disasters, then why don’t they declare an official state of emergency? In other California contexts, disasters draw interventions and lead to big changes. After an earthquake or fire, officials can declare emergencies and take decisive action without following the usual regulations. When California school districts don’t meet academic standards or go underwater financially, the state can take them over. When law enforcement agencies fail, the courts or the federal government can assume oversight.
When he is sworn in Monday as California secretary of state, Alex Padilla, a former two-term state senator and possible candidate for higher office, will assume one of the most-maligned posts in state government. The secretary of state’s campaign-finance disclosure system is old and confusing, businesses complain about filing delays and a federally required computerized voter registration list is years behind schedule, contributing to a national survey recently ranking California second-to-last in election administration. Padilla, a Democrat from Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, said fixing all three will be early priorities after he takes office. “Coming in, I know there’s a lot that I want to help get accomplished and pushed forward. That’s the approach, the urgency I will bring,” said Padilla, who recently completed two terms in the state Senate and is regularly mentioned as a possible future contender for governor or U.S. Senate.