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.”

California: Voting Rights Restored to 60,000 Ex-Felons | Mother Jones

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.

California: Voting rights intact for lower-level California felons | San Francisco Chronicle

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: Major challenges await Bowen’s successor in California | Sacramento Bee

Voting equipment around the state is breaking down. There is limited money for new systems. A complex statewide voter registration database has been years in the making. And while hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars change hands every day in California, the state’s public-disclosure system confuses searchers and occasionally stops working. Whoever gets the keys to California’s secretary of state’s office in January will inherit a lengthy to-do list for the post’s role overseeing voting and elections, its most public responsibility. The office also handles businesses filings. Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who recently disclosed that she is battling depression, has defended her tenure and blamed politics for would-be successors’ criticism of her office during this year’s campaign. Budget cuts during the recession and a lack of new funding have hampered efforts to improve some programs, she has said, such as the Cal-Access campaign-finance website. But whether it is Republican Pete Peterson or Democrat Alex Padilla, California’s next secretary of state will need to hit the ground running, county registrars and other experts say.

California: State doesn’t allow write-in candidates in its general election, so a write-in candidate is suing | The Washington Post

An independent candidate who received a single vote for a U.S. House seat in California is suing the state over it’s top-two primary system, which allows write-in candidates in the primary but not the general election. Theo Milonopoulos, a PhD student at Columbia University, filed to run as a write-in candidate in the crowded primary race to replace the retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (D), after missing the deadline to appear on the ballot. Under California’s election law, the top two candidates with the highest number of votes in a primary election move onto the general election, regardless of party, and any write-in votes in the general election are not counted.

Voting Blogs: County elections official in ‘uncharted territory’ with California recount | electionlineWeekly

For elections officials in California, during a busy election year, July is often the time for well-deserved vacations, elections office housekeeping and a time for general administrative work and slow ramp-up to November. But this year, elections officials in 15 of the state’s 58 counties are either busy hand-counting ballots or preparing for their turn to count. On July 6, Democrat John Perez, who came in third behind Democrat Betty Yee in the race for state controller sent a letter to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen requesting a recount. Under California law, any voter may request a recount if they pay for it. Perez, who lost to Yee by 481 votes, requested that 15 counties manually recount dozens, if not all of their precincts.

California: Secretary of state campaign takes on a higher profile | Associated Press

A string of legal cases against lawmakers that include two Democrats facing political corruption charges has magnified the usually quiet race for the office overseeing California elections and campaign fundraising. Candidates vying to become secretary of state are offering competing plans to inject transparency and restore public faith in government. A race that typically exists in the political backwaters of a California election season popped on to the public stage earlier this year when one of the top candidates, Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee, was arrested and later indicted on federal corruption charges as part of a wider probe into illicit dealings in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Yee has since pleaded not guilty and dropped his candidacy, even though his name will remain on the June 3 primary ballot. The charges against Yee include allegations that he peddled his influence in the Legislature in exchange for campaign contributions from undercover FBI agents.

California: Judge says state illegally denied voting rights to thousands | Associated Press

The state’s top elections official illegally denied voting rights to tens of thousands of Californians who served sentences for nonviolent felonies and then were placed under county supervision, an Alameda County judge ruled Wednesday. Secretary of State Debra Bowen wrongly barred the voting privileges of lower-level felons who were sent under Gov. Jerry Brown’s “realignment” program to county jail instead of state prison, Judge Evelio Grillo wrote in a 27-page ruling. Grillo said ex-offenders who are placed under the supervision of county probation officers, rather than state parole agents, after their release are not on parole.

California: State Experiments with Open-Source Voting | PublicCEO

After spending tens of millions of dollars in recent years on ineffective voting systems, California election officials are planning to experiment with an “open source” system that may prove to be the cure-all for secure, accessible balloting – or just another expensive failure. Most computer programs, such as the Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X operating systems, are “closed source” programs. That means the original computer code only can be examined by the program’s owners, in these cases Microsoft and Apple. “Open source” means the original computer code is made public so it can be used and examined by anyone, in particular to find security holes. According to Damicon, “True-open-source development requires that a community of software engineers band together to work on the software. The idea is that more minds create better software.”

California: Same-Day Voter Registration Law Delayed Until 2016 | PublicCEO

Californians can expect to wait at least two more years for the state’s same-day voter registration law to take effect. Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the state’s chief elections officer, says that the state won’t meet the legal requirements to implement the law until 2016 or later. It’s been frequently ignored, but a late amendment to Assembly Bill 1436 required officials to conduct a statewide voter review before California’s same-day voter registration law can be implemented. According to the Legislative Counsel’s digest for the bill, it becomes operative “on January 1 of the year following the year in which the Secretary of State certifies that the state has a statewide voter registration database that complies with the requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.”

California: Prison Realignment Complicates Voting Rights For Felons | KPBS

California’s prison realignment effort has drawn up a complicated matrix of detention options for felons, and with it a lot of confusion about which ones can vote. It’s the subject of a lawsuit alleging the state has unconstitutionally stripped nearly 60,000 Californians of their right to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union of California and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area filed the petition in Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday. The suit is on behalf of the League of Women Voters of California and three individuals who cannot vote under new rules enacted in response to realignment. The state constitution prohibits from voting people who are “imprisoned or on parole for conviction of a felony.” The language was clear when offenders fell under two categories: the state’s responsibility or a California county’s responsibility. But realignment has created a hybrid system, putting low-level felons who would have otherwise gone to prison under county supervision, through jail or probation.

California: Secretary of state sued over criminals’ voting | Associated Press

Voting and civil liberties groups sued Secretary of State Debra Bowen on Tuesday over a decision she made in 2011 that said tens of thousands of criminals who are serving their sentences under community supervision are ineligible to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and other groups filed the lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of nearly 60,000 convicts who are sentenced either to mandatory supervision or post-release community supervision. It’s the second lawsuit challenging Bowen’s interpretation of the 2011 criminal justice realignment law, which is designed to ease overcrowding in state prisons by sentencing those convicted of less serious crimes to county jails or alternative treatment programs.

California: Auditor: California has inefficiently spent millions earmarked for voting systems | The Sacramento Bee

Confusing and inconsistent direction from the California Secretary of State’s Office has led the state to inefficiently spend millions of federal dollars earmarked to improve voting systems, according to a state audit released Thursday. Widespread allegations of uneven vote-counting practices accompanied the 2000 presidential election, which the U.S. Supreme Court effectively decided. The Help America Vote Act, enacted two years later, allocated money for states to train poll workers and update their voting systems – in some cases, counties continued to rely on punch-card systems. California received more than $380 million, according to the auditor’s report. But the state’s methods for distributing that money were plagued by murky standards and a lack of clarity about whether counties could use new voting systems, State Auditor Elaine Howle’s office found. At least $22 million went to new voting machinery, like touch screens, that counties ended up mothballing.

Verified Voting in the News: California Assembly committee passes Internet voting bill with secret amendments | Kim Alexander’s Weblog

Last Tuesday at the California Assembly Elections committee hearing,AB 19 by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) was heard and passed on a 4-3 vote. If enacted, the bill would create a California online voting pilot program. Over the weekend, while cleaning out some old papers, I had deja vu moment when I came across a December 4, 2000 news release issued by then-Assembly Majority Leader Kevin Shelley announcing the introduction of AB 55, which among other things, as originally introduced would have established an online voting pilot program under the direction of the Secretary of State. That provision was ultimately amended out, and Mr. Shelley would go on to become the Secretary of State of California and one of the nation’s first political leaders to support a voter verified paper audit trail and mandatory election recounts.

California: Lawmaker proposes letting California teens ‘pre-register’ to vote at age 15 | SanLuisObispo.com

California teens could submit paperwork to get on the state’s voter rolls three years before they are allowed to cast a ballot under legislation introduced this week. Senate Bill 113, by Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, would let Californians “preregister” to vote at age 15, giving the state the nation’s youngest minimum age for submitting an affidavit of registration. While the teens would not be able to vote until turning 18, the Santa Barbara Democrat said she hopes the change would increase the number of active voters by linking the “positive experience” of getting a learner’s permit at the Department of Motor Vehicles with registering to vote. Teens could also use the state’s new online registration system under the measure, which is sponsored by Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

California: Mail ballots hit an all-time high in California general election | Sacramento Bee

California saw a record share of general election voters opt to cast their ballot by mail this year, with 51 percent of the state’s 13.2 million participants using mail-in ballots. The general election record, which still trails the state’s all-time high of 65 percent mail-in ballots set in this year’s primary, was announced today as Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s released the official statement of vote. The numbers include vote-by-mail ballots dropped off at polling stations as late as Election Day.

California: Two-thirds of California voters cast ballots by mail | Fresno Bee

Nearly two-thirds of California voters cast their vote by mail in the June election, a record for the state, but fewer than a third of registered voters turned out, Secretary of State Debra Bowen reported Friday. Bowen’s office officially certified the results of the primary election, which was the first time Californians tested two new voter-approved changes: a top-two primary system and new congressional and legislative boundaries drawn for the first time by an independent commission. The new primary system led to a crowded ballot in many races; U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein faced 24 challengers. She faces Republican Elizabeth Emken in November.

California: Riverside County’s voting machines being used for spare parts | The Desert Sun

The roughly 3,700 electronic voting machines owned by Riverside County are locked in a warehouse, being scavenged for parts, with no plans to sell the multimillion-dollar equipment that was rendered idle by the stroke of a pen more than five years ago, a county official confirmed Wednesday. In August 2007, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertified e-voting units in use in counties throughout the state following a series of security tests that revealed vulnerabilities in the machines that could leave them open to computer hack attacks. At the time, Riverside County’s Sequoia AVC Edge voting machines had been used in elections going back to 2000. County supervisors universally lauded e-voting, calling the practice a great time-saver with less risk for the type of errors that came to light in Florida following the 2000 presidential election. Members of election integrity group Save-R-Vote of Temecula Valley, a staunch opponent of e-voting, forecasted Bowen’s decision, with the head of the organization, Tom Courbat, recommending that the county sell its Sequoia units for pennies on the dollar to cut its losses. He was ignored.

California: Disabled Voters Asked to Assess Polling Place Accessibility | KCET

From now until June 29, disabled voters in California will have the opportunity, by filling out a first-of-its-kind online survey, to weigh in on whether and how well county elections officials are providing for them at the polls. Results from the survey, which was created by the Secretary of State’s office, are supposed to help determine whether elections staff need more training and whether there is a need for modified services or enhanced outreach programs for voters with disabilities.

California: Lawsuit pushes voting rights for California felons | The Informant

lawsuit filed Wednesday by lawyers for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and two other nonprofits aims to protect the voting rights of thousands of convicted California felons. Currently, convicted felons who are serving time in state prison or who are on parole cannot vote under California law. But the lawsuit, filed at the First District Court of Appeal,  claims this does not apply to felons who serve their sentences in county jails. Last fall, California realigned the criminal justice system, transferring the custody of low-level felons to county supervision to help reduce overcrowding in state prisons. In December, Secretary of State Debra Bowen sent a memorandum to local registrars that these Californians cannot vote, whether they are in state prison or in a county facility, because county supervision is equivalent to parole. “If we can send people all the way to Afghanistan to fight for the rights of people to vote inside of a prison,” said Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “it looks crazy to me that we would deny people the right to vote in the jail in Bakersfield or in the jail of San Diego.”

California: Open elections change California primary ballot | news10.net

It’s roughly three months to the primary election here in California; and the June ballot is going to look different. Voters will no longer receive party-specific ballots at their polling places. Proposition 14 now requires that candidates run in a single election open to all voters; with the top two vote getters meeting in a runoff. “Voters are going to be presented, most for the first time, with an election in which they see all the candidates who are running,” Secretary of State Debra Bowen said. “They’re not going to go ask for a Peace and Freedom or a Democratic ballot or a Republican ballot.”

California: Secretary of State’s creaky computer system working again | San Jose Mercury News

Candidates, journalists and civic-minded busybodies weary of pestering state staffers to submit or examine campaign disclosure forms will be relieved to know that the state’s creaky electronic filing system is back online after its second prolonged outage.

Nicole Winger, spokeswoman for California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, said the 12-year-old computer system known as Cal-Access was back up shortly before 6 p.m. Friday after being down for most of December.

California: Debra Bowen and The Lessons of Technology | NBC Bay Area

Quietly, a political storm is growing over technology, access and the state of California. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen is in the middle of it. She is facing serious criticism over how she manages technology. The state’s Cal-ACCESS system — which provides the public with vital data on campaign contributions and lobbyist activist — went down three weeks ago. A database that verifies voter registrations also went down.

These problems come on top of earlier criticism that Bowen’s office was not moving fast enough to enable on-line voter registration. (And then there are a few people like your blogger who have argued that she should be more open to electronic signature gathering for ballot initiatives and referenda). Some criticism is warranted, but much of it is unfair — and misses the crucial context.

One of Bowen’s greatest public services has been her smart skepticism about technology in voting. The secretary of state may well have saved the state from serious election problems by challenging the technology and security of electronic voting machines.

National: The Dangers of Man-in-the-Middle in Voting Machines | ezinemark.com

The Election Day is fast approaching in every state in the country. Security experts and researchers from Vulnerability Assessment Team or VAT at Argonne National Laboratories made a video that demonstrates a simple and non-cyber man-in-the middle or MITM attacks on the voting machine – the Diebold AccuVote TS Electronic Voting Machine. The researchers Jon Warner and Roger Johnston inserted customized hardware costing only 10 dollars into the Diebold AccuVote TS.

They were able to read the touchscreen vote using it and they were able to alter the information that was stored within. Changing the electronic votes isn’t really new; however, with the addition of a 16 dollars, the team was able to have a remote control that can operate and perform the MITM attacks even if they were miles away from the machine.

It was even stated that the levels of sophistication needed to accomplish the deed was comparably easy; even starters can accomplish it without any hardships. The same multi-disciplinary team of Argonne National Laboratories that is composed of physicists, digital computer forensics experts, computer engineers, white hat hackers, security researchers and also social scientists has demonstrated the same flaws on the machines of Sequoia Voting Solutions.

California: California comes online…sort of – Governor signs legislation allowing for online voter registration | electionlineWeekly

With the stroke of a pen from Gov. Jerry Brown, California recently once again legalized online voter registration providing an additional opportunity for more than six million residents of voting age to register to vote. California law already allows for online voter registration, however the process on the books before the new legislation was approved was contingent upon the completion of the state’s federally approved voter registration database — VoteCal.

While the state does have a statewide voter registration database, the current system does not make it possible to fully register to vote online. Tired of waiting for the state’s fully federally compliant statewide voter registration database to come online San Francisco Senator Leland Yee introduced SB 397 which would allow counties to offer online voter registration now.

“This is an important first step toward fully upgrading California’s voter registration, making use of better technological tools to make the voter registration process more accurate, less expensive, and more efficient,” said David Becker, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Election Initiatives.

California: Top Two Primary Fight Heads to Federal Appeals Court | Business & Election Law

The legal battle surrounding California’s controversial Top Two Primary has reached an influential federal appeals court.

This afternoon, a federal trial court refused to put California’s controversial new election regime on hold.  In response, Plaintiffs Michael Chamness, Daniel Frederick, and Rich Wilson immediately asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the lower court’s decision.

Earlier, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made a key ruling:  it allowed in critical evidence that directly challenges the legality of the Top Two Primary.

California: State vote-by-mail action taken in stride locally | Ukiah Daily Journal

The state’s plan to cut out reimbursement to counties for vote-by-mail ballots won’t affect Mendocino County much, according to Registrar of Voters Sue Ranochak. The state Legislature passed a bill in its 2011-12 budget that aims to save $33 million by suspending state mandates that require counties to process voter registration applications received by mail and to send vote-by-mail ballots to voters who apply for them, among other mandates suspended.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen opposes the suspensions, saying they could cause confusion and disenfranchise voters, and Ranochak concurs, along with about 45 other counties represented at a recent meeting. “I’m going to follow what the secretary of state recommends,” Ranochak said. “It’s important that people vote.”

Not that the suspensions change much for Mendocino County, according to Ranochak. She explained that the county pays all costs up front for each election, then waits for reimbursement from the state, which can take anywhere from six months to two years.

California: Budget cuts may end mail-in ballots, registration | San Francisco Chronicle

Buried on page 620 of the state budget are a few small cuts that could change the way Californians vote.

To save $33 million, the bill suspended several state mandates requiring counties to provide voting services that many Californians take for granted. The state no longer requires counties to process all voter registration applications they receive by mail or to send out vote-by-mail ballots to anyone who wants one. Counties still could provide these services, and many probably will, but they won’t be reimbursed by the state.