In a largely sleepy California election, there was one startling result: nearly 300,000 ballots cast for Leland Yee for secretary of state, good enough for third place even though he dropped out after being accused of gun running and political corruption. Yee’s tally, which is likely to grow as more than 750,000 uncounted ballots are processed, pushed him past a pair of good-government candidates also vying to be the state’s chief election officer–a bit of irony adding to a widely held notion, especially outside the state, that Californians are a bit nuts. Yet while vexing and a cause of no small amount of ridicule, state Sen. Yee’s surprising vote total can be explained by several factors beyond the supposed shallowness and stupidity of the California electorate.
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.
State Sen. Leland Yee withdrew from the California secretary of state race Thursday, one day after his arrest on public corruption charges, his attorney said. “This was a very personal decision on the part of the senator,” said Paul DeMeester, his attorney, at a news conference outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco. “This is what he wanted to do.” Yee, a Democrat who represents half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County, was one of 26 people ensnared in a five-year federal investigation that targeted Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a notorious Chinatown gangster who had claimed to have gone straight, officials said. An outspoken advocate of gun control and open government, Yee is charged with conspiring to traffic in firearms as well as six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of honest services. He has not commented on the allegations. Investigators say Yee took bribes in exchange for political favors in order to pay off a $70,000 debt from an unsuccessful run for San Francisco mayor in 2011 and to fund his run for secretary of state. The bribes were paid by undercover agents, the FBI said.
After an anonymous $11-million donation from Arizona sent shock waves through California politics last year, the state Capitol seemed primed for new measures to tighten campaign finance rules. But several proposals fell by the wayside as lawmakers finished their work last week. Bills that would have increased the power of California’s campaign finance watchdog, boosted fines for violations and forced greater disclosure of donors — among other measures — stalled in the Legislature. Just one bill was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, SB 3, by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco). It would require new training for campaign treasurers and mandate that officials study the possibility of replacing the state’s outdated website for tracking campaign finance information. Lawmakers said they would revisit the topic when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
For those who still don’t vote by mail in California, going to the polls might become a bit more convenient soon. The state Senate Elections Committee has approved a bill that would increase access to elections by requiring county elections officials to open an early voting location on a Saturday prior to Election Day. “The fact that elections are held on a workday leaves many Californians in a situation where they have to choose between voting and fulfilling personal and professional obligations,” says Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, author of the bill.
In use for the first time last year, California’s online voter registration system proved so popular that lawmakers want to build on its success this year. Wider promotion of the system and a push toward online voting are among several election-related bills under consideration as the Legislature approaches a midyear bill deadline. Other changes under consideration would shine more light on campaign financing and update how elections are run. About 800,000 Californians used the online registration system to join the state’s voter rolls, according to state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who authored the original bill. An analysis of turnout figures by Political Data Inc. indicated that those who registered online were significantly more likely than other voters to cast a ballot last November. This year, Yee’s SB44 is proposing that all state websites link to the secretary of state’s voter registration page in an effort to publicize the system. Others want the state to move even further online and are pushing for a pilot program to test the casting of ballots over the Internet. Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, has put forward AB19 to review the security of online voting software and eventually create a pilot program for counties.
In September, as a result of a law I authored in 2011, California launched online voter registration. Consequently, California set a new record with 18,245,970 registered voters. More than 1 million people used the new registration system in less than a month, with moe than 780,000 citizens added to the voter file. Nearly 62 percent of those who registered online were under age 35 and four out of five registered to vote for the first time. Proudly, these individuals also voted in much higher numbers than those eligible via paper registration from previous elections. … I share this frustration but I have a fundamental optimism that the barriers to online voting can be lifted if enough research and development is devoted to solving the problem. Unfortunately, Internet voting systems are not yet ready for deployment. The National Institutes for Standards and Technology and cyber security experts at the Department of Homeland Security have reviewed the currently commercially available Internet voting systems and found that fundamental security problems have not been resolved and thus should not be used yet in our public elections.
It sounds logical enough. If we can buy stock, see medical records and book flights online, we should be able to cast ballots online as well. And at least one politicians thinks California should move in that direction. When State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) announced on Monday that he is running for secretary of state in 2014, he said online voting is one of the primary planks in his platform. … That made me wonder exactly why I am still showing up at the basement of a church in my neighborhood to fill in bubbles with a pen. The answer, according to Johns Hopkins University computer security expert Avi Rubin, is that there is no way to guarantee an accurate vote count online. “I’m pretty disgusted to hear that someone is running for secretary of state with this platform,” he said.
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.
Shocking voter fraud allegations are rocking the mayor’s race in San Francisco. District Attorney George Gascon has launched an investigation and demands are growing for federal authorities to move in. One campaign official fears the election could be stolen if nothing is done. Supporters of incumbent Mayor Ed Lee, who is running for a full four-year term next month, are accused of illegally handling vote-by-mail ballots.
Witnesses say workers for the group, SF Neighbor Alliance, set up a makeshift sidewalk voting site in the city’s Chinatown and accuse it of illegally casting absentee ballots for elderly Chinese voters. The witnesses claim cell-phone videos show workers telling voters to vote for Lee, filling out ballots for the voters and even using a stencil to hide the names of rival candidates so the voters could only chose one — Lee. They also say that the completed ballots were stuffed in plastic bags, which is prohibited by state election law.
California: Mayoral candidates contact Department of Justice over reports of election fraud | KTVU San Francisco
Seven San Francisco mayoral candidates sent a letter to federal and state officials Sunday requesting an investigation into media reports that supporters of Mayor Ed Lee were filling in ballots for voters Friday. The letter points to reported witness testimony and video allegedly showing staff members from the group SF Neighbor Alliance for Ed Lee for Mayor 2011 “completing ballots for voters” and “preventing voters from marking their ballots for other mayoral candidates”.
In the letter, the mayoral contenders ask Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen to investigate these claims. The letter was signed by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, County Supervisor John Avalos, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, state Senator Leland Yee, Michela Alioto-Pier and Joanna Rees.
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.
Californians will be able to register to vote online for the 2012 elections.
Gov. Jerry Brown announced Friday that he signed legislation that supporters say will modernize California’s election system.
The bill, SB 397, allows the state to begin registering voters online ahead of a new statewide voter database. It directs state election officials and the Department of Motor Vehicles to match registration information submitted online with DMV records containing an electronic copy of a voter’s signature.
Registering to vote might soon be as easy as placing an online order for a pizza with all the fixings. A bill by state Sen. Leland Yee could push millions more Californians to vote, and save the state millions of dollars by moving voter registration to the Web.
The measure was approved by the state Legislature in September and is awaiting a signature or veto by Gov. Jerry Brown, who has not indicated how he views the legislation.
About 6.5 million eligible California residents are not registered to vote and could benefit from the program. But online registration could be a major draw for one notably left-leaning and underregistered demographic — young adults.
Registering to vote online in California would’ve happened eventually. State officials had been expecting to go that route after 2015, when a new statewide voter database is due to be finished.
But Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) calls the change “long overdue.” His measure, SB397, which landed on the governor’s desk Friday, requires California to join states like Arizona and Oregon in moving toward an on-line registration system by next year’s elections.
Right now, county election officials compare a voter’s signature to their signature on a paper registration form. The new law, if signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, tells the DMV to develop a system of digitized signatures that could be used by election officials for voter verification.
Editorials: Dean C. Logan and R. Michael Alvarez: Let’s bring registration online now | LA Daily News
The world looks to California for 21st century innovation, especially for the application of technology that makes life less costly and more efficient.
Californians are well into the 21st century, working in the cloud, using smart phones and tablet computers, and getting their entertainment on demand by satellite. But when it comes to voter registration, California seems to be stuck in the 18th century. State law won’t allow eligible citizens in our state to register online until at least 2015 — and maybe much later.
Fortunately, Californians may not need to wait much longer. SB 397, a bill that would allow for online voter registration as soon as 2012, has now been approved by the state Senate and passed through the Assembly Policy Committee. Since the bill’s introduction by Sen. Leland Yee in February of 2011, SB 397 has continued to garner legislative support by adding a number of coauthors.
Legislation that would allow Californians to register to vote via their county’s election office website has been approved by the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee.
If the measure makes it into law, California would joins several other states that already offer online registration. California has lagged behind awaiting implementation of the statewide online database system known as VoteCal, which has been delayed until at least 2015.
SB 397, authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, also puts into place greater safeguards to fraud than the current paper registration process.
Sen. Leland Yee’s bill to fast track online voter registration took an initial step forward yesterday. On a party line, 3-2 vote, the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee approved Senate Bill 397, which would allow voters to register to vote by submitting an electronic affidavit via their county’s election office website.