ELECTION PROCEDURES




INTRODUCTION

The 1996-97 Grand Jury monitored the November 5, 1996 election at a number of precincts. Following the election, letters were received from voters commenting on election procedures. An investigation was begun after reviewing past Grand Jury reports and the responses of Affected Agencies.

OBJECTIVE

To examine the effectiveness of communication between the Department of the Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor and the voting public in the areas of:
1. Absentee and Provisional Ballots
2. Polling Precincts
3. Training of Precinct Workers
4. Voter Registration

APPROACH

Interviews were conducted with the following people:
· the Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
· the Manager and other senior staff of the Elections Division
· the Office Manager of the Santa Barbara office of the California Department of Motor Vehicles
· a number of concerned voters

The following materials were reviewed:
· sample ballots (including absentee and provisional)
· voter registration forms
· election officer handbook
· DMV voter registration forms
· Divisions and Functions - a pamphlet published by the Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor

On November 5, 1996, the Grand Jury observed the voting process at several locations from the time the polls opened through the counting procedure at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

OBSERVATIONS

Election staff reported to the Grand Jury that members of the public are often unaware that it is the responsibility of the voters to assure they are properly registered to vote and to follow all instructions given in the sample ballot.

On July 23, 1996, the Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor recommended to the Board of Supervisors that a Citizens' Committee on Elections be established as a response to a motion of Supervisor Urbanske on May 21, 1996. The committee would "consider methods by which elections processes could be made more `user friendly' and would recognize the `cultural' and `technological' changes currently taking place".
1 According to the Minutes of that meeting, no action was taken and as of the date of this report the committee has not met. Nevertheless, the Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor told the Grand Jury that the Citizens' Committee on Elections is an idea he wishes to pursue and that he intends to have it convene prior to the June 3, 1997 election.

1. Absentee and Provisional Ballots

Of the 152,313 residents of Santa Barbara County who cast votes on November 5, 1996, 47,328 did so with absentee ballots. Elections Division staff reported to the Grand Jury that the number of absentee ballots cast each year is increasing. This is due partly to new laws which relaxed the circumstances under which a registered voter may request an absentee ballot. Voters using absentee ballots must be aware that it is their responsibility to make sure the absentee ballot is received at the elections office by 8:00 p.m. on election day. Provided the absentee ballot is complete, including the envelope supplied with it, the ballot can be turned in at any polling precinct. If mailed, it must be received, (not postmarked), by 8:00 p.m. on election day.

There are four reasons why a voter may require a provisional ballot
2 on election day.
· The voter claims to be a registered voter, but is not on the Precinct Roster.
· The voter is listed as "absentee" on the roster and does not have the absentee ballot.
· The voter has moved and neglected to re-register.
· The voter has an absentee ballot and wishes to deposit it at the precinct, but does not have the envelope which was supplied with the ballot.
The counting of provisional ballots is completed between 28 and 35 days after the election. On November 5, 1996, 1468 provisional ballots were cast in Santa Barbara County.

2. Polling Precincts

Voters must cast their ballots in the correct precinct or the vote may not be counted (Section 14279 of the Elections Code). Voters not on the roster will be given a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots must be verified before they shall be counted (Section 14310 of the Elections Code). Voters may telephone the Elections Division Office to verify their correct precinct. At least two of the precincts visited by the Grand Jury did not have a functioning public telephone within one-half mile.

If an urgent problem developed requiring advice from the Elections Division Office, not all Precinct Inspectors had access to a telephone in the polling site.

Occasionally polling places change on short notice. For example, at any time, the owner/manager of a proposed Polling site may notify the Elections Division of the withdrawal of that site. The Grand Jury learned that during the November 1996 election several voters arrived at the polling place they had used in years past only to discover that the precinct had been changed. In some cases, the voter had not received notice in a timely manner. In other cases the voter had neglected to read the sample ballot carefully enough.


3. The Training of Precinct Workers


The Grand Jury noticed that some experienced precinct workers appeared not to be current on election code changes and on occasion reverted to procedures they had used in previous elections.

The Grand Jury noted that significant items in the Elections Officer Handbook are not clearly identified to the novice precinct worker and are not reinforced by "take-home" material. In fact, no material is given to precinct workers for their reference on election day.

One precinct inspector was observed to be unaccompanied when delivering the sealed ballot box containing the ballots to the ballot collection point. This is specifically against the policy of the Elections Division.

Some precinct workers communicated well with voters while others appeared to lack effective communications skills thereby compromising their ability to provide pertinent information.

Several precinct workers reported to the Grand Jury that they experience great satisfaction in terms of community involvement by participating in the election process.

Individuals working at the precincts are expected to begin their day at 6:30 a.m. and work until approximately 8:30 p.m. (or until the polls close). Precinct Inspectors are paid a per diem of $70 and other precinct workers are paid a per diem of $50.


4. Voter Registration

A citizen who completes an application to register to vote is responsible for the accuracy of the application and must ensure it is sent either to the Santa Barbara County Clerk or
the California Secretary of State. (See Appendix 1). A registration is confirmed upon receipt of a Voter Notification Card.

According to Elections Division staff, the biggest problem with regard to registration of voters occurs because it is conducted by people other than Elections Division staff. Any public agency or association may register people to vote, but those doing the registering are not required to be trained by the Elections Division. The 1993 federal law (the "Motor-Voter Law") requires that voter registration forms be available at public agencies such as the California State Department of Motor Vehicles. However, DMV workers, who are not trained to be voter registrars, may inadvertently omit vital information. For example, when some members of the public checked the section marked "DO YOU WISH TO REGISTER TO VOTE OR UPDATE VOTER RECORD?" section of the form for Application for Driver License, they were not handed a voter registration form by the clerk. These people thought they were registered to vote when in fact they were not. In other cases, potential voters unknowingly made errors on the voter registration form, provided by the DMV, which were not caught. These people did not receive a Voter Notification Card, but nevertheless thought they were registered to vote.

The Elections Division conducts an ongoing procedure to validate voter registration through comparison of signatures on the precinct roster and the registration card, and cross-referencing of information such as social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and telephone numbers.

The County of Santa Barbara has a particularly mobile society and this leads to problems when voters move and neglect to re-register under their new address. Sometimes the location of polling places changes and without up-to-date registration information, the Elections Division is unable to notify the voter. In this situation it is possible for voters to lose the privilege to vote.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

COMMENDATION: Relatively few problems occur on election days. In the election of November 5, 1996, 152,313 members of the public cast their vote in 234 precincts in Santa Barbara County. The 1996-97 Grand Jury commends the Manager and all members of the Elections Division staff for their willingness to explore ways to improve the voting process.

The Santa Barbara County Elections Division has implemented an Outreach program for the education of local school children in the voting process from registration to canvassing the vote. In addition, the Grand Jury commends the poll workers for their cooperation and openness in sharing that process with members of the public, particularly with visiting school children.


FINDING 1: Some members of the voting public neglect to re-register when they move.


RECOMMENDATION 1a: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should negotiate with the United States Postmaster to include on the "Change of Address" mail notification a tear-off postcard addressed to the Election Division to update the voter record.

RECOMMENDATION 1b: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should use this information to remove the voter's name from the precinct roster in a timely manner.

AFFECTED AGENCY:

The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Response


FINDING 2: When the location of a Polling Place is changed, no notice is posted alerting the public to the new location or to a telephone number where they can ascertain the new precinct.

RECOMMENDATION 2a: The Elections Division should post signs on the entrances of closed or changed polling places alerting the public to the change.

RECOMMENDATION 2b: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should make changes to the Sample Ballot where the location of the polling place is printed to prominently display the words "New" or "Changed" when applicable.

AFFECTED AGENCY:

Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Response

FINDING 3: The following problems were found in at least two of the precincts visited by the Grand Jury:
· no functioning public telephone within one-half mile
· no sign directing voters to the nearest functioning public telephone
· no sign providing the telephone number of the Elections Division in case a voter requires assistance
· not all Precinct Inspectors had access to a telephone
· no printed instructions regarding problem solving were available to voters

RECOMMENDATION 3a: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should require a sign to be posted at each polling place. The sign should list the telephone number of the Elections Division Office as well as the location of the nearest functioning public telephone.

RECOMMENDATION 3b: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should direct the Election Division Manager to provide printed instructions for voters who are uncertain about their correct polling place.

RECOMMENDATION 3c: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should negotiate with a local supplier of cellular telephones to loan a number of instruments for the exclusive use of Precinct Inspectors on election day. These would not be made available for public use.

AFFECTED AGENCY:

The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Response

FINDING 4: The $70 per diem paid to Precinct Inspectors and $50 per diem paid to other precinct workers is less than the current minimum wage when calculated against the 14 hours worked on election day.

RECOMMENDATION 4: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should consider paying precinct workers a per diem comparable to minimum wage.

AFFECTED AGENCY:

The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Response

FINDING 5: Precinct workers reported great satisfaction in terms of community involvement by participating in the election process. The Grand Jury believes this would be a valuable experience for high school and undergraduate students.


RECOMMENDATION 5: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should work with high schools, community colleges and other higher education institutions in Santa Barbara County to encourage recruitment of interested people. Election participation could be considered community service or an independent study project.

AFFECTED AGENCY:

The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Response

FINDING 6: Precinct workers are not supplied with reference materials at the conclusion of their training session.

RECOMMENDATION 6: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should direct the Elections Division Manager to publish a summary of pertinent facts from the Election Officer Handbook for workers' reference at polling precincts.


AFFECTED AGENCY:

The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Response

FINDING 7: Some experienced Precinct Inspectors and Precinct Workers are not up-to-date on changes in the election code.

RECOMMENDATION 7: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should provide experienced Precinct Inspectors and Precinct Workers with training which is specifically geared to changes in the code and changes in Elections Division procedures.

AFFECTED AGENCY:

The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Response

FINDING 8: The Citizens' Committee on Elections has not yet been convened.

RECOMMENDATION 8: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should establish the proposed Citizens' Committee on Elections immediately.

AFFECTED AGENCY:

The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Response

AFFECTED AGENCIES: California Penal Code Section 933(c) requires that comments to Grand Jury Findings and Recommendations be made in writing to the presiding judge of the superior court within 60 days by all AFFECTED AGENCIES: except governing bodies, which are allowed 90 days. In accordance with Section 933.05, the responding person or entity shall indicate the following:
1. The respondent agrees with the finding.
2. The respondent disagrees wholly or partially with the finding, in which case the respondent shall specify the portion this is disputed and include an explanation.
3. The recommendation has been implemented, with a summary of the implemented action.
4. The recommendation has not been implemented, but will be in the future, with a time frame.
5. The recommendation requires further analysis, with an explanation and a time frame. This time frame shall not exceed six months from the date of publication of the grand jury report.
6. The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted or is not reasonable, with an explanation.

The Grand Jury requests that all responses be submitted on a 3 inch computer disk along with the printed response.



1 Santa Barbara County Agenda Board Letter to the Board of Supervisors from Kenneth A. Pettit, Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor/Registrar of Voters: July 23, 1996.
2 A provisional ballot is a regular ballot placed in an envelope marked "provisional" and color coded depending on the problem.