December 31, 2008

The final outcome of the Yorba Linda City Council election was determined by a single vote. The final vote was 11,950 for Jim Winder and 11,949 for Ed Rakochy.

Read More >

December 30, 2008

Grab Your Camera: The Democracy Video Challenge

With so many public and private initiatives being labeled "2.0," it is appropriate that the State Department has launched a new program called Public Diplomacy 2.0. As James K. Glassman, Under Secretary for Pubic Diplomacy and Public Affairs, said, "We have arrived at the view that the best way to achieve our goals in public diplomacy is through a new approach to communicating, an approach that is made far easier because of the emergence of Web 2.0, or social networking, technologies."

You can read more about Public Diplomacy 2.0 here but the item I wanted to bring to your attention is a video contest that supports this work. The U.S. Department of State calls the contest "The Democracy Video Challenge." It is a worldwide competition aimed at enhancing the global dialogue on democracy - it asks budding filmmakers, democracy advocates and the general public to create video shorts that complete the phrase, "Democracy is..."

Learn More Here >

December 29, 2008

Jerry Hill's First Assembly Bill

Former San Mateo County Supervisor and now Assemblyman, Jerry Hill, (19th Assembly District) has introduced AB 84, which is his first legislative effort in Sacramento. The bill is pretty straight forward. It requires local election officials to set up a free system that would allow voters to check if their vote by mail ballot was counted or not - and if not, the reason(s) for it not counting.

This bill is similar to the provisions of the Help America Vote Act section that required the same type of system for voters to determine if their provisional ballot was counted or not. (Which very few voters take advantage of, BTW).

AB 84, as currently written, is a good, "consumer" bill that might serve to increase the confidence of vote by mail voters. The downside is the cost of implementation which would mainly be the costs associated with creating a tracking system for each vote by mail ballot. Since this portion of the electorate has increased significantly, the costs for some counties, like Los Angeles, could be significant.

And the big question is, "since this is a state mandated program, will Sacramento pick up the tab?"

December 28, 2008

The Minnesota Recount Continues

With no clear end in sight to the recount battle between Republican Senator Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, and a new Congress convening in just nine days, it appears likely that Minnesota will be represented by only one Senator, Amy Klobuchar. At least for a part of January - the Minnesota recount continues.

Read More >

December 27, 2008

A Web Based Voter Rating System for Election Services

There are people who love to write and there are people who have strong opinions about things. Put them together, along with the power of the Internet and you have a recipe for lots of user generated reviewers. We all know about reader generated book reviews on Amazon as well as those connected with about every major retail outlet on the web. Yelp allows users to rate businesses as well as public services with restaurant reviews of San Francisco restaurants being most popular with 4,334 reviews and religious organizations being last with 142.

In addition to private sector reviews there are some other user generated review sites. For instance, Great Schools allows parents to rate schools. And GreatNonprofits lets folks write reviews of nonprofit organizations. But what about a site that specifically rates government services? (Couldn't find any but if you come across one let me know).

Newt Gingrich, in an essay in Rebooting America, suggests that his site, American Solutions, is launching Rate Your Government, which will bring the groundbreaking system of user ratings and feedback that made eBay so successful; to citizens and their government agencies. He says, "Obviously this project will allow citizens to voice frustrations with government services, but more importantly it can surface government systems that are working so they can be emulated nationwide."

Now, what about a site that specifically rates election services? What would happen if voters were allowed to rate the services provided by poll workers? Imagine voters giving that kind of real feedback to election officials - improvements in service delivery would surely be made. And Democracy might improve.

December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays from Warren Slocum

I am "off" today, but I do wish you and yours the very best. Back tomorrow on a more regular posting schedule.

December 24, 2008

Exploring the Development of a Government Sponsored Voting System for America

Two things got me thinking early - very early, this morning about counting the votes. The first event was the simple posting of the "Count the Votes" poster below this blog entry. Another event took place at my house last night when a group of us got into an energized conversation about voting in America. One of my relatives said something like, voting and health care should not be profit driven industries because they are too important for the people. 

That comment got everyone started on the question of, "should the private sector be involved in the counting of votes?" (These kinds of pre-holiday conversations could only happen at a Registrar of Voters' house, right?).

The conclusion of most of those in my living room was no - the private sector should not be counting votes. It should be the job of government to develop and maintain vote counting software whose accuracy could be verified by citizens. 

Through the posting of a count the votes graphic and a conversation on vote counting, an idea came to me. 

Here it is - the Make Voting Work project should assemble a representative group of smart people from the National Association of Secretaries of State, the National Association of State Election Directors, the National Association of Election Officials, the League of Women Voters as well as the Election Assistance Commission and concerned citizens to analyze the idea of a government sponsored voting system development project. 

The best minds in the Silicon Valley along with academics and computer scientists, working collaboratively with election experts and other interested folks, should be able to come up with recommendations on this important topic - especially as the voting machine market continues to consolidate.

Words of wisdom from the poster, "Count the Votes or Lose the Voters." 

December 22, 2008

Arizona's Next Secretary of State

Jan Brewer is moving into the Arizona governor's office because Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano was selected by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as the head of Homeland Security. In Arizona that means the Secretary of State becomes Governor. When the upward movement stops, there will be a vacancy in the Seceretary's office - and there are plenty of folks interested in the job.

Current and former officeholders mentioned as possible picks for the opening include former Arizona Senate President Ken Bennett, Marcicopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Full discosure here - Helen Purcell has been of friend of mine for many years and she is certainly qualified for the Secretary's post. Arizonians would be well served with her hands-on elections experience and her executive management abilities.

No Hanging Chads, But Plenty of Grief

With just two weeks left before a new Congress convenes, Minnesota's Senate recount has reached Florida-grade levels of confusion and controversy. On Wednesday, State Supreme Court Justic Paul Anderson bristled at a lawyer's comparison of Minnesota's situation to the famous presidential recount in the Sunshine State. By Thursday, Anderson was dissenting from his own court's recount ruling and noting as a bright spot his belief that the court's order is only a "preliminary skirmish" in "an extended legal contest."

Read More >

California Counties Brace for the Worst

Like the state, California's 58 counties are being hit bu the same financial tsunami that's rolling across the nation. With the housing market plummeting to new lows and sales tax revenues skidding, there's no money for public programs.

Read More >

December 20, 2008

Voters Cast "Odd" Write-In Votes in Minnesota

Watch the comedy at the Minnesota Recount Board - the Lizard People are coming! And more too.

Are District Elections Coming to San Mateo County?

Are district elections coming soon to San Mateo County? Well, that question is being asked in some circles.

San Mateo County has had at-large (countywide) elections for Board of Supervisors for a very long time. Here a candidate must live and run from one of five supervisorial districts but all the voters of the county get to vote on her candidacy. Other jurisdictions use district elections for electing members to the Board of Supervisors. Under that approach a candidate runs from a specific district and is voted on by only the registered voters of that district.

From time-to-time the idea of district elections has come up in our county but the movement never went anywhere. And while there are pro and con arguments on the issue, the one that has always won out is the argument that running countywide guarantees a broader view of policies issues since theoricically all county voters are constitutents.

Sue Lempert, former San Mateo City Councilmember recently wrote in The Daily Journal that, "...we may see a dramatic change in how we elected these officials (board members) in the future. The present system as it has evolved discourages those who may not yet enjoy the support of the local labor and business establishment. But change is in the air. More people are voting. More people are interested in running for office, especially at the local leve. New constituencies feel they are not adequately represented in top county posts. By the time there is the next round of supervisor elections in 2012l, I would not be surprised if we were voting by district rather than countywide."

Read more on this topic at The Daily Journal and a post on the Peninsula Politics Blog.

Imagine There's No Diebold

Coverage of my talk at the PEW/JEHT sponsored conference, "Voting in America: The Road Ahead," can be found by visiting this link.

December 19, 2008

2 Ideas for Elinimating the Shortage of Poll Workers

Some counties in California and elsewhere experience great difficultly in finding enough poll workers to serve at the precincts on Election Day. This shortage can have a significant impact on the quality of the voting experience for voters as well as potentially jeopardize security or other important election operational issues.

Here are two ideas that might help eliminate the pre-election scramble for people.

  • Weekend Elections - That's right. Other countries have elections on a Saturday or Sunday and it works well. Why not move our elections from Tuesdays, which is a product of our agrarian past, to Saturdays when many folks are not working - at least not in the office cubicle. Sure, there would be less time for errands and the family but then the change might yield a higher voter turnout and solve the precinct worker problem.
  • Property Tax Credit - I don't know of any state that has tried this idea but California could be the first. If you are a property owner and sign up to serve at the polls on Election Day, you would be entitled to a $7,000 credit on your home's assessed value (Similar to the Homeowner's Exemption Program in California). This reduction in assessed value would save the property owner around $70 on their property tax bill. In addition to the credit, precinct workers who serve on Election Day would also receive their regular pay from the county.

December 18, 2008

Counting Ballots: Man vs. Machine

The statewide recount in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race has given folks from that state a chance to see just how accurate their voting equipment is. The numbers the vote counting machines spat out on election night are remarkably close to the preliminary ones from the recount, which was done by hand.

But that raises a question: Who's better at counting ballots - - people or machines?

Read More >

Study Plays Down Convenience Voting

A report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University found that "convenience voting - mail voting, no-excuse absentee voting, early voting, and even election-day registration - does not help turnout and may hurt."

Read More >

December 17, 2008

The Conflict Between Dollars and Democracy

The costs for administering elections have increased since the enactment of the Help America Vote Act. And some say costs have doubled, tripled or even quadrupled.

In testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on House Administration, Mr. Ray Feikert, former county commissioner of Holmes County, Ohio, testified that in his rural jurisdiction, it costs approximately $4,000 to run a special election for school board before enactment of the Help America Vote Act. The price tag increased to more than $20,000 by 2007.

In California, the experience has been somewhat similar especially because of new requirements placed on local jurisdictions by the Secretary of State. Mainly those requirements surround additional security (seals, locking tags, etc) measures and the associated costs for personnel and supplies as well as the costs for certain mandated recount situations.
All of that coupled with the state's current financial situation makes the conduct of elections more costly at the same time that local governments are struggling to balance budgets.

The conflict between dollars and democracy was the main point debated at yesterday's San Mateo County Board of Supervisors' meeting at which the members eventually voted to appoint a new board member rather than pay the costs of an election.

Three board members cited the dismal economic climate and said they would rather use the estimated $1.7 million cost to conduct a special election to provide services to people. However, Supervisor Rich Gordon said, "I am absolutely convinced now is the time to clearly engage the citizens of this county in the discussion of the important challenges this county faces."

It was a difficult decision for the board - the final vote was 3 to 1.

The "bottom line" of this debate is that due to the added costs of the Help America Vote Act, a plethora of election mandates of Sacramento coupled with the state of the economy, the people of San Mateo County experienced a conflict that might soon come to other jurisdictions as they grapple with the same issue - the conflict between dollars and democracy.

In our case, dollars won the day.

December 16, 2008

Election Administration as a Profession

According to the Congressional Research Service, unlike more established professions like public health management and law enforcement, election administrators have few professional development resources at their disposal. Furthermore, the typical local election official in America is a white woman between 50 and 60 years old who is a high school graduate. She was elected to her current office, works full-time in election administration, has been in the profession for about 10 years and earns under $50,000 per year. Two thirds are elected rather than appointed.

The profile of election administrators is changing rapdily. The field is experiencing a turnover rate of about 10 percent each election cycle. From 2004-2006, local election officials who: 1) were elected decreased from 65 percent to 58 percent; 2) worked full-time increased from 66 percent to 76 percent; and, 3) spent more than 20 hours per week on election duties increased from 41 percent to 47 percent. Those who had served for more than a decade in their current position decreased from 47 percent to 44 percent and those earning a salary under $40,000 decreased from 47 percent to 39 perecent.

(Source: The PEW Center on the States - Make Voting Work, "Data for Democracy.")

December 15, 2008

Premier/Diebold Software Drops More Votes - This Time in Ohio

Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems) has got another tabulation problem. This time it showed up in Montgomery County, Ohio.

Election officials discovered that although five votes were recorded on a memory card inside the voting machine, the votes were not counted by the central tabulation software when the memory card was uploaded to the tabulation server. Premier's Global Election Management System (GEMS) is the tabulation software that counts votes from memory cards.

This problem is similar to one that turned up in Humboldt County, California.

Read More >

San Mateo County's Budget Deficit Swells

San Mateo County's budget deficit has increased from $28 million to $41 million in recent months and will worsen. The county's structural budget deficit could reach nearly $61 million by the FY 2010-11. The amount does not account for the state's escalating budget crises.

Read More >

December 14, 2008

Observers: Watching and Documenting the Vote

The November 4th election was under a national microscope. That election was the most "watched" election in our nation's history. The media, nonpartisan observation teams, civil rights lawyers, partisans, foreign poll watchers and hordes of voter activists all joined together to monitor polling place operations on Election Day. There were also individuals and groups monitoring the various election processes that took place in the weeks leading up to the election as well as those who watched early voting locations for trouble.

If a voter experienced difficulties at the polls, their issue could be reported to a large number of outlets. Many organizations had problem reporting websites as did the media, especially newspapers and TV. Call-in lines staffed by volunteers posted polling-place incidents as they occurred. Even Twitter and other "new media channels" got in on the action as voters posted their Election Day experiences - good and bad.

Election Protection, perhaps the largest and best organized of the nonpartisan observer groups, had more than 10,000 volunteers at polling sites and call centers. According to the final tallies, Election Protection logged more than 80,000 calls on Election Day and 200,000 during the entire election cycle.

The most common problems reported were related to voter registration - voters arrived at the polls thinking they were registered only to find that they were not. Another prevalent issue was deceptive practices - intentionally putting out misinformation about polling locations, rules, impending challenges, etc. - were reported in more than a dozen states.

In addition to all the above, there were 800 Department of Justice staff in the field in 23 states. Prominent locations included Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Dallas, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, King County Washington and Orleans Parish, Louisiana.

Information on the operation of polls also came from the inside. Professors, activists, bloggers and members of the media signed up to be poll workers. They got an "insider's view" of elections which provided a unique opportunity for them to document their election experiences on blogs and websites.

Also keeping tabs on things were an "army of lawyers" who were ready to go into court should any legal action be necessary. The New York Times estimated that there were 5,000 lawyers for Obama in Florida alone. Republicans did not offer any estimates but noted, "enough to respond to any contingency...we will be engaged at every level."

There is no doubt that this election was the most watched and most documented in U.S. history. Hopefully, all of this information on the vote and the experiences of voters will be put to good use by legislators, election officials and concerned citizens to improve the election system so that it better serves voters when we conduct the next presidential election four years from now.

December 13, 2008

Data for Democracy

Good data is the basis of good policymaking. In the elections area, a lack of data has often left policy makers and election officials without the tools necessary to assess successes and failures in the field. Data for Democracy - Improving Elections through Metrics and Measurement, a compendium of research that grew out of a Pew Center on the States and JEHT foundation-sponsored conference, begins to look at how data is collected in the field. It highlights states that do a robust job of colleting and reporting data, examines challenges faced in data collection in the field and assesses the diversity of data and data collection mechanisms among local governments.

Read More >

December 12, 2008

California Lay Offs - Check SMC Cities

Most California companies must give employees 60 days' notice before laying off more than 50 workers. Since January 1, 2007, these companies have laid off roughly 136,000 California workers. You can use this database to see which companies and/or communities have pink-slipped the most workers.

Go to the Interactive Database >

Barrales Appointed to New Tax Commission

Ruben Barrales, a former San Mateo County Supervisor, has been named by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders, to serve on the state's new tax commission which is charged with modernizing how California collects taxes.

Read More >

Minnesota Still Counting

The Minnesota state Canvassing Board is meeting this morning to try to push the U.S. Senate race a bit closer to completion by scrutinizing rejected absentee ballots cast for the November 4th election. At the outset of this morning's meeting, the panel was told by the state director of elections that the two campaigns are now challenging a combined total of 4,472 Election Day ballots that have been reviewed during the statewide recount.

Additionally, it appears that around 650 absentee ballots have been wrongfully rejected in the November 4th election in 49 of the 87 counties.

Reader comments (voters, poll workers and others) in this story are of special interest.

Read More >

December 10, 2008

Survey Shows Voting Disparities

Although Election Day ran smoothly for most voters, a survey of 10,000 people by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found some disparities on November 4, 2008.

Read More

December 9, 2008

Ten Important Election Questions

Today is the first day of the PEW/JHET conference, "Voting in America: The Road Ahead." Having the privilege of being invited to participate on a panel at the event has caused me to reflect on my assigned topic, imagine we could start over-how would you design an election system? Many important questions result and I would like to share ten with you.

1. Are our elections too important to be handed over to private sector companies who are driven by profit?

2. How do we ensure that elections are conducted properly?

3. Should there be a level of transparency to the extent that everyone knows how vote-counting software works -that the votes were totaled correctly and individual votes were processed as they were intended?

4. Is universal voter registration a good idea?

5. Should we give a property tax credit for service as a poll worker?

6. Would turnout improve if we held elections on a Saturday rather than Tuesday?

7. How do we adequately fund elections in difficult economic times?

8. Should colleges and universities offer a course of study in election administration?

9. How could a "Yelp" type rating system be implemented for poll workers?

10.How do we create an election system that is easy to understand, easy to use, reliable, accurate and transparent in all the major areas of election administration - people, processes and technology?

December 7, 2008

End-To-End Verifiability of Elections

Jim Adler wrote in his Blog, "Counting votes in secret is just a bad idea."

I agree!

Election officials have done their work in secret for too long (although this has changed some in recent years with the birth of voter activist groups). The public has a right to know that votes are counted correctly and one way that could be accomplished is by posting all the votes online so anyone could do their own recount.

Least you think this idea couldn't possibly work, it was done recently in one California county and citizens discovered, after doing their own recount, that the official certification of the election was incorrect - it was 200 ballots short.

Mr. Adler takes the idea even further by asking, " about allowing any voter to check their individual vote?" Is that possible?"

Yes! There is a new concept in voting technology - whether you are talking about paper ballots, electronic ballots or even online ballots and that is
end-to-end verifiability. A recent article said, "The premise is mind-bogglingly counter intuitive: to be able to be sure, with a high level of certainty, that your vote was recorded and counted accurately without revealing whom you voted for. And that you (yes, you) can verify that this happened exactly as it should have."

All of that is ostensibly possible using advanced cryptographic techniques. Just check out the work of
Ben Adida and the Helios Voting System that implements an open audit web service. You can learn more by reading Mr. Adida's blog or listen to him talk at Google by clicking here.

Transparency is a key ingredient for total election integrity. The public deserves what Mr. Adler calls, "an unobstructed view" of everything surrounding the counting of ballots.

A Call for Universal Voter Registration

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law has issued a policy summary paper that recommends a system of "universal voter registration" in the U.S. The authors are Wendy Weiser, Michael Waldman and Renee Paradis. They claim that a universal voter registration approach would create voter rolls that are as comprehensive as possible well in advance of Election Day - and would provide a fail-safe mechanism if an eligible voter showed up at the polls but couldn't be found on the list. The Center correctly points out that such systems are routine in other countries.

Read More >

December 6, 2008

Readers Can Vote on Challenged Ballots in Minnesota U.S. Senate Recount

One of the problems with paper ballots becomes apparent during recounts. And that is determining voter intent. What normally happens in this type of situation is that the counting board will make a decision on a particular ballot. Then one side will "challenge" the decision and the election official must make a formal decision on how to count that challenged ballot.

Why does this happen? Well, because some voters just don't follow directions.

Take the case of the Minnesota U.S. Senate race where a statewide recount is going on. Right now there are 2,240 ballots in question and the race is razor thin. Norm Coleman
has 1,208,939 votes while Al Franken has 1,208,747.

The has done a pretty cool thing. They have gotten images of some of the real ballots that have been challenged in the recount and they have posted them to the web. They are letting readers evaluate each ballot and determine voter intent. This is a pretty amazing opportunity for voters to get a glimpse at a sometimes very difficult and often contentious election process.

Another issue with paper ballots has surfaced in the Minnesota Senate recount - evidently 133 paper ballots are for the moment - LOST!

Read More >

December 5, 2008

Wrong Results Certified - Audit Might Be In Order

Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich has made a significant contribution to election transparency. She posts images of all ballots cast on the Internet - along with sorting software, so that anyone with a home computer can conduct their own recount.

Results from November's election were posted online and it was discovered that almost 200 ballots were inexplicably dropped from the final election results that were certified to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. Crnich said that the error could be traced back to a problem with Diebold GEMS software (the company is now called Premier Election Solutions) the county uses to count votes.

Perhaps the Secretary of State should call on all California counties that use the same software to conduct a post election audit of certified results? If it happened once, what are the chances that it happened in other jurisdictions?

Maybe the chances of that happening are not that high but who knows?

Congratulations to Registrar Crnich for her creativity and thanks go to the good citizens of Humboldt County who put in their own time and energy to recount ballots - and discovered this problem.

December 4, 2008

Interesting Election Facts

The November '08 Presidential Election was one month ago today. Here are some interesting facts about that election in San Mateo County:
  • How Many People Voted? - 307,350. Previous record was 288,533 in 2004.
  • How Many Registered Voters? - 389,410. Previous record was 368,410 in 2004.
  • How Many People Voted By Mail?- 147,819. Previous record was 124,498.
  • How Many High School Students Served At The Polls? - 1,098.
  • How Many First Time Voters Were There? - 48,053.
  • How Many 18-Year Olds Voted? - 2,337.
  • Which City Had The Highest Turnout? - Portolla Valley (85.6%).
  • How Many Voters Called The Election Office On Election Day? - 3,862.

December 3, 2008

More Than 80% of California's Registered Voters Went to the Polls

Tuesday, December 2nd was the deadline for California's 58 counties to finish counting ballots and certify the election results. The percentage of registered voters who cast ballots statewide was 80.6%. That turnout is the highest since Richard Nixon and George McGovern ran for office in 1972. In San Mateo County the turnout was 78.86% - Los Angeles County enjoyed an 81.9% turnout.

December 2, 2008

Election Videos on Demand - Free

On election night, November 4th, Anatomy of Election '08 aired on Cable 26. The historic show was an attempt to bring greater transparency to the election process as well as to educate voters on what it takes to conduct a public election. This type of "live" TV show had never been attempted before and represents a step forward in trying to create a different type of election model by giving voters a "behind the scenes" look at elections.

The videos from that evening's broadcast are now available online. There are eleven different chapters and you can watch them all or select just the ones you have an interest in. Each segment is around five minutes in length.

Watch the videos here.

December 1, 2008

Applications Available for Board Seat

For me, it is hard to believe that it is December 1st. But it is and applications for San Mateo County's supervisor seat are available starting today. Candidates will make a 15-minute public presentation to the board on December 15th followed by 10 minutes of public testimony on each applicant's behalf. The following day the board will either appoint one of the applicants or call for a special election which could be held March 3, any Tuesday in April or June 2 with any state election that might be called.

Opinions on the advantages of appointing vs. an election vary. But it seems like most newspapers as well as the Democratic Central Committee have come out in favor of holding an election. A columnist for the San Mateo Daily News recently wrote that the lack of elections has lead to a government body that is becoming "a self-perpetuating group that could potentially suffer from inbreeding."

November 30, 2008

The Birthplaces of Democracy

America's deomcratic roots go all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. Writer Jay Heninrichs decided to travel through space and time to walk in democracy's footsteps in an article, "The Routes of Democracy." He explores the birthplaces of earlier democratic systems visitng Athens, Rome, London, Syracuse, New York and Philadelphia.

November 29, 2008

Setting Up the Election Photo Gallery

Congratulations to the Coastsider, which has published a great photo gallery entitled, "Election 2008: Setting Up the Poll. The Coastsider's gallery documents some of the work involved in working at a polling place on Election Day and the importance of trained, competent polling place workers.

Studies have shown that the opinions of voters on their voting experience is largely determined by the service provided by poll workers. Another study found that voters like fresh faces at polling places. The San Mateo County Elections office has worked hard and invested heavily on these two fronts. The results paid dividends at November's Presidential election.

Check out the photo gallery here >

November 28, 2008

Changing Elections: Your Ideas Wanted

If you could change anything about elections, what would it be? Imagine for a moment that you could wipe the slate clean and build an election process anyway you wanted. Would you, for instance, require identification at the polls? How about Election Day voter registration? What about voting on Saturday - or doing away with polling places and moving to all mail elections?

Perhaps voting technology is your interest. What about requiring all states to use "Open Source" vote tabulation software? Paper ballots? 

One way citizens can know that votes are counted correctly is through the post election "audit process." How would you change that? Would you require everything to be counted and verified by hand?

Share your ideas - post a comment!

November 27, 2008

Making Elections Work: The Law and Process After November

On December 4, 2008, the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project, along with the Election Law Journal and University of California Washington Center, will co-sponsor an event looking at a range of campaign finance, election administration, and other election law issues and how they played out during the 2008 election.

Check out the program - view live or archived webstream.

November 26, 2008

Election Central 2.0 - It Could Be in Your Living Room!

Election Central, that physical place where election results were traditionally handed out to members of the public, campaigns and the media, has changed. In the "old days" - a.k.a. - before the Internet, people would gather at the county seat after the polls closed and mingle, have refreshments and wait as election results came in. There was always excitement in the air, especially at presidential elections.

Today, the scene at Election Central is much different. At least in San Mateo County, California located in the heart of Silicon Valley.

These days only a few people join the festivities at Election Central
. Sure, there are some people, mainly campaign supporters, that might venture out to an election party but for the most part people stay home and get their election results on the web or by television. Pictured here is the campaign party of Pacifica Councilwoman elect Mary Ann Nihart surrounded by her supporters. The laptop on the coffee table is displaying our web site and crowd is tracking election results. (Photo courtesy of the Pacifica Tribune).

This is the new Election Central.

Not only has the Internet changed the way people get their election results but it has made it possible to transform the look and feel of election results. Today's web offerings are much different than in the past.

There was a time when all you got were results printed on several sheets of paper. Those papers only listed the contests and the corresponding vote totals. Now election enthusiasts can go on the web and track a specific contest, look at a map and view vote totals displayed in a pie chart.

Race Tracker, the application that makes this possible on the San Mateo County website,, simply gives people more viewing options - and information options. We call it the "customization of el
ection results." Just like Burger King - you can have it your way!

Some 4,000 people visited our web site on election night. Those visitors had their choice of a customized vote total report or a PDF which presented the information in a more historically familiar fashion.

Take a closer look at our enhanced election results offerings. >

November 25, 2008

A New America Needs a New Election Idea

Most Americans want a more representative and responsive government capable of addressing the challenges that face the average voter as well as those facing the nation. At the same time, however, our electoral system is founded on practices from a bygone era that inhibit voter choices and encourage a politics of the three P's - partisanship, polarization and paralysis. It's time to bring our electoral system into the 21st century by adopting instant runoff voting (IRV).

IRV is not about electronic voting devices, hanging chad or a polling place process. Rather it is about fundamentally changing the way officials get elected to public office.

IRV elects winners with majority support in a single election by allowing voters to rank a first, second, and third choice on their ballots. If no candidate wins a majority, and a voter's first choice is eliminated, the vote goes to the voter's second-ranked candidate as his or her runoff choice. IRV encourages more electoral competition, solves the "spoiler" problem, enables voters to choose the candidate they really want, and encourages candidates to win by building coalitions rather than by tearing down opponents.

Some jurisdictions that have moved to IRV include Pierce County (WA) and San Francisco (CA). Memphis (TN) just overwhelmingly passed IRV by 70% for city races. Telluride (CO) also approved IRV handily and will be heading towards implementation. Other cities, like the capital of New Zealand continue to use IRV.

Learn more about IRV

November 24, 2008

Voting in America Summit

Yours truly will be speaking at the, "Voting in America Summit," sponsored by Making Voting Work, a project of The Pew Center on the States in partnership with the JEHT Foundation. The conference runs from December 8th through December 10th in Washington, DC (Knight Conference Center at the Newseum).

My session is from 12:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. on the 9th. It is a luncheon event entitled, "Imagine We Could Start Over - How Would You Design an Election System? The moderator is Pam Fessler, Correspondent of National Public Radio - discussion leaders include:

  • The Honorable Robin Carnahan, Secretary of State, Missouri
  • The Honorable Trey Grayson, Secretary of State, Kentucky
  • John Lindback, State Election Director, Oregon
  • Chris Thomas, State Election Director, Michigan
  • Brian Newby, Election Director, Johnson County, Kansas
  • Warren Slocum, Chief Elections Officer & Assessor-Clerk-Recorder, San Mateo County, California
Hopefully there will be time to blog in "real time" from the conference. More on this later.

November 23, 2008

Elected Officials Flunk Basic U.S. History Quiz

U.S. elected officials scored poorly on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent. Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions. Among the questions asked of some 2,500 people who were randomly selected to take the test, including "self-Identified elected officials," was one which asked respondents to "name two countries that were our enemies during World War II." Take the Quiz and see how well you do! >

November 22, 2008

Philippine Official Calls for Election Reform

Makati City, Philippines - The upcoming 2010 national elections will require technology that is credible, cost-effective and feasible for deployment in the country, Senator Richard Gordon said.

"I want secuirty in every step of the election process," added Gordon who is co-chairman of the joint Congressional Oversight Committee on poll automation.

In an interview with, Gordon disclosed some of his concerns amid current discussions in the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on what technology to use for the 2010 elections.

(Last year Senator Richard Gordon visited San Mateo County and while here was shown the county's voting devices as well as other aspects of how elections are conducted - rumor has it that the Senator might run for President).

Read More >

November 21, 2008

Questions About Ballot Measures

If California voters always had their way, illegal immigrants wouldn't get public education and health care; the state would have "open" primary elections; landlords could practice racial discrimination; and cable television would be either free or illegal.

All these stances have been approved as ballot initiatives, and all were later struck down by the courts.

Read More >

November 20, 2008

District Elections for Supervisors?

In a November 19th San Mateo Daily Journal editorial, "Supervisor Vacancy Deserves an Election," the paper said, "It has been more than 10 years since the county has had a seriously contested election for the Board of Supervisors." It opined that one reason for this is the high cost of running a county-wide campaign.

The newspaper is right. A competitive county-wide political campaign might cost up to $200,000. Maybe more? For most candidates, raising that kind of money would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

That's one reason that most counties in California elect their Supervisors by district - not county-wide like San Mateo County does.

From time-to-time District elections has come up for debate in the county. Right now board members run from a District (five districts) but they get voted on by everyone in the county. The basic argument of which approach is best comes down to this: running county-wide helps the office holder keep a broader view when considering public policy while the other side says that district elections guarantees competitive races because less money is needed to run.

The Daily Journal agrees with the money argument. They said, "Until supervisorial races are district-wide and not county-wide, that will surely not change." (They were referring to a lack of competition).

According to the Peninsula Politics Blog, the appointment process the Board is using to fill the upcoming vacancy caused by the elevation of Supervisor Jerry Hill to the State Assembly could cause a political backlash - it will be interesting to see if that happens but it will be more interesting to see if the idea of district elections goes anywhere.

Voting Problems Remain

The National Journal posted this story, "The Morning After, Voting Problems Remain."

November 19, 2008

Fixing California's Initiative Process

The San Jose Mercury News has run an editorial on the need for reform of California's initiative process. One of the ideas is that anyone outside the Legislature who puts a bond or new program on the ballot should have to specify how to pay for it - another idea: to prevent damaging proposals from getting on the ballot, the system should permit amendments to fix obvious flaws.

Read More >

Appointment vs. Election - Board Leaves Options Open

Supervisor Jerry Hill will head to Sacramento soon to replace Assemblyman Gene Mullin who is being termed-out of office. According to a report in the San Mateo County Times, supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to begin the appointment process but did not rule out the possibility of calling a special election after interviewing the crop of appointee candidates.

County Supervisors Rich Gordon and Mark Church proposed the appointment process.

Looks like each candidate for the appointment will be given fifteen minutes to make their pitch on December 15th and the next day supervisors will make a final decision to appoint one of the candidates or set a special election (estimated cost = $1.6 million).

Read More

Sacramento Might Propose an Increase in Property Tax Rates

As you might have read (who hasn't?), the state's budget is out of whack by billions of dollars and many local governments face their own budget issues. San Mateo County's situation is no different largely because it depends on the state for revenues and that, coupled with declining property tax rolls, leaves the county in a difficult position. Compounding the problem is the recent loss of millions from the collapse of Lehman Brothers as well as the county's ongoing structural budget deficit.

California schools, cities and special districts - plus counties - all face difficult financial times ahead. There are hard decisions to make in the months ahead.

Floating around in the halls of the capital are lots of ideas to patch up the money shortfall. And if you hang around those who deal with financing local government sooner or later you will hear about a "split assessment roll" as a potential partial solution. That idea is being talked about again and it has business folks concerned.

Read More >

November 18, 2008

How Voting Has Changed in America

Voting in America, it's fair to say, used to be different. Very different!

The United States was founded as an experiment in eighteenth-century republicanism, in which it was understood that only men with property would vote, and they voted publicly. Americans used to vote with their voices - or with their hands or feet. Yea or nay. Raise your hand. All in favor of Jones, stand on this side of the town common; if you support Smith, line up over there. In the colonies, as in the mother country, casting a vote rarely required paper and pen. Our forebears considered casting a "secret ballot" cowardly, underhanded, and despicable; as one South Carolinian put it, voting secretly would "destroy that noble generous openess that is characteristick of an Englishman."

How things have changed.

Read More >

November 17, 2008

A Different Kind of School

Haven't got time to go back to school full-time? One Day University might be the answer.

One Day University brings together award-winning professors from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and other top-tier schools to offer an exciting, live classroom learning experience. Their class offerings let you partake in the latest thinking on world affairs, science, politics, history, art, literature, and more - and what's great is there are no entrance exams and no stress. It's just live classes taught by sought-after professors from major universities.

November 16, 2008

Obama to Address Nation on YouTube

President elect Obama will bring the President's weekly "fireside chat" into the 21st century by offering it not just on the radio, but in video on YouTube as well. It's as if the new populist President really cares whether the next generation has a connection to what he's doing. That's where the people are - on YouTube, on MySpace and on Facebook.

Read more >

November 15, 2008

Twitter Usage Increases Dramatically

October was a good month for Twitter. All those election Tweets brought a 25 percent increase in U.S. visitors from the month before, to 1.45 million unique visitors, according to comScore. (Worldwide, the number was 5.6 million in September). Since January, Twitter has experienced a 16-fold growth in the U.S. And that is just visitors to These numbers don’t count all the people who send and read Tweets from other Websites, desktop apps, or their mobile phones.

Twitter is having its hockey stick moment in terms of its growth just shooting up. Last week it may have delivered its billionth Tweet, at least nominally. And it looks like it is approaching escape velocity. If it doesn’t break up from all the pressure and is able to keep its service up and running more or less, it could soon—gasp!—break into the mainstream.

That little red line at the bottom of the chart, just for reference, is FriendFeed. It is still scraping the ice in terms of growth. Comscore only measures 150,000 unique U.S. visitors in October (550,000 worldwide in September). But that’s just below where Twitter was last January. And FriendFeed is a lot younger than Twitter, having launched publicly only last February, compared to July, 2006 for Twitter. Maybe a year from now it will be hitting its hockey stick.

November 14, 2008

1st 2008 National Voting Machine Performance Analysis

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, a distinguished voting technology researcher and computer scientist, has spent the last week analyzing the election day trouble tickets of a national voter protection coalition. And while Mr. Hall notes that some of the difficulties in analyzing the tickets comes from the fact that the tickets were recorded by volunteers - not computer scientists, his analysis is still worth reviewing. (Especially for election administrators who want to improve the process for the next time around).

Mr. Hall writes, "If we can do anything to improve the experience of the average voter facing a machine problem, it should be reduce the amount of time they spend in line. He added that voters who had a machine problem and got back-up paper ballots often were not confident that their votes would be counted. Another curious feature of the data is the voters' uniformly negative attitudes toward contingency or back-up plans - voters are often upset and mistrustful," Hall said.

Mr. Hall's analysis is one of the first assessments - if not the first - to look at electronic voting in November's Presidential election. And I am certain more analysis will be forthcoming and that would be welcomed.

Go to Not Quite a Blog 2.0 and read Mr. Hall's analysis.

Peninsula Politics

The Blog, Peninsula Politics, has a couple of recent posts about the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors that share an interesting perspective on the Board's alleged double standard for the treatment of elected officials and the apparent decision by the Supervisors to appoint the next Board member rather than have an election.

November 12, 2008

Election Results Updated

The semi-official election results were updated again Wednesday afternoon. Check the results at - also be sure to check out "Race Tracker" which allows you to look at the results for specific races rather than having to pour over the entire results report.

On Friday, November 14th, the semi-official results will be updated at 4:30 pm - and again on November 18th.

You might be wondering, "why does it take so long to count the votes?" Well, it is not the counting of the votes that takes the time but the processing and signature checking of the vote by mail requests to ensure that the people casting the ballots are in fact registered voters and did not vote at the polls. Also, there are provisional ballots to research - thousands for an election of this size.

November 8, 2008

Secretary of State Bowen Gets Bad Grade

From the Sacramento Bee - "A few days ago Secretary of State Debra Bowen said she was confident that California could handle its crush of new voters without a hitch. Well, the election might have gone off pretty well, but the counting has been dreadful. And Bowen's computer system is the worst of the worst. While individual counties are reporting some results, the Secretary of State's web site appears to have been overwhelmed by people seeking to get the numbers. Bowen came into office boasting of her knowledge of technology. Looks like she has failed her first major test. UPDATE: Bowen posted this on her Facebook page nearly two hours ago: Debra has officially declared the polls in California to be closed."

November 7, 2008

Election Results Updated

The election night semi-official results have been updated with thousands of vote by mail ballots and provisional ballots that were left at the polls on election day or were received in the mail on Election Day. The next update of results will be posted at 4:30 pm on November 12th.

The semi-official results are available by clicking here.

November 1, 2008

Historic Election Night Show to Air!

To commemorate this November’s historic Presidential General Election, the San Mateo County Elections Office, PenTV/Channel 26, and Comcast have teamed up to create a unique telecast that will combine local election results and newsmakers with national news, commentators and results and an insider’s look at how an election is conducted. The broadcast will air from 7 p.m. – midnight on cable Channel 26. For people who are interested in watching the broadcast that do not live in one of the PenTV cable communities, the broadcast will be simulcast on both the Elections website, and PenTV’s website at Election night results will be posted on the Elections Office website throughout the evening; the first returns will be issued at 8:05 p.m.