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.