California elections officials gather at conference in wake of primary news

150 150 John Guenther

Speaking before a gathering of election officials this week, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson reminded them to focus on simplicity in the voting process in a busy and complicated world.

“The last thing that we want is for people not to engage because the process was overwhelming,” said Nelson, welcoming the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials 106th Annual Conference in Newport Beach.

During the Annual Roll Call of Counties led by Sue Ranochak, Assessor County Clerk-Record from Mendocino County and CACEO Secretary, noticeably absent were counties that are first being tasked with conducing a recount of votes cast in the State Controller’s race. The recount wasn’t an official topic of the conference, but UCI law professor Rick Hasen told the audience he expected John Pérez to end his recount bid, which the Assembly member officially did today.

The conference which gathers officials to delve into the challenges of elections held in 58 counties, from voter experience to calculating the costs of each time an election is held.

“Hosting is a tremendous job,” said conference host and Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley. “It’s like running an election. I have a lot respect for counties that have done this before because it’s like herding cats. I just wanted to elevate the content of our annual meetings…and to provide some really in-depth sessions.”

Panels included such important elections topics including an update from the Secretary of State’s office on the VoteCal upgrade project and Vote By Mail (VBM) trends and policies.

Understanding who is casting VBM ballots has become vital, given nearly 70 percent of voters in California’s June primary election voted by mail, yet California’s rejection rate of those ballots remains one of the highest in the nation (according to Pew).

Director of the CA Center for Civic Engagement at UC Davis Mindy Romero shared data from the November 2012 election demonstrating that overall VMB voters tend to be older, less Latino, more Asian, and less registered Democrats than poll voters.

Representatives from the Secretary of State’s office and the vendors contracted to complete the state’s VoteCal website shared they are on track to replace CalVoter as the system of record for the state in June 2016. Pilot counties have been selected to work with the SOS first and then six waves of statewide deployment will begin.

With the cost of special elections, plus a recount, in the news over the past year, CACEO’s Elections Cost Database project was a highlight of brought up throughout the conference. Those involved stressed how important it will be to know the actual cost of elections, not just anecdotally, across a state as diverse as California.

“The fact that we’re actually going to have a way to calculate the cost of elections statewide and to really put some meaning behind what those costs mean is important because, when legislation comes up and the questions arise ‘How much would this cost to add this component or to change this component or change this law,’ we’ve never been able to answer that question statewide,” said Kelley.

Getting into the topic of informing voters more effectively, partners in the diverse Future of California Elections coalition, of which CA Fwd is a member, gave an update on the work to improve the state voter guide and advance plain language initiatives.

“In particular, we are proud of how our members have emphasized the need to work with election officials to accomplish these goals,” said Doug Chapin, director of FOCE. “Whether it’s plain language, bilingual poll workers or improved voting information, FoCE seeks to use its members’ interest in election reform to develop approaches that work for election officials and voters alike.”

The theme of the conference was “Luck of the Irish.” And it’s clear administering elections needs more than a little luck and requires committed partners and an active community of officials to try to make voting a simple, transparent and cost-effective process in every county of California.


John Guenther

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