Voting Changes for New Citizens, Write-In Candidates and Mail-In Ballots

August 8 is California Voter Day – at least for Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Democratic governor signed seven bills changing everything from the ability of new citizens to vote to how votes for write-in candidates are counted.

All seven are non-controversial Assembly measures although similar measures had been vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and one – AB 503 — was opposed by county clerks and registrars who said it imposed an additional burden on them during the 28-day period they are allotted after an election to tally the “official” vote.

That bill — by Assemblyman Marty Block, a San Diego Democrat — is similar to another measure: AB 461 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, a Martinez Democrat. Both make it easier for someone who writes in a candidate’s name to have their vote counted, even if the voter hasn’t fully followed instructions.

The genesis appears to be the November 2004 race between incumbent San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy and Donna Frye, a write-in candidate.

Frye finished second, 2,108 votes behind Murphy.

However, 5,551 ballots were found in which voters wrote Frye’s name in the correct spot but neglected to color in the oval next to the space.

The Registrar of Voters refused to include those ballots because state law requires the oval to be darkened for the write-in vote to count – a position upheld by the courts.

Now, under the two bills, if there is a manual recount the laws relating to the validity of a write-in vote are to be “liberally construed” so that the voter’s ballot will be counted if their intent can be determined.

Even if the voter hasn’t complied with all voting instructions.

So in future races like Frye’s, ballots in which the candidate’s name is written in the proper space without a darkened oval should be counted.

California will also experiment with elections in which all ballots are mailed to voters. Oregon has been conducting postal elections for more than 10 years.

Under AB 413, Yolo County can conduct up to three local elections before January 2018 using only mailed ballots.

The elections can’t occur on the same day as statewide general or primary elections and at least one polling place has to be open in every city in the county if voters need a replacement ballot.

According to the author — Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, a Davis Democrat — voters like the convenience of mail in ballots and their use saves counties money by not having to operate as many polling places.

When Schwarzengger vetoed a 2010 Yamada that would have done the same thing, he said:

“By relying solely on the vote-by-mail process, this bill could undermine public confidence in the electoral system by limiting in-person voting options and relying solely on vote-by-mail ballots, which are susceptible to fraud.”

The other bills signed  by Brown would:

— Keep permanent vote-by-mail voters on the mailing list unless they do not mail in a ballot for four consecutive statewide general elections. Voters are struck from the list now if they miss two statewide general elections in a row. AB 1343 by Assemblyman Paul Fong, a Mountain View Democrat.

–Allow “new citizens” to vote until the close of polls on Election Day. A new citizen must register to vote by the seventh day before an election. Those sworn in after the deadline can’t participte in the election. This bill eliminates that deadline but maintains the requirement proof of citizenship be presented as well as proof of California residency. AB 84 by Assemblyman Paul Fong, a Mountain View Democrat.

–Permit county election officials to put voter registration cards online and require the Secretary of State to design and place registration forms on their website. AB 1357 by Assemblyman Sandra Swanson, an Oakland Democrat.

–Join other states in a compact in which California agrees to award its electoral votes to the presidential ticket that wins the nationwide popular vote. AB 459 by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, a South San Francisco Democrat.



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