With November approaching, everyday citizens are working to ensure the integrity of the Presidential election. Volunteers with California’s Election Integrity Project (EIP) and True the Vote (TTV) are part of a non-partisan, grass roots movement to ensure that election results reflect the will of lawful voters. With trust in the system, citizens will gain confidence that their votes count and will hopefully participate more fully.
The Law is Central to Election Integrity
Critical to election integrity is a solid understanding of national and state election statutes. Integrity groups observe election activities and compare them to statutory requirements. When discrepancies are detected, the findings are reported to state and local election officials for investigation and resolution. Volunteers participate in three key activities:
1) Observing Polling Place Voting
In California, EIP trains volunteers on key laws and deploys them to polling places to watch the activities and to ask clarifying questions when they observe practices inconsistent with the statutory requirements. Volunteers document areas needing improvement by completing and submitting Incident Reports. These reports are databased and used to generate statistical reports to assist election officials.
2) Observing Vote by Mail & Provisional Ballot Processing
Mailed and provisional ballots require careful processing. Over half of Californians vote by mail (VBM). The state’s provisional ballots (ballots provided when a registered voter is mistakenly omitted from the roster) represent about 40% of the nation’s provisional ballots. Volunteers are trained to observe the validation of signatures on the VBM and provisional ballot envelopes to help ensure the integrity of the process.
3) Inspecting Voter Registration Lists
States are required to maintain accurate and timely voter lists because of the statutory requirements found in the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA Section 8) and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Election integrity groups inspect state and county voter lists to find people registered more than once, people voting more than once in the same election, deceased registrants, missing information and other areas of statutory non-compliance.
How is California’s Election Integrity?
EIP has observed voting activity and analyzed voter lists in counties representing over half of California’s electorate. Findings from 2012-2015 show that the state has many areas in need of significant improvement, including:
l To comply with California Election Code §14216, a voter is required to state his name and address audibly and the poll worker to repeat the name and address. This requirement is not consistently practiced in all counties observed.
- HAVA section 302(a)(2) and Election Code §14310(a)(2) require provisional voters to attest in writing that they are registered in the county, yet many counties provide provisional ballots to voters claiming to be registered elsewhere. Unbeknownst to these voters, the provisional ballots will not be counted since the voters are not actually registered in that county.
- California EC §12309.5 outlines the training requirements for poll workers. HAVA sections 101(b)(1)(D) and 241(b)(8) provide funding for election official training and require periodic studies on improving poll worker training. Yet Incident Reports reflect insufficient training, resulting in mistakes and delays at many polling stations throughout the state.
- Despite HAVA section 303’s requirement, California has yet to fully implement a computerized statewide voter registration database. A compliant database, VoteCal, is finally slated for completion and certification in late 2016. Pending its completion, each county has been maintaining its own voter list and many irregularities have been reported, including over 53,000 that appear to be registered twice, 18,000 deceased on the active rolls, and 16,000 registered in two counties.
For additional findings, go to http://electionintegrityproject.com/reports/The-Doors-Are-Wide-Open-For-California-Election-Corruption.pdf.
How Can You Help?
Everyday citizens are stepping up to help assure the integrity of our elections but more is needed. EIP is not currently active in Contra Costa County, but if you are interested in getting involved there is always a need for attorneys and paralegals that can research and understand election laws and report findings. For example, EIP testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about California’s HAVA violations. You can also volunteer to counsel citizens groups about developing local ballot initiatives, “adopt” a polling place, or lobby the legislature on election-related bills.
To get involved with the county, contact the Contra Costa County Elections Division at 925-335-7800 and sign up to be an Election Day observer or poll worker. Also check out their Facebook page “Engage Contra Costa” for other volunteer opportunities.
Ellen Swensen (email@example.com) is a co-founder and former Chief Analyst for California’s Election Integrity Project. She is currently on the Research Team at True the Vote, the nation’s leading voter rights and election integrity organization. For more information, please visit www.truethevote.org or www.electionintegrityproject.com.