Opinion: VoteCal, and changes in Nevada County election laws
September 15, 2015
In 2002, the federal government enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in response to voting issues revealed during the 2000 Presidential Election.
One of HAVA's major provisions requires all states to establish statewide voter registration databases that function and operate in specific ways to ensure the accuracy of the nation's voter rolls. HAVA said that each state must develop "a single, uniform, official, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list defined, maintained and administered at the state level."
California has 58 counties, each of which administers the voting and election process subject to the broad constraints of state and federal election laws. The California Secretary of State certifies voting systems, receives campaign disclosure reports, produces statewide voting information on ballot propositions and performs a number of other election oversight tasks.
The counties decide which voting system to purchase and how they want to establish and organize their election processes, including managing voter registration records, facilitating candidate's access to the ballot, producing, publishing and mailing sample and mail ballots, recruiting poll workers, setting up polling locations, facilitating a secure voting process, counting ballots and verifying and reporting results.
Counties now utilize election management systems (EMS) to manage the election process using computers rather than paper files and index cards.
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California's new statewide voter database called VoteCal is nearing completion. The VoteCal project staff has begun a phased-in, county-by-county approach to deployment, in which counties would be adopting and integrating VoteCal as their official voter registration database in waves.
Nevada County is scheduled to go live in October 2015 as part of the wave one (1) counties.
VoteCal is scheduled to be fully deployed in all 58 counties by June 30, 2016. Once that happens, the Secretary of State will officially be responsible for managing California's statewide voter registration database.
Counties will continue to manage individual voter records, but the legal responsibility for record maintenance and management, as required by HAVA, will move from the counties to the Secretary of State once all counties are online.
VoteCal will operate in the following ways:
Voter records will be entered and stored in one central database.
New records will be processed in real time.
Duplicate voters will be detected immediately. Felon and deceased voters are detected in real time.
Voter Notification Cards (VNC) and Residency Confirmation Cards (8D2) can be generated and mailed at the state level, resulting in increased efficiencies for the counties.
VoteCal will generate the Report of Registration.
Responsibility for the official list of eligible voters will reside at the state level.
Laws awaiting VoteCal implementation
During the years that VoteCal has been in development, the California Legislature has enacted several laws in anticipation of this upgrade in functionality.
SB 113 of 2014 allows Californians to pre-register to vote at age 16 and supersedes a previous law that would have allowed 17-year olds to pre-register. This change in law takes effect once VoteCal becomes operational.
AB 1436 of 2012 allows Californians to register to vote and vote at county election offices on Election Day once VoteCal is in operation.
AB 306 of 2009 will allow voters to inform the Secretary of State of their wishes to receive an electronic version of the state voter guide once VoteCal is in operation.
Bills under consideration
SB 450 would give counties the option to eliminate polling places and replace them with a system where every voter is sent a ballot and voters in the county would have the option of voting at any voting center in their county or returning their ballots at a drop-off location.
Such a process would require that the vote centers be networked with the state voter registration database in real time so that a voter could not go to multiple sites and cast multiple ballots. VoteCal would need to be fully operational before counties could offer voters this county-wide voting option.
AB 1461 will create a new California Motor Voter Program. This is a move to automatic voter registration, where voters opt out of registering rather than opting in.
Vote By Mail
New provision in California election law provides that any vote-by-mail ballot is timely cast if it is received by the elections official via the United States Postal Service or a legitimate private mail delivery company no later than three days after election day as long as the ballot is postmarked on or before election day.
Gregory J. Diaz is the Nevada County Clerk-Recorder. He may be reached at NC.Recorder@co.nevada.ca.us or by calling 530-265-1221.