News

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

An audit released Tuesday found the election office in Santa Clara County made numerous errors over the past decade and changes need to be made.

As a voter, you trust the registrar's office is giving you the right information during election time. But a state audit found 26 errors were made in election materials provided by the Santa Clara County Registrar's Office. In one case, voters were sent ballots with missing information. It proved to be costly.

"Due to staff error there was up to a quarter million cost to reprint and inform our voters about corrections that were necessary to be made and we need to be responsible with the tax payer dollars," said California Assemblyman Evan Low in a news conference this morning.

The audit shows numerous cases where mapping for the district boundaries were done incorrectly and that resulted in voters receiving the wrong ballots. Over a third of the errors included candidates statements and arguments omitted from voter information guides.

The audit shows numerous cases where mapping for the district boundaries were done incorrectly and that resulted in voters receiving the wrong ballots. Over a third of the errors included candidates statements and arguments omitted from voter information guides.

"Very disappointed in seeing such errors, I am hopeful and optimistic though that such highlighting of this report that we'll have specific guidelines and principles to ensure that this doesn't happen in the future," said Low.

As soon as the Registrar learned of mistakes, corrections were made. The audit says the problem is the Registrar's Office does not have written procedures to ensure mistakes won't happen again.

When asked about the audit, Registrar Shannon Bushey said, "I think they did a very thorough job of looking into our complex processes and they made 10 recommendations for our office that I think are very thoughtful and will be useful to us."

The audit found none of the errors had an impact on the outcome of any election. Now the Registrar's Office will work with the auditor and the Secretary of State to prevent future mistakes.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

SAN JOSE — A state audit of Santa Clara County’s elections office — which has been plagued with an inordinate amount of mistakes over the years — found that it lacks detailed policies employed in other counties to prevent errors and analyze them fully when they do occur.

The audit — called for by a frustrated Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, who previously chaired the assembly’s elections committee — reviewed 26 errors that have happened from 2010 to 2016. In addition to the lack of procedural guidelines, the audit found that the county doesn’t have a clear plan or process to alert voters potentially affected by an error in ballot materials.

And while “in most in most cases, it identified and took action to notify voters of the errors before the relevant elections,” auditors found that there’s no concrete system of recording these mistakes.

“Because some of the more significant errors Santa Clara County experienced were related to mapping and to inaccuracies in ballots and voter information guides, we expected to find that it had developed comprehensive policies and procedures to prevent these types of errors from recurring,” said State Auditor Elaine Howle on the report’s cover letter. “However, it has not done so.”

It added that the county “compiled the list of 26 errors using staff members’ collective memory and information it found in documents, emails, and press releases.”

Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, takes questions from reporters at a press conference on results of a state audit of the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters on Oct. 24, 2017. Eric Kurhi/Staff

Low called the county’s past performance in elections “disappointing,” highlighting a ballot gaffe in 2014 that affected more than 415,000 voters: A measure was missing the support and opposition arguments. While the registrar sent out corrective materials, it was an expensive mistake.

“That staff error cost the registrar upwards of a quarter-million dollers,” Low said. “We need to be responsible with taxpayer dollars — if this is just one case example, it’s important that we take corrective action immediately. These are valuable resources we need to protect.”

Registrar Shannon Bushey — who encouraged the audit and has been receptive to suggested fixes — said that her office has been “moving in the right direction” toward developing comprehensive policies, “but I do acknowledge that we do still have a ways to go — I whole-heartedly agree we need to go more in-depth.”

Bushey added that the report’s suggestions “are helpful and thoughtful.”

The county’s written response to the audit stated that the office has “hundreds of written procedures, checklists, manuals and other job aids,” but “many of its procedures need to be documented or need to be more detailed.”

However, the state auditor called that statement “misleading” and added that “in the cases where such documentation did exist, it was inadequate.”

For example, the division that determines what ballots go to which precincts has had a procedure manual since 2013 but it’s still in draft form, with only general instructions on how to use mapping software. Nearly a third of the mistakes made over the years have been mapping related.

Low said many of the mistakes happened under the authority of the former registrar — of the 19 that the county was responsible for, 12 occurred before Bushey took the helm in 2014.

Those earlier errors include a 2010 gaffe in which a candidate’s statement was omitted from the voter guide, but when the registrar attempted a fix by sending out a supplemental letter it included only that candidate’s statement — giving them a potential advantage in the race.

That candidate lost, and Low said he was assured by the auditor that none of the mistakes had an affect on the outcome of an election.

“I specifically asked that, and the answer clearly was ‘No,’” said Low. “The office addressed errors when they arose and took corrective action as soon as possible. But this was done on a case-by-case basis, and future errors would continue to occur because they did not document it.”

Supervisor Joe Simitian, who has closely watched elections with an eye toward improving the process, called the state’s findings “a fair critique.”

“The audit looked at a relatively narrow slice of the registrar’s operation,” he said, adding that it came after an internal study by the county auditor that looked at other aspects of the office. “But fundamentally it’s sound. Mistakes are going to be made, but when a mistake is made they should not only be fixed, but prevented from happening again if humanly possible.”

Low added that he believes it took the state audit to get the county moving in the right direction — all policies and procedures must be documented by October 2018, with departments that make more mistakes, such as mapping, prioritized.

“The county recognized there were significant problems and issues that were occurring, and as a result they conducted an audit themselves,” he said. “But it wasn’t by a third party. It’s my belief that it is because of an independent auditor outside the county, with expertise in engaging with other registrars, that they were able to come up with these corrective findings.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

With a final flurry of bill signings and vetoes by Gov. Jerry Brown this past weekend, the 2017 legislative session is officially behind us. So who came out ahead? (Not that it’s a competition!)

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, led the pack with 16 new laws chaptered apiece, according to a list of legislative actions provided by the Governor’s Office.

Lara carried bill packages this session to expand protections for juvenile offenders and immigrants, including a guarantee that students whose parents are deported can continue to enroll in California schools. He also authored legislation to move up California’s next presidential primary to March, an effort to give the state a bigger say in choosing the nominee. But two of Lara’s most high-profile proposals – a statewide single-payer health care system and staffing requirements for dialysis clinics – were shelved in the Assembly.

Among Low’s successes were bills creating a tax checkoff to fund rape kit testing and loosening regulations on taxis so they can better compete with ride-hailing services. He carried a handful of measures making changes to state and local elections, though legislation to lower the voting age to 17 and make the November election a state holiday fell short.

Two dozen more lawmakers got at least 10 of their bills signed this session, including Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, with 14. Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblymen Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, and Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, each scored 13. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, exceeded the rest of his Republican colleagues with 11 bills signed.

Another 11 legislators came up entirely empty-handed. Eight were Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach, and three were Democrats: Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who carried no legislation; Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles, who was elected to Congress midway through the session; and Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda.

As for vetoes, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, took the crown with five, ranging from paid maternity leave for teachers to workplace protections for reproductive health decisions.

“I’m good with that. If we aren’t having our bills vetoed, we aren’t reaching far enough,” she wrote on Twitter. And she likely won’t be crying too hard; she got nine measures signed by Brown this year.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

California law enforcement agencies will have to preserve and count all of their untested rape kits and ensure they inform sexual assault victims of their rights under new laws signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The three measures are part of ongoing efforts in Sacramento to tackle rape kit backlogs at law enforcement agencies and to increase the number of victims who report sexual assault and seek treatment.

They come as sexual assault is once more at the forefront of public discussion amid allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. New laws signed by Brown last year to toughen punishment for rape cases followed high-profile cases against comedian Bill Cosby and former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner.

One bill by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) would require police and sheriff agencies to report the number of untested kits to a state database, an attempt to keep better data on unanalyzed exams, which one advocacy nonprofit estimates number more than 13,500 statewide.

Another proposal by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) will allow people to make a donation when filing their personal income taxes to help law enforcement agencies test their rape kits.

A third measure, which Brown signed earlier Thursday as part of a package of bills to address women’s and family issues, requires every police and sheriff agency to preserve untested rape kits. That legislation by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) and Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) also will require agencies to provide a card to sexual assault victims that details their rights, including a clear statement that says they are not required to testify or participate in their abuser’s prosecution.

The new law prevents officers from discouraging victims from receiving a medical or physical exam to compile evidence in a case, and requires medical professionals to provide free contraception.

Sexual assault kits consist of swabs and materials to collect and preserve forensic evidence from a victim’s body in the hours after an attack.

National debate over the high number of kits that remain untested — estimated by the U.S. Department of Justice to be roughly 400,000 in 2015 — has spurred bipartisan legislation in Congress and millions in federal funding over the years to help state and local law enforcement agencies track and analyze the evidence.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

By JULIA BAUM | jbaum@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group

Assemblyman Evan Low, one of California’s youngest lawmakers, stopped by his alma mater Leland High School last week to bring his message that youths need to become more politically engaged. Low, D-Campbell, was 31 when elected three years ago. He and several other Assembly members tried but failed recently to gain support for a state constitutional amendment allowing 17-year-olds to vote in local and state elections.

About one-third of registered voters ages 18 to 24 cast a ballot in the 2016 primary election, according to the California Civic Engagement Project, and that turnout was 23 percentage points better than in the previous primary. Youths 16 and 17 years old can already pre-register to vote in California but Low said many feel too disconnected from the political dialogue shaping their world to take any action.

 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Civics classes — where high school students learn about the three branches of government — end with a cumulative exam, but the real test for politically-minded young people comes when they cast their first vote. High schoolers are reminded to register for these classes, but many students are still 17, and therefore, too young to vote. At 18, many teens are going off to college, which often means a change in address or even home state, making voter registration difficult and confusing. Perhaps that contributes to the dismal voter turnout from the 2016 election, wherein 50% of people ages 18 through 29 failed to vote.

Low voter turnout among young people is not due to a lack of knowledge or passion, but the result of poor timing. When young people don’t register and vote at the first opportunity, they are unlikely to do it come the next election. Failure to vote becomes a habit.

Luckily, two state assemblymembers this year have identified this problem and proposed bills in California and New York legislatures to lower the voting age by one year. This change, while not drastic, will allow for students to register while still in high school, rather than when they are making the transition to adulthood.

In California, Assemblymember Evan Low proposed Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 10 to lower the voting age to 17. Low, 34, explained that he proposed the bill because he believes “young people are our future.”

“Lowering the voting age will help give them a voice in the democratic process and instill a lifelong habit of voting,” Low said. ACA 10 was written with the support of the bipartisan Millennial Caucus, a coalition of young, state-level elected officials. California representatives of both parties acknowledge that increasing voter turnout is the only way to elect people to pass laws that accurately represent the priorities of their constituents.

On the other side of the country, a member of the New York state legislature had the same idea as Low. In March, Assemblymember Robert Carroll introduced the Young Voter Act, a bill that will lower the voting age in New York to 17. Carroll, 30, wrote this bill after being approached by a group of local high schoolers who wanted to increase their civic engagement. Rather than just telling these kids to volunteer on his next campaign, he sat down with them and penned a way for them to gain a political voice.

Carroll has said that he believes that voting is a fundamental right that should be granted to teens during habit-forming years to ensure that they become active participants in our government. “Government should be fostering citizenship among young people — I think the more people involved, the better and more representative our government will be,” he said.

Assemblymembers Low and Carroll are leading this fight on behalf of young people everywhere. These legislators understand that these voices deserve to be heard, and have both agreed to be the first ones to really listen. If California and New York lower the voting age, other states could possibly follow suit.

While it is exciting that the movement to lower the voting age has support in California and New York, it also faces opposition. The primary argument against lowering the voting age addresses intellect and maturity: People claim that 17-year-olds don’t know enough about politics and will cast their votes without understanding the issues. But teens are engaged with politics, from the classes they take in high school and the amount of news they read and access on social media. Additionally, the right to vote is not based on intellect. Literacy tests were outlawed in 1965 — and adults do not have to demonstrate any level of understanding prior to casting their votes.

Seventeen-year-olds are ready and willing to engage in the political system, they just need a ballot.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Youth commissioners, in middle school and high school, from West Valley cities traveled to Sacramento last week to voice support for lowering the state voting age from 18 to 17.

On Aug. 29, 30 youth commissioners from Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, San Jose and Saratoga traveled by bus to the state capitol building to show support for lowering the voting age and to learn about their state government.

Many were there to meet with former Campbell mayor and current Assemblyman Evan Low and to support his bill, ACA 10, which proposes lowering the state voting age. It was introduced in March.

“For ACA 10 we have a lot of support for it, but for us on the staff level we wanted to reach out to every youth commission in the state,” Tatum Holland, Low’s legislative director, told commissioners while sitting in the governor’s council room.

Low, 34, told commissioners that it was “not too long ago” he was part of the Campbell Youth Commission and was learning about local government and civic engagement. Low began his political career as a city councilman in 2006. Three years later, he became the youngest openly gay Asian-American mayor in the nation.

Low said he and colleagues of his age want to include the perspectives of young people when considering bills and laws that would affect them.

Low said ACA 10 has bipartisan support and he believes that by lowering the voting age to 17, younger voters will be further engaged in the democratic process and will form a “lifelong habit” of voting. Additionally, it may increase the voter turnout of people ages 18-24.

According to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters post-November 2016 election report, voters age 18-24 in the county had a 63.6 percent voter turnout rate compared to a 75.2 percent rate for voters ages 25-34 and 83.6-89.4 percent turnout rates for older age groups.

The 2014 elections saw an even lower voter turnout rate for that 18-24 age group. According to the UC Davis Center for Regional Change’s California Civic Engagement Project, only 30.9 percent of California’s eligible voters came out to vote and the 18-24 age voter turnout was the lowest for all groups for a general election with only 8.2 percent of the state’s eligible youth voters casting ballots.

“We want to ensure a lifelong sense of engagement and instill a lifelong sense of voting at an early age,” Low said during a press conference held alongside youth commissioners. “This habit of engagement is important for the future of democracy and I know that will be continuing the type of work that we have ahead of us.”

Campbell youth commissioner Ali Bell also took to the podium at the press conference to address “stereotypes” she says she’s heard about younger Californians and why they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. She said she’s heard things like “underdeveloped mind” or “being too immature” to describe teenagers.

“I realize it’s not the people that we know who are the ones we deny freedom to, but it is the people we don’t know and don’t understand who we exclude and we stereotype because it is easier,” Ali said. “Let today not stand for what is easy but stand for the inclusion of all people in our democracy.”

Campbell Middle School student Parker Quick compared the current bill to the Vietnam War-era effort to lower the federal voting age from 21 to 18.

“In 1970 when my grandpa was 18, he was part of a movement in response to the Vietnam War, and fought to lower the voting age to 18. Now, 47 years later I am with him to lower the voting age from 18 to 17,” Parker said. “We trust 16- and 17-year-olds to drive cars. We should trust them to vote as well.”

Parker also said that most 17-year-olds are learning civics and how government at the state and national level works in high school. She argued that being able to vote would allow them to put what they’re learning into practice.

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According to Holland, ACA 10 is on its third reading on the Assembly floor, and should it get past the Assembly, it would go to the state Senate for review and potentially a vote.

After speaking to the press and meeting with younger assembly members, the commissioners had a question-and-answer session with Low and his staff. They also got quick crash courses in topics that Low’s staff and assembly members concede may not immediately excite younger Californians.

“So who gets excited when they hear the word ‘infrastructure?’” District 24 Assemblyman Marc Berman, 36, playfully asked the commissioners. “Nobody who is younger in their right mind gets excited about infrastructure,” he added before listing roads, fire stations, police headquarters and parks as examples of infrastructure. “These are things that we, the younger generation, will be using for the next 50 years, 60 years or 70 years.”

Berman also told teens about his time serving as a young city councilman in Palo Alto.

“I was the youngest at the time, 32, and the next youngest was 50,” Berman said. “We look at things differently. We, the younger generation, look at the long term and that’s a critically important perspective to have in government, politics, in the people that are deciding to vote on millions or billions of dollars.”

Teens also toured the capitol grounds, which includes the state assembly, state senate, elected representatives’ offices and the governor’s office.

The group also got to witness a protest outside the governor’s office. Supporters were singing and chanting their support for Senate Bill 54, which would prevent local and state law enforcement from using state resources to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement officers. As commissioners were walking through the area listening to the chanting, they could be heard whispering among themselves and asking staff members for more information about the bill.