BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



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          Date of Hearing:   April 27, 2016


                  ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON ELECTIONS AND REDISTRICTING


                                Shirley Weber, Chair


          AB 1921  
          (Gonzalez) - As Amended April 11, 2016


          SUBJECT:  Elections:  vote by mail ballots.


          SUMMARY: Permits a vote by mail (VBM) voter to who is unable to  
          return his or her ballot to designate any person to return the  
          ballot, as specified.  Prohibits a designated person from  
          receiving any form of compensation based on the number ballots  
          that person returns, as specified.  Specifically, this bill:  


          1)Deletes provisions of law that allow a VBM voter who is unable  
            to return his or her ballot to designate his or her spouse,  
            child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, brother, sister, or a  
            person residing in the same household as the VBM voter to  
            return the ballot, and instead permits the VBM voter to  
            designate any person to return the ballot.  


          2)Prohibits a person designated to return a VBM ballot from  
            receiving any form of compensation based on the number of  
            ballots that the person has returned and prohibits an  
            individual, group, or organization from providing compensation  
            on this basis. 


          3)Defines "compensation" to mean any form of monetary payment,  








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            goods, services, benefits, promises or offers of employment,  
            or any other form of consideration offered to another person  
            in exchange for returning another voter's VBM ballot. 


          4)Provides that any person in charge of a VBM ballot who  
            knowingly and willingly engages in criminal acts related to  
            that ballot as described under current law, including, but not  
            limited to, fraud, bribery, intimidation, and tampering with  
            or failing to deliver the ballot in a timely fashion, is  
            subject to the appropriate punishment pursuant to existing  
            law.





          5)Repeals provisions of law that prohibit a VBM voter's ballot  
            from being returned by a paid or volunteer worker of a general  
            purpose committee, controlled committee, independent  
            expenditure committee, political party, candidate's campaign  
            committee, or any other group or organization at whose behest  
            the individual designated to return the ballot is performing a  
            service.  
          EXISTING LAW:  


          1)Requires voting by mail to be available to any registered  
            voter.


          2)Permits a VBM voter who is unable to return his or her ballot  
            to designate his or her spouse, child, parent, grandparent,  
            grandchild, brother, sister, or a person residing in the same  
            household as the VBM voter to return the ballot to the  
            elections official from whom it came or to a precinct board  
            before the close of the polls on election day. 










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          3)Prohibits a VBM ballot from being returned by a paid or  
            volunteer worker of a general purpose committee, controlled  
            committee, independent expenditure committee, political party,  
            candidate's campaign committee, or any other group or  
            organization at whose behest the individual designated to  
            return the ballot is performing a service.  Provides this  
            prohibition does not apply to a candidate or a candidate's  
            spouse.  


          4)Requires an elections official to establish procedures to  
            ensure the secrecy of a VBM ballot returned to a precinct  
            polling place and the security, confidentiality, and integrity  
            of any related personal information collected, stored, or  
            otherwise used.


          5)Prohibits a ballot from being counted if it is not delivered  
            in compliance with the aforementioned sections.


          6)Requires an elections official to establish procedures to  
            track and confirm the receipt of voted VBM ballots and to make  
            this information available by means of online access using the  
            county's elections division Internet Web site.  Requires a  
            county elections official that does not have an elections  
            division Internet Web site to establish a toll-free telephone  
            number that may be used to confirm the date a voted VBM ballot  
            was received.


          7)Provides that any person who votes more than once, attempts to  
            vote more than once, or impersonates or attempts to  
            impersonate a voter at an election is guilty of a crime  
            punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months  
            or two or three years, or in county jail not exceeding one  
            year.

          8)Provides that every person who defrauds any voter at any  








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            election by deceiving and causing him or her to vote for a  
            different person for any office than he or she intended or  
            desired to vote for is guilty of a felony punishable by  
            imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months or two or three  
            years.

          9)Provides that any person having charge of a completed VBM  
            ballot who willfully interferes or causes interference with  
            its return to the local elections official having jurisdiction  
            over the election is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by  
            imprisonment in a county jail, a fine of ten thousand dollars  
            ($10,000), or both.

          FISCAL EFFECT:  None.  This bill is keyed non-fiscal by the  
          Legislative Counsel.


          COMMENTS:  


          1)Purpose of the Bill:  According to the author:


               AB 1921 will allow voters to designate a person of  
               their own choosing to return a completed mail ballot  
               to the proper drop-off location or post office.   
               Currently in code, voters are only allowed to  
               designate a person from the arbitrary list of "spouse,  
               child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, brother,  
               sister, or a person residing in the same household as  
               the vote by mail voter" to return a mail ballot. While  
               perhaps a well-meaning attempt at defining those who  
               would be trusted by the voter, these restrictions  
               simply provide yet another obstacle for individuals  
               attempting to vote, without any evidence based  
               justification against voter fraud. 











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               More and more voters in California are choosing to  
               vote by mail. For instance, in the 2014 June primary  
               election, data from the Secretary of State shows that  
               68% of voters turned in a mail ballot. In addition to  
               this preference by individual voters, counties in  
               California are increasingly looking to conduct all  
               mail ballot elections with the hopes of improving  
               turnout while simultaneously lowering costs. San  
               Diego, Yolo, San Mateo, Sacramento, and Monterey  
               County all currently have pilot programs to conduct  
               certain elections by mail. As these trends continue,  
               it is important that we make sure the processes we  
               have in place for mail ballots are easy for voters to  
               follow, encourage participation, and make sense for  
               today's California. 



               Texas, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Colorado, and  
               Florida all allow any person designated by those  
               voters to turn in completed mail ballots. This allows  
               for the friend who happens to be driving by the ballot  
               drop-off location, or the co-worker who is heading to  
               the polls on election day, to assist in making sure  
               each and every vote counts.



               In order to further protect every vote, this bill  
               would prohibit individual canvassers or volunteers  
               from engaging in any sort of paid-per ballot or  
               performance-based compensation schemes based on the  
               number of ballots deposited or collected by that  
               person.  


          2)Current Practice:  Under current law, a person that is unable  
            to return his or her VBM ballot is permitted to designate his  
            or her spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild,  








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            sibling, or a person residing in the same household as the VBM  
            voter to return the voter's VBM ballot to the elections  
            official from whom it came or to the precinct board at a  
            polling place within the jurisdiction.  Additionally, existing  
            law prohibits a VBM ballot from being returned by a paid or  
            volunteer worker of a general purpose committee, controlled  
            committee, independent expenditure committee, political party,  
            candidate's campaign committee, or any other group or  
            organization at whose behest the individual designated to  
            return the ballot is performing a service and provides this  
            prohibition does not apply to a candidate or a candidate's  
            spouse.  This bill makes changes to this practice.  First,  
            this bill deletes provisions of law that require a designated  
            person to be a spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild,  
            sibling, or a person residing in the same household as the VBM  
            voter, and instead permits the designated person to be any  
            person.  Second, this bill deletes the prohibition provisions  
            described above and provides that any person in charge of a  
            VBM ballot who knowingly and willingly engages in criminal  
            acts related to the VBM ballot as described under current law,  
            including, but not limited to, fraud, bribery, intimidation,  
            and tampering with or failing to deliver the ballot in a  
            timely fashion, is subject to the appropriate punishment  
            pursuant to existing law.  Finally, this bill prohibits a  
            person designated to return a VBM ballot from receiving any  
            form of compensation, as defined, based on the number of  
            ballots that the person has returned and prohibits an  
            individual, group, or organization from providing compensation  
            on this basis.  This bill defines compensation to mean any  
            form of monetary payment, goods, services, benefits, promises  
            or offers of employment, or any other form of consideration  
            offered to another person in exchange for returning another  
            voter's VBM ballot.

            The practical effect of this bill is that a VBM voter may  
            designate any person such as a co-worker, friend, neighbor, or  
            even a campaign worker to drop off his or her VBM ballot.  

          3)Existing Penalties:  Current law provides for a variety of  








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            safeguards in law to protect against voter fraud and abuse.   
            Existing law makes it a felony for any person who defrauds any  
            voter at any election by deceiving and causing him or her to  
            vote for a different person for any office than the candidate  
            for whom he or she intended or desired to vote.  Additionally,  
            any person having charge of a completed VBM ballot who  
            willfully interferes or causes interference with its return to  
            the local elections official having jurisdiction over the  
            election is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment  
            in the county jail, a fine of ten thousand dollars ($10,000),  
            or both.  Moreover, once the ballot is received by the  
            elections official, California law requires the elections  
            officials to compare the signature on a VBM ballot envelope  
            with the signature on that voter's affidavit of registration  
            before the VBM ballot may be counted.  If those signatures do  
            not match, the ballot will not be counted. 



          Furthermore, the Legislature has taken steps to address the  
            potential for fraud in connection with VBM ballots.  For  
            example, many elders in state-licensed or state-subsidized  
            facilities or programs have physical and cognitive impairments  
            or conditions that may limit their ability to independently  
            cast a vote. As a result, many elders choose to vote via VBM  
            ballot.  As a result of the high use of VBM ballots in this  
            population, some questions and concerns have arisen regarding  
            the influence elders are receiving from caregivers in the  
            receipt, completion, and return of their ballots.  In response  
            to those concerns, the Legislature approved and the Governor  
            signed AB 547 (Gatto), Chapter 260, Statutes of 2011, which  
            makes it a misdemeanor for a person who is providing care or  
            direct supervision to an elder in a state-licensed or  
            state-subsidized facility or program to coerce or deceive the  
            elder into voting for or against a candidate or measure  
            contrary to the elder's intent or in the absence of any intent  
            of the elder to cast a vote for or against that candidate or  
            measure.  









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          This bill adds to these penalties and specifically prohibits a  
            person designated to return a VBM ballot from receiving any  
            form of compensation based on the number of ballots that the  
            person has returned and prohibits an individual, group, or  
            organization from providing compensation on this basis.  This  
            bill defines "compensation" to mean any form of monetary  
            payment, goods, services, benefits, promises or offers of  
            employment, or any other form of consideration offered to  
            another person in exchange for returning another voter's VBM  
            ballot.  
          4)Other States:  As mentioned in the author's statement, other  
            states allow a voter to designate any person to drop off his  
            or her mail ballot.  The laws, however, vary from state to  
            state.  For example, Colorado permits a person to drop off up  
            to 10 mail ballots, as specified.  Oregon state law permits a  
            person who returns a ballot for an elector to return the  
            ballot no later than two days after receiving the ballot in  
            accordance with existing law.  Moreover, Texas state law  
            permits a voter who is eligible to vote by mail to designate  
            any person to drop off his or her ballot, however, requires  
            the designated person to put his or her name and address on  
            the carrier envelope as a witness or assistant, as specified.   
            The Texas Secretary of State's web site also recommends a VBM  
            voter to decline assistance from a political organization and  
            to instead select a trusted relative or friend to return the  
            mail ballot.  


          5)Vote by Mail Data:  Statistics show that voters are choosing  
            to cast a VBM ballot more and more each election.  For  
            instance, according to the Secretary of State's office, in the  
            November 2004 general election approximately 32 percent of  
            voters cast a VBM ballot.  In the November 2014 general  
            election over 60 percent of voters cast a VBM ballot.  


          6)Arguments in Support:  In support, Disability Rights  
            California writes:









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               AB 1921 will allow voters to designate a person of  
               their own choosing to return a completed mail ballot  
               to the proper drop-off location or post office.  This  
               proposal also allows for a mail ballot to be returned  
               by an individual belonging to a group or organization  
               at whose behest the voter designated them to return a  
               ballot to any of the aforementioned locations, and  
               will prohibit individual canvassers or volunteers from  
               engaging in any sort of paid-per ballot or  
               performance-based compensation schemes based on the  
               number of ballots deposited or collected by that  
               person.  



               According to the [SOS's] office, in the November 2014  
               General election only about half of [VBM] ballots were  
               returned.

               California is among the few states that explicitly  
               prohibit volunteers or paid canvassers from collecting  
               ballots from voters.  State like Arizona, Oregon and  
               Washington allow anyone to return completed ballots on  
               behalf of a voter. 

               People with disabilities who have difficulty returning  
               a mail ballot will now have more options for  
               identifying a person to return the ballot to the post  
               office or other drop-off locations. 
          7)Arguments in Opposition:  In opposition, the Howard Jarvis  
            Taxpayers Association writes:


               AB 1921 promotes vote harvesting and greatly increases  
               the likelihood for fraud in our elections process.   
               This is especially true now that current law allows  
               for absentee ballots without a postmark to be turned  
               in up to three days after the election.  It would not  








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               be an implausible scenario for a close election to be  
               reversed through the filling out of absentee ballots  
               after Election Day.  



               Obviously we are not in favor of discouraging or  
               disenfranchising disabled people from being able to  
               vote.  In fact, it was for this group of people that  
               the [VBM] system was created in the first place.  But  
               as it stands today an individual can drop their ballot  
               in the mail on Election Day and have it count.  This  
               process does not need to be made any easier than that.


          8)Previous Legislation:  AB 2080 (Gordon), Chapter 508, Statutes  
            of 2012, deleted provisions of law that required a voter to be  
            ill or disabled in order to have a family member or a person  
            in the same household return a VBM ballot for that voter.



          AB 1271 (Krekorian) of 2009, AB 1096 (Umberg) of 2005, and SB  
            462 (Karnette) of 2001, all proposed to delete the requirement  
            that a voter must be ill or disabled in order to designate  
            another person to return that voter's VBM ballot, among other  
            provisions.  AB 1271 and AB 1096 were vetoed by Governor  
            Schwarzenegger, who argued that the bills could lead to abuse  
            of the system.  SB 462 was vetoed by Governor Davis, who  
            stated that it was "important to maintain the standard under  
            current law that a person be ill or disabled to request that  
            someone else submit" a voter's VBM ballot.
          


          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:


          Support








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          American Civil Liberties Union of California


          California Association of Clerks and Election Officials 


          California Labor Federation


          California School Employees Association


          California State Council of the Service Employees International  
          Union


          California Teachers Association


          Cooperativa Campesina de California 


          Disability Rights California


          Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund


          Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California




          Opposition


          Election Integrity Project, Inc.








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          Hi-Desert Republican Women, Federated


          Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association


          72 Individuals 




          Analysis Prepared by:Nichole Becker / E. & R. / (916) 319-2094