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January 9, 2015


Board of Supervisors, Grand Jury, County Administrator, Elections Citizens Advisory Panel (ECAP), Media


Joe Canciamilla, County Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters

SUBJECT: November 4, 2014 Gubernatorial General Election Report


Since taking over the Clerk-Recorder-Elections Department in 2013, I have overseen three major elections; the November 2013 UDEL (Uniform District Election Law) Election, the June 3, 2014 Gubernatorial Primary Election and the November 4, 2014 Gubernatorial General Election. These elections were conducted successfully and smoothly, even after overcoming a technology issue.

Several projects and improvements to division operations have been accomplished over the last two years. These improvements have resulted in reduced production time, cost savings, and streamlined operations. The most dramatic of these is the move to change our ballot and pamphlet/sample ballot printers and processes, which will save millions of dollars over the next few years. We simplified some of our processes to reduce the amount of overtime and temporary help that is required to conduct the election. Other improvements include our change to stable polling place locations, long term poll worker assignments, an adjustment in how we pay our election volunteers, and a new streamlined billing process.

I continue to track trends and statistics, some as far back as 1996. This data is used to analyze and determine the success of our programs and changes, as well as a basis for future planning.

Vote-by-Mail (VBM) continues to increase in Contra Costa County. VBM accounted for only 5.8% of the votes cast in the November, 1980 Presidential Election. It has grown to 63.9% in the most recent election, more than an eleven-fold increase. This trend continues to change the manner in which we conduct our elections in many ways.

We track the number of Vote-by-Mail ballots that are rejected for various reasons. Recently, we are paying attention to those rejected due to mismatched signatures of voters, particularly those clustered in the 20-39 age group. We have made progress in reducing the rejection rate, but are still looking at opportunities for improvement.

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Provisional voting, especially at our General Elections, continues to grow. Provisional ballots accounted for only 0.3% of the votes cast in the November, 1996 Election. In the November 4, 2014 Election, 4.6% of the votes were cast by Provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are extremely labor intensive and time consuming to process and must be dealt with towards the end of the canvass.

We diligently monitor our military and overseas voter program, which allows online and fax access to ballots and materials. It is important that our military and overseas voters have the same opportunities as voters here in the County. The Federal government is focused on improving the process by which those currently outside of the country vote. This focus keeps us pursuing improvements to speed up the process of delivering and receiving these ballots.

Finally, I am developing my Citizen Voter Education and Engagement Program. I received Board of Supervisor approval and have created and filled the initial 1 ½ positions. These professionals will be working directly with me to develop and implement this outreach and education program. Once it gets off the ground, I will provide regular updates of the program and its accomplishments. The program has already had some early successes.

Reduced Production Time, Cost Savings, and Streamlined Operations

New printing vendors One of the first things I did when I took office was to look at the current contracts and identify areas for improvements or cost savings. The existing printing vendor had been printing ballots and other election material for the Elections Division for over 75 years. Though the County had many years of experience with this vendor, there were now many more certified ballot printers with far more competitive pricing. These printers also offered services that the existing printer did not. We conducted an RFP (Request for Proposal) and received 6 responsive bids. After a thorough analysis of the proposed services and bids, we selected K & H Printers to do our ballot printing and Consolidated Printers to print our ballot pamphlets and sample ballots. We have now worked with these vendors for several elections. Besides substantial savings to the County, our Vote-by-Mail ballots are now mailed directly from the printer on a daily basis, reducing the time to get ballots to the Post Office, and ultimately to the voters.

Volunteer stipends We restructured our stipends to more accurately reflect the amount of time and knowledge our volunteers provided. This increased the stipend for some and reduced it for others. The net result has been a cost savings, which will continue for future elections.

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Stable polling place locations We now ask our polling places to be available for all major elections through the next census in 2020. This provides continuity from election to election and avoids sending voters to a location that they are not familiar with. It reduces the time staff spend identifying and securing polling places, conducting ADA (accessibility) surveys, and making accommodations to assure the sites are accessible.

Long term poll workers We now recruit for poll workers that can assist with multiple elections. This results in a more competent group of poll workers, reduces training needs and reduces the time our staff and temporary support used to spend recruiting for each election. Now they only need to recruit for the “holes” left by those that are unable to assist or decide to stop being poll workers.

Limiting overtime and temporary help Our printers now mail out our daily absentee ballots, a task that historically we had done in-house with overtime and temporary workers. We now hold a single day (or two-day) extraction event, when staff and volunteers come in to complete the extraction process. In the past, this process had been done over many days with temporary staff. Our Pitney Bowes sorter scans the signature images from the back of the ballots to be used for signature checking a process that also used to be done by hand, primarily with temporary support. By having stable polling places and long term poll workers, our recruitment group has been able to complete the work without as many temporary workers to assist with the process.

Updated billing process While thorough, in the past our billing processes took a substantial amount of time to complete; sometimes several months. We reviewed the process and found ways to simplify some of the charges, i.e. using a static “supply box” amount that is based on the supplies in an average supply box, instead of figuring out the cost of every single item in the box to come up with a total. This actually reduced some of our billing costs to the jurisdictions, because we included the time it took to do the billing, and that has been greatly reduced. Other charges were streamlined to present a fair cost, without using an overly burdensome method to determine it. Our customers appreciate receiving their invoices in a timely manner and we are able to collect the receivables sooner to cover our costs.

Vote-by-Mail Ballots

We have collected data since November 1996 concerning rejected Vote-by-Mail ballots and have made several changes to reduce their occurrence (almost 4% of the Vote-by-Mail ballots cast in November 1996 were rejected). We have reduced this to less than 1% in November and continue to look for ways to educate voters to further reduce the rate.

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June 1998 Primary Election We included a notice that ballots must be received by 8:00 pm on Election Night.

November 1998 General Election We focused on the primary reasons for rejection.

November 1998 General Election We started to return unsigned VBM ballots to the voters, with instructions on what they needed to do to have their ballots counted.

March 2004 Election - There was a jump in late Vote-by-Mail ballots. We met with our regional postal officials and learned that on the Monday prior to Election Day and Election Day, the business reply clerk was off work and two days’ worth of mail had backed up, including many ballots. We now meet before and after each major election with Postal Staff to review our processes.

major election with Postal Staff to review our processes. Due to increased voting by mail, the

Due to increased voting by mail, the number of precinct voters has been reduced. We have been able to consolidate more voters into voting precincts, which reduces the number of polling places and saves money, but causes some voters to go to different locations than they are accustomed. Our program to create permanent voting locations will alleviate this issue after voters become familiar with their permanent vote location.

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Signature Verification, a New Generation of Wrinkles

In November, 2010, we noticed an increase in ballots rejected for bad signatures. Upon further investigation, we found that our younger voters represented a disproportionately high number of rejected ballots for no signature match. We focused on this problem and have witnessed a reduction in rejected signatures between November 2010 and November 2014. The younger voters still remain well above the average for rejected signatures. We believe that this issue is a result of a young generation that has not perfected their “signature”, since most of their communication is now done online. A well-orchestrated outreach effort that includes social networks may be a tool to reach these voters. We will be working toward that end.

to reach these voters. We will be working toward that end. Provisional Voting Provisional voting is

Provisional Voting

Provisional voting is available to any voter. This allows the voter to vote, even if there is a question about eligibility. It leaves the adjudication of that vote to be timely investigated during the canvass. Provisional voting was originally introduced by San Francisco Registrar, Jay Patterson, as a remedy for voters who were not on the precinct rolls but who say they are registered to vote. Eventually, California adopted provisional voting for the same reason.

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The Help America Vote Act of 2002 made provisional voting a requirement in every state. During the November 2014 election, we received 13,541 Provisional Ballots. They must be dealt with near the end of the canvass after all of the other types of ballots have been counted. Processing Provisional Ballots is time consuming and labor intensive and delays announcing the final official results.

Provisional Ballots Cast

(Percentage of Total Ballots Cast)







4.5% 4.6% 3.9% 3.5% 1.2% 0.7% Nov. Nov. Nov. Nov. Nov. Nov. 1996 2000 2004

Military and Overseas Voters

There is Federal attention to assure our military and overseas voters have equal opportunity to vote. Special programs allow exceptions to normal voting rules to compensate for the time delay factor of overseas mail and to allow these voters to streamline the process. This includes the ability for the Elections Division to fax or email ballots, and to receive them back via alternate methods.

SB29 Expands Vote-by-Mail Ballot Acceptance

With the passage of SB29, effective January 1, 2015, ballots that are postmarked before or on Election Day and arrive within 3 days of Election Day, will be valid to be counted. Prior to this legislation, all ballots needed to be received by the Elections Division before 8:00 pm on Election Night, in order to be valid. SB29 gives voters a grace period if they drop their ballots in the mail on or just before Election Day. It also may help to alleviate some of the delays caused by the U.S. Post Office reorganization and down-sizing.

SB29 allows the Election Division to count ballots that are received within 3 days of Election Day that are missing or have an illegible postmark. This legislation also increases the number of

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days before Election Day that we can begin processing Vote-by-Mail ballots from 7 to 10 working days.

There were 415 ballots received within the three days after the November 4, 2014 Election. Before SB29 took effect, these ballots would not be deemed valid and we would not be able to count them. As a result, voter participation increases and we will have a reduction of rejected ballots.

Website Issue

We had a problem with our website early on Election morning. Betsy Burkhart, the County’s

Public Information Officer, and her staff stepped in to get a temporary website up and running


about an hour. Voters were able to look up their polling places and find contact information


reach our office, until the problem was fixed.

This happened to Contra Costa County, Ventura and a handful of other Counties in California, as well as several other customers across the country that hosted their websites with SOE Inc., a company that hosts many Election Office websites. We will be looking at other website alternatives when the SOE contract is up later this year.

Our Voting System

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) was a Federal response to the 2000 Presidential Election. It provided funds to replace voting systems and set new rules, including the elimination of punch card and mechanical voting technologies and the requirements to provide an ADA accessible voting system. Contra Costa County received nearly $13 million in Federal HAVA and State Prop. 41 grant monies, and in 2004 was able to replace our voting system as well as provide the infrastructure improvements to support the system’s specialized needs. That system and equipment is now 10 years old and nearing the end of its useful life.

A new generation of voting equipment is in the process of being reviewed and approved by

Federal and State agencies. We are facing the necessity of replacing our voting system in the next few years. Without available grant funding, the department is working with the County Administrator and Auditor to identify a means to preserve dedicated funds to moderate the replacement cost and reduce the general fund liability.

Citizen and Voter Engagement Program

An essential part of our democracy is to have an informed public. One that is knowledgeable and interested in the issues facing them, as well as those that make decisions on their behalf. My vision is to create a public engagement effort that will develop an array of resources, then dispatch them into the community to engage and educate in new and creative ways.

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The Board of Supervisors approved my Voter Education and Engagement Program in December of 2013. In July 2014, the Board authorized the creation of the classifications and 1 ½ positions to staff the program. For the last few months these employees have been becoming familiar with the Election process and focused on identifying opportunities for outreach and education.

My plan is to develop this program on several fronts in order to reach multiple facets of our community, particularly those with underrepresentation:

To work with schools, other public agencies, social/service clubs, our City Clerks and other local officials to maximize the use of existing resources. This will preserve funding and use infrastructures currently in place.

To provide information to voters and potential voters to help them learn about civic engagement. Not just those that are already engaged and interested, but to reach out to groups that may not receive information easily because of this County’s diversity.

To utilize Social and other media to reach out to our younger and more technologically savvy constituents that otherwise may not receive pertinent information about the democratic processes.

To bring programs into the schools that get students interested from a young age, both to understand the process and to want to participate.

The goal of this program is not intended to simply get more people to register to vote, though that will be an active component. It is to engage people of all demographics to become involved in their communities, to want to be educated on the issues that affect them so they can make informed decisions about their future. This includes registering to vote and participating in the democratic process. The goal is to find new ways to reach out to those groups that are underrepresented and make them want to be part of the process.

It will be a challenge, but I believe this program can be an example for other jurisdictions and it will help us move away from the apathy and negative aura politics have become for some of our constituents.

The program has already had some early successes. Staff developed and implemented a program to have some of our City Clerks’ offices assigned as official ballot drop off locations. Voters were able to deliver their ballots to a location near their residence, instead of having to drive to Martinez to drop off their ballot. Almost 2,100 ballots were dropped off to these locations. We are planning expand the program to more cities in future elections.

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