Sacramento Report: The Complex Web of New Voting Laws - Voice of San Diego

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Sacramento Report: The Complex Web of New Voting Laws

One of the many new laws guiding election processes caused some drama in San Diego County this week. Plus: A state audit of school funding backed critics’ longstanding fears, and more in our weekly roundup of news from Sacramento.

San Diego Registrar of Voters
The San Diego County Registrar of Voters on Election Day 2018 / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

You might have heard by now that San Diego County’s attempt to deal with a new state law allowing same-day voter registration caused a great deal of drama.

That law, SB 72, requires county elections officials to offer conditional voter registration and provisional voting (same day registration) at all polling places.

San Diego County’s top elections official, Registrar of Voters Michael Vu, urged the county to open four satellite centers to help accommodate a possible surge in same-day voter registration – and to approve spending a good deal of money to make it happen.

After some arguing, bureaucratic maneuvering and outright lies about the voting process, the board approved the expense.

I asked a spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla for his thoughts on Supervisor Kristin Gaspar’s suggestion that the satellite centers could lead to voter fraud, and Supervisor Jim Desmond’s objection to an unfunded state mandate. He didn’t respond to those charges directly, but sent a statement:

“Our office is encouraged that the San Diego Board of Supervisors decided to approve early voting satellite locations,” Sam Mahood told VOSD in an email. “As you may have seen … 80.6% of eligible Californians are registered to vote — the most since 1952. We are expecting historic turnout in next year’s elections. Our office is encouraging every county to take measures to prepare for record turnout, and that includes providing early voting opportunities.”

One part of the reason things at the county got so strange is because it appears many parties seem to have conflated to separate but related issues.

Vu was asking the county to open so-called satellite centers – essentially tiny versions of the Registrar of Voters office, where voters can already register to vote on the day of an election.

What he’s envisioning is different from something called a vote center, which is something created by 2016’s Voter’s Choice Act. That law designated certain counties across California that could change their elections processes by mailing a ballot to every voter, then open centralized vote centers where they could deliver the completed ballot. The vote centers would be open for 10 days before an election, and a voter could return his or her ballot to any center – not just the one closest to their home. San Diego is not on the list of counties eligible to create vote centers for the 2020 election.

SB 72 and the Voter’s Choice Act are just two measures passed in recent years that change or update how elections are conducted.

Here are more that were signed into law this year:

AB 49 requires elections official to send a mail ballot within five days of a voter requesting one, or within five days of the 29th before an election.

AB 59 requires an elections official, when developing the draft plan pursuant to the California Voter’s Choice Act, to consider placing a vote center location on a public or private university or college campus.

AB 299 requires a county elections official to provide updated information to the secretary of state about the status of a vote-by-mail ballot at the same time that the county updates its election management system with that information.

AB 504 clarifies residency confirmation procedures that county elections officials must follow.

AB 566 requires an elections official to send “unprocessed ballot” updates to the secretary of state.

AB 623 makes numerous changes to the way ballots are formatted and requires the secretary of state to establish a ballot design advisory committee.

AB 679 defines “residence” for voting purposes as a person’s domicile and specifies that a person’s domicile for voting purposes may be the same place at which the person does business.

AB 963 requires public university campuses to engage in civic engagement outreach efforts.

AB 1043 permits campaign funds to be used for costs related to the cybersecurity of electronic devices of a candidate, elected officer or campaign worker.

AB 1044 permits the secretary of state to require applicants for voter registration information to complete an online cybersecurity course.

SB 27 requires a candidate for U.S. president and a candidate for California governor to file copies of their income tax returns with the secretary of state.

SB 505 changes the filing requirements for presidential candidates seeking to compete in California’s presidential primary election.

School Funding Audit Confirms Critics’ Fears

A longstanding critique of the state’s system for funding schools, the Local Control Funding Formula, is that it’s impossible to tell whether funds specifically targeted to helping the most vulnerable students are actually being spent on those students.

A new state audit that examined San Diego Unified’s LCFF spending has the answer: They’re not.

From the audit:

We observed that districts used supplemental and concentration funds to pay for what appear to be base services. For instance, San Diego Unified budgeted $5.2 million in supplemental and concentration funds for library services at all schools within the district. It justified the expenditure by mentioning that such services create equitable access to learning tools, resources, materials, and technology. … Although we recognize the benefits of base services and the dilemma districts face when they lack the funding necessary to pay for them, this description fails to sufficiently explain how San Diego Unified principally directed these services toward intended student groups.

In a memo responding to the audit, the district’s chief public information officer, Andrew Sharp, said the funds are working as intended because outcomes for disadvantaged students in the district have improved. He also wrote that the audit is “already moot” because it examined the district’s use of 2017-2018 funds, and not the most current plan.

The audit did find areas in which San Diego Unified went beyond state requirements, including when it identified $3 million in unspent funds from the 2017-2018 plan and included that amount with the funding identified in its 2018–19 plan.

Last month, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who’s long critiqued the funding model’s lack of transparency, told us she plans to tackle reforms to the system in the next legislative session. The audit has only driven home the need for those reforms, she said.

“There’s additional funding going into the schools and then they turn around and throw it into the base grant and don’t do programs they can be accountable for,” Weber told KPBS. “And we still have these kids failing. That is unacceptable.”

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