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November 16, 2011


Elections Commission Meeting

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm

City Hall Room 408


Order of Business

  1. Call to Order & Roll Call

  2. Announcements

  3. Public comment on any issue within the Elections Commission’s general jurisdiction that is not included in any other item on this agenda.


4.  Director’s Report

The Director will update the Commission on matters pertaining to elections and the Department of Elections, including updates on activities of the divisions, plans and activities for upcoming elections or election-related functions, and budgetary matters.


5.   Commissioners’ Reports on observations, if any, of the November 8, 2011, Consolidated Election.

New Business

6.  Discussion and possible action regarding proposed changes to state legislation about the       confidentiality of voter registration information.  Commissioner Gleason will update the Commission on new developments and seek authorization to pursue the matter with the City’s State Legislation Committee.

7. Discussion and possible action to approve the Minutes of the October 19, 2011 Commission Meeting.  (Attachment: Draft Minutes of October 19, 2011.)  


8.   Discussion regarding items for future agendas.



There will be an opportunity for public comment on each agenda item.

Materials contained in the Commission packets for meetings are available for inspection and copying  during regular office hours at the Department of Elections, City Hall Room 48.  Materials are placed in the Elections Commission's Public Binder no later than 72 hours prior to meetings.  Any materials distributed to members of the Elections Commission within 72 of the meeting or after the agenda packet has been delivered to the members are available for inspection at the Department of Elections, City Hall Room 48, in the Commission's Public Binder, during normal office hours.

Cell phones, pagers and similar sound-producing electronic devices: The ringing of and use of cell phones, pagers and similar sound-producing electronic devices are prohibited at this meeting. The Chair may order the removal from the meeting room of any person responsible for the ringing or use of a cell phone, pager, or other similar sound-producing electronic devices.

Disability Access: The Elections Commission meeting will be held in Room 408, City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA. The Commission meeting room is wheelchair accessible. The closest accessible BART station is the Civic Center Station at United Nations Plaza and Market Street. Accessible MUNI lines serving this location are: #42 Downtown Loop, and #71 Haight/Noriega and the F Line to Market and Van Ness and the Metro Stations at Van Ness and Market and at Civic Center. For information about MUNI accessible services call (415) 923-6142. There is accessible curbside parking adjacent to City Hall on Grove Street and Van Ness Avenue and in the vicinity of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue adjacent to Davies Hall and the War Memorial Complex.

To obtain a disability-related modification or accommodation, including auxiliary aids or services, to participate in a meeting, please contact the Department of Elections at least 48 hours before the meeting, except for Monday meetings, for which the deadline is 4:00 p.m. the previous Friday.  Late requests will be honored, if possible. Services available on request include the following:  American sign language interpreters or the use of a reader during a meeting, a sound enhancement system, and/or alternative formats of the agenda and minutes.  Please contact the Department of Elections at (415) 554- 4375 or our TDD at (415) 554-4386 to make arrangements for a disability-related modification or accommodation.

Chemical-Based Products: In order to assist the City's efforts to accommodate persons with severe allergies, environmental illnesses, multiple chemical sensitivity or related disabilities, attendees at public meetings are reminded that other attendees may be sensitive to various chemical-based products.  Please help the City accommodate these individuals.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS UNDER THE SUNSHINE ORDINANCE (Chapter 67 of the San Francisco Administrative Code):  Government's duty is to serve the public, reaching its decisions in full view of the public. Commissions, boards, councils, and other agencies of the City and County exist to conduct the people's business. This ordinance assures that deliberations are conducted before the people and that City operations are open to the people's review. For more information on your rights under the Sunshine Ordinance or to report a violation of the ordinance, contact the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, CITY HALL, ROOM 244, 1 DR. CARLTON B. GOODLETT PLACE, SAN FRANCISCO CA 94102-4689; PHONE: (415) 554-7724; FAX: (415) 554-7854; E-MAIL: [email protected]

Copies of the Sunshine Ordinance can be obtained from the Clerk of the Sunshine Task Force, at the San Francisco Public Library, and on the City's website at

Lobbyist Registration and Reporting Requirements:  Individuals that influence or attempt to influence local policy or administrative action may be required by the San Francisco Lobbyist Ordinance (San Francisco Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code sections 2.100 – 2.160) to register and report lobbying activity. For more information about the Lobbyist Ordinance, please contact the Ethics Commission at 25 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 220, San Francisco, CA 94102; telephone (415) 252-3100, fax (415) 252-3112; and website:





Whereas, vote-by-mail use in San Francisco County has increased from 25% of all ballots cast in November 1996 to 46% of all ballots cast in November 2008; and 
Whereas, vote-by-mail ballots that are submitted without the required voter signature on the exterior ballot return envelope cannot be processed or counted; and 
Whereas, if a vote-by-mail envelope arrives at the San Francisco Department of Elections without the required voter signature, the Department is contacting such voters by telephone and/or e-mail to inform them of the error and options to correct the error before the end of election day and have their ballot counted; and 
Whereas, if the Department of Elections does not have a telephone number or e-mail for a voter, options to notify a voter of an error with their vote-by-mail ballot are limited to slower postal communications; and 
Whereas, California voter registration forms state that providing telephone number or

e-mail information is optional; and 
Whereas, a voter's telephone number and e-mail information, when provided, becomes part of the voter's public profile; and 
Whereas, some voters choose not to provide the optional public profile information because such information is posted outside of polling places on election day and this voter profile information also becomes available to political campaigns and commercial list brokers, often resulting in unsolicited and unwanted telephone calls, which often cause registrants not to provide their phone number when registering; and 
Whereas, if a voter does provide telephone and e-mail contact information, the Department of Elections is better able to assist the voter by contacting the voter in a timely fashion should there be an error that may prevent their ballot from being counted, 


Therefore, be it resolved,


That the Elections Commission of the City and County of San Francisco requests that the State of California State Legislature Committee of San Francisco urge that the California Secretary of State and the California State Legislature consider changes and modifications to the California Elections Code which would allow counties to accept a voter’s telephone number and e-mail on voter registration forms and update requests, with the enhanced option allowing a voter to provide telephone number and e-mail information for the restricted and exclusive use by a county’s Department of Elections for notifications regarding issues directly involving a voter’s registration status, a voter’s ability to cast a ballot, and issues involving the ability to process and count a voter’s ballot.


Done this 18th day of November 2009                                           _____________________________________

                                                                                             Joseph B. Phair, President, San Francisco Elections Commission

I so attest: ­­­­­­­­­­­


Shirley Rodriques, Secretary, San Francisco Elections Commission




TO:                  San Francisco’s State Legislative Committee

FROM:            The Elections Commission of the City & County of San Francisco

DATE:                        October XX, 2009

RE:                  Seeking Changes to Cal. Election Code Re Voter Profile Information




Introduction: An Important Voter Protection Is At Stake


As the use of the vote-by-mail ballot has drastically increased in the past decade, an unfortunate problem has risen along with that increased usage: occasional errors or omissions by voters on the return envelope—mistakes that would prohibit their ballot from being counted if not corrected before the close of Election Day. A typical error of this sort is failure by the voter to sign the envelope as instructed.


It is sad that such a simple oversight would prevent someone’s ballot being counted, especially as that person went to the trouble to fill out a ballot and return it. Commendably, the San Francisco Department of Elections does a conscientious job of processing the incoming vote-by-mail ballots well before election day, and then attempts to contact every voter whose envelope had some problem so that the voter can take steps to correct the problem and have his or her ballot counted.  Usually, that close to Election Day, a phone call or an email is the only method fast enough to alert the voter to correct the problem by the end of Election Day. The Department accesses the voter’s registration information (“profile information”) and if a phone number or email address is provided, the voter is contacted. When this information has been provided by the voter, these contacts are generally successful in curing the problems in a timely fashion.


However, voters often do not provide phone numbers or email addresses – a fact which was less significant before vote-by-mail ballots were so commonly used. A significant part of the reason for some voters’ choosing not to provide this information is they do not wish to be contacted by campaigns; nor by commercial enterprises or telemarketers who might come by this information. So by not providing the immediate contact information, voters think they are minimizing chances to be contacted by entities they do not wish to contact them, but are also unknowingly discarding perhaps the only safeguard they might need someday to have their ballot counted.


Let us be clear: voters face a no-win choice between minimizing unwanted calls or emails from other entities and providing the very piece of information that they might need someday to protect their vote.


The California Elections Code as currently written requires that if a voter provides the information, then it must appear in the voter profile; it is public information. Therefore, the Elections Commission of San Francisco recommends that the state code be changed to permit a “for administrative use only” designation for the voter to choose if he or she wishes to do so, which would be expected to result in more voters’ choosing to provide phone or email information—a necessary safeguard in the era of vote-by-mail balloting.




The primary task for elections administrators is to conduct free and fair elections.  A major focus is to ensure counting every single ballot cast during an election.  During any election, a number of ballots are delivered to the Department of Elections or cast at polls on Election Day, which present administrative challenges because they may not have properly executed documentation as required by California Elections Code. 


For example, voted vote-by-mail ballots must be returned to the Department of Elections before the close of Election Day in a specially designed return envelope, sealed and bearing the voters original signature on the exterior.  Voted vote-by mail ballots which do not have the required voter’s signature cannot be processed and cannot be counted.


The goal of counting every single ballot requires the Department of Elections to research and determine any remedy that could allow a ballot to processed and counted. This goal requires removing any ambiguity before determining that a submitted voted ballot does not comply with legal requirements and therefore cannot be processed and counted.


Nowhere is the issue of ambiguous ballots more notable than in recent elections where final vote totals were so close that just a few votes separate winning and losing.  Most of these infamous elections involved costly and contentious administrative and legal challenges where the parties involved focused on a few ballots, and in some cases argued over individual ballots. See the table below:


Recent Notable Close Elections


Difference in votes when challenge ended

Minnesota US Senate 2008


Vallejo California Mayor 2007


Washington State Governor 2004


US President (Florida) 2000



Proper elections administration – and voter protection –  requires having all the tools necessary to ensure the fewest number of ambiguous ballots at the end of vote counting.



Vote-By-Mail Ballots


Over the past few years the use of vote-by-mail ballots has dramatically increased in the City & County of San Francisco.



Increase in ballots returned as Vote-By-Mail in San Francisco County

General Election Date

% Vote-by-Mail
















The California Elections Code requires that voted vote-by-mail ballots must be returned to the Department of Elections in a specially designed return envelope, sealed and bearing the voters original signature on the exterior.  Voted vote-by mail ballots which do not have the required voter’s signature cannot be processed and cannot be counted:



“Upon receipt of the vote by mail ballot the elections official shall compare the signature on the envelope with that appearing on the affidavit of registration and, if they compare, deposit the ballot, still in the identification envelope, in a ballot container in his or her office. A variation of the signature caused by the substitution of initials for the first or middle name, or both, shall not invalidate the ballot. If the ballot is rejected because the signatures do not compare, the envelope shall not be opened and the ballot shall not be counted. The cause of the rejection shall be written on the face of the identification envelope.” (Cal. Elec. Code sec. 3019, emphasis added.)



Voter Telephone Number and Email Information

The California Voter Registration form requires voters to provide certain personal information (birth date, home address, California ID number or last four digits of one’s Social Security Number); however, telephone number (Section 13 of the voter registration form) and e-mail address (Section 12) are specifically noted as “optional.” Indeed, this complies with Section 2150 of the Elections Code:


“(a) The affidavit of registration shall show:

(3) The affiant's place of residence, residence telephone number, if furnished, and e-mail address, if furnished. No person shall be denied the right to register because of his or her failure to furnish a telephone number or e-mail address, and shall be so advised on the voter registration card.”


An individual voter's information becomes known as a “voter's profile.”


[Image of voter registration form]



Need for the Department of Elections to Contact Voters by Telephone or Email

There are numerous scenarios in which the Department of Elections would need to contact a voter, not the least of which is to let a voter know that he or she submitted a vote-by-mail ballot which cannot be processed and counted because the return envelope is missing the required voter's signature. 
Currently, the Department of Elections contacts voters who have forgotten to sign the envelope of a returned vote-by-mail ballot to inform them of their options to have an otherwise valid ballot counted. This contact can be made by telephone if the voter provided a telephone number when registering to vote.


There is a possible second opportunity to collect this information from the voter: A voter's telephone number might also supply a telephone number when submitting a request (application) for a vote-by-mail ballot before an election—again, the telephone number is optional on this application, too. However, most vote-by-mail ballots are issued using voter profiles that designate the voter opted to permanently receive vote-by-mail ballots – that is, on the voter’s registration form –  therefore no further application is required, and this second opportunity to collect contact information doesn’t exist.


 If there is no telephone number for the voter in their profile, the Department of Elections can attempt to contact the voter by mail (postal delivery). In the case of encountering a vote-by-mail ballot without a signature during processing after the Friday prior to an election, it is unlikely the Department of Elections would be able to contact a voter by mail to inform them that the submitted ballot cannot be processed and inform the voter of options to cast a valid ballot, and to do so in sufficient time to cure the error. 



Public Availability of Voter Profile Information


An individual voter’s information, known as a ‘voter's profile,” becomes part of the county's complete database of all voters’ profiles is the master “voter index.” California Elections Code allows access to voter indexes by various individuals and organizations outside of the Department of Elections. Certain personal information is specifically withheld from disclosure in the voter index (such as voter’s Social Security Number or scans of a voter’s signature). Additionally, whole voter profiles are withheld for individuals identified as “at risk” if any disclosure of their location is made. 
Therefore, if a voter provides the optional telephone number and/or e-mail address, then that information become parts of the publicly available voter profile. 
Voter profile lists for each precinct are publicly posted outside of polling places each election. Further, complete Master Voter data files are provided to and made available to certain qualifying individuals and organizations.  These are broadly described in California Elections Code sections 2184 and 2185:


“2184.  Upon demand of any Member of the Legislature, of Congress, or

any candidate who is to be voted for in the county, in a city

therein, or in a political subdivision of either, or upon written

demand of his or her campaign committee, of any committee for or

against any proposed ballot measure, or of any committee for or

against any referendum or initiative measure for which legal

publication has been made, the county elections official shall

furnish to the Member of the Legislature, of Congress, or to either

the candidate or his or her campaign committee or to the ballot

measure committee no more than two copies of the printed indexes of

the registration for the primary and general elections in which the

Member of the Legislature or Congress may participate as a candidate,

or for the election in which the candidate will participate, or the

ballot measure will be voted upon, at a charge of fifty cents ($0.50)

per thousand names.  All moneys collected shall be deposited in the

county treasury to the credit of the general fund.



“2185.  Upon written demand of the chair or vice chair of a party

state central committee or of the chair of a party county central

committee, the county elections official shall furnish to each

committee, without charge therefor, the index of registration for the

primary and general elections, for any special election at which a

partisan office is to be filled, or for any statewide special




The California Elections code goes on to specify the restrictions on who can have access to voter profile information: 

2194.  (a) The voter registration card information identified in

subdivision (a) of Section 6254.4 of the Government Code:


   (1) Shall be confidential and shall not appear on any computer

terminal, list, affidavit, duplicate affidavit, or other medium

routinely available to the public at the county elections official's



   (2) Shall not be used for any personal, private, or commercial

purpose, including, but not limited to:

   (A) The harassment of any voter or voter's household.

   (B) The advertising, solicitation, sale, or marketing of products

or services to any voter or voter's household.

   (C) Reproduction in print, broadcast visual or audio, or display

on the Internet or any computer terminal unless pursuant to paragraph (3).


   (3) Shall be provided with respect to any voter, subject to the

provisions of Sections 2166.5, 2166.7, and 2188, to any candidate for

federal, state, or local office, to any committee for or against any

initiative or referendum measure for which legal publication is

made, and to any person for election, scholarly, journalistic, or

political purposes, or for governmental purposes, as determined by

the Secretary of State.


(Emphasis added.)


The opportunity for misuse of the voter profile information that is provided by the permission in the last subsection is obvious (“Shall be provided … to any person for election, scholarly, journalistic, or political purposes[.]).[1] It is fair to say that the incentive for voters to withhold the optional telephone numbers or email is great considering the wide access to this information by others besides a county’s elections office. 


Indeed, some of the information from voter profiles and county master voter files is obtained by commercial data list brokers.  Data list brokers combine information on individual voters and their voting record as it pertains to frequency of voting at precincts on Election Day and/or returning voted vote-by-mail ballots to be counted.  This voting record data is often merged with additional data from other sources such as banking and mortgage records, credit data, student/school records, and other public records such as hunting licenses, property deeds, and marriage licenses.  These commercial list brokers are able to create specific and enhanced versions of voter profiles which are sold to campaigns and any organization with interests in elections and political matters.



A Solution: Create an Optional “For Administrative Use Only” Category

 A straightforward solution would be to create a third category of information in the California Elections Code in addition to “public” and “confidential”—the “provided for administrative use only” category which would give the voter the option of providing a telephone or email address solely for the use of elections departments, while keeping the option of providing telephone or email addresses for public use.


In other words, on the voter registration form (or applications for such things as vote-by-mail ballots), the voter would face this choice:

  1. Provide a telephone number and/or email address for elections administrative use only, which would be masked from the public profile; OR
  2. Provide a telephone number and/or email address which would become part of the public profile, as now; OR
  3. Not provide a telephone number or email address.


This would require some minor modifications to the voter registration form, and it would be some expense to each county’s registrar of elections to change their computer files to mask certain fields from public view. The size of this investment is not currently known to this Commission.


However, by offering this option to voters, we expect that more would provide contact information for use by county elections offices, which would provide a crucial safeguard for voters’ ballots and might just be the difference between that person’s ballot being counted or not.

[1]   Cal. Elections Code sec. 2194 continues to describe which profile information will remain confidential, which may or shall be revealed during certain circumstances, and shield government employees from civil liability for disclosure:

“ (b) (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the California driver's license number, the California identification card number, the social security number, and any other unique identifier used by the State of California for purposes of voter identification shown on a voter registration card of a registered voter, or added to voter registration records to comply with the requirements of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 15301 et seq.), are confidential and shall not be disclosed to any person.

   (2) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the signature of the voter shown on the voter registration card is confidential and shall not be disclosed to any person, except as provided in subdivision (c).

   (c) (1) The home address or signature of any voter shall be released whenever the person's vote is challenged pursuant to Sections 15105 to 15108, inclusive, or Article 3 (commencing with Section 14240) of Chapter 3 of Division 14. The address or signature shall be released only to the challenger, to elections officials, and to other persons as necessary to make, defend against, or adjudicate the challenge.

   (2) An elections official shall permit a person to view the signature of a voter for the purpose of determining whether the signature matches a signature on an affidavit of registration or a petition, but shall not permit a signature to be copied.

   (d) A governmental entity, or officer or employee thereof, shall not be held civilly liable as a result of disclosure of the information referred to in this section, unless by a showing of gross negligence or willfulness.

   (e) For the purposes of this section, "voter's household" is defined as the voter's place of residence or mailing address or any persons who reside at the place of residence or use the mailing address as supplied on the affidavit of registration pursuant to paragraphs (3) and (4) of subdivision (a) of Section 2150.”


 Agenda 11/16/11 attachment                                                           



Elections Commission Meeting

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 6:00 pm

City Hall Room 408


Order of Business

1.  Call to Order & Roll Call- 6:01 p.m.

Present: President Richard Matthews, Vice President Winnie Yu, Commissioner Gerard Gleason, Commissioner Rosabella Safont. Excused absences: Commissioner Catalina Ruiz-Healy, Commissioner Jill Rowe, and Commissioner Arnold Townsend.

Also present: Director of Elections John Arntz and Deputy City Attorney Andrew Shen.

2.  Announcements: None

3.  Public comment on any issue within the Elections Commission’s general jurisdiction not included in any other item on this agenda: None


4.  Director’s Report


Director Arntz says the Department has received approximately 4200 Vote by Mail (VBM) ballots and some 198,988 were mailed.  There have been some 518 early voters averaging 60 voters per day with 133 the first day.   The Department has already begun scanning and checking signatures on returned VBM ballots.  VBM ballot extraction is set to begin October 28th.  The Department has begun processing of the Inmate Voting Program and working with the Hospital liaisons for individuals who are unable to vote at the polls.   The Spanish and Chinese- language voter guides have already been delivered to the Post Office.  Voting equipment testing is complete.  The polling sites have all been located and the routes for pick up have all been determined.    Department is into its third week of pollworker classes for  clerks nearly ½ of the workers have already been trained, we will continue classes through October 28, classes for inspectors is set to begin November 1 through November 5.    The training curriculum has been posted online and is available as supplemental training tool for any pollworker who wish to listen to a narrated presentation all manuals can be obtained.  All precincts have been fully staffed with one Inspector and three clerks the recruitment of standby pollworkers continues and all FEDs (53) have been recruited.  The first week of October the outreach ads appeared in many locations Muni buses, bus shelters, billboards, neighborhood papers.  Postcards will be mailed to each household explaining VBM.  Since beginning the cycle in September, five outreach coordinators have already participated in 170 outreach events, with close to 80 still scheduled before the Election.  Department continues to post reminders of upcoming elections deadlines on Facebook and Twitter notifying voters.  Information on opting out of receiving voters information pamphlet and sample ballots by mail and accessing it online instead is on our website; not available for this upcoming election, voters can submit a request for it to take effect in future elections.  A few voters have already inquired about this option.   The Fillmore Community Business District deadline has been extended to December 13th.   The issues for Voter guides the vendor printed incorrect polling place address on the back cover of approximately 133,000 voter guides.  The same address was printed on all the books showing 31 Howth Street, which is in district 11, precinct 1118.  The department feels this is the fault of the printer, we will be sending least three post cards to voters by a different vendor to inform the voter.  The post Office is slow in mailing the voter guides, claiming they are behind.  President Matthews asked if we are tied to this same vendor, Director Arntz replied no.   Commissioner Gleason asked if there would be additional staff and equipment at this precinct to accommodate any over flow, Director Arntz answered yes, no one would be turned away who wishes to vote.  Commissioner Yu inquired if there would be any signs posted outside the precinct to inform the voters Director Arntz said yes, it is possible however this is someone’s house and depending on the resident.  Commissioner Safont ask if the voter chooses to call or use the website will this information be available if they wanted their polling place information the Directors Arntz answered yes.                 


5.  Commissioners’ Reports
Commissioners will report on any meetings with public officials, or oversight and observation activities since the last meeting.  None


New Business      

6.  Discussion and possible action regarding the Mayor’s request for quarterly attendance reports from commissioners.

President Matthews says that in recent years that commission systems in general in San Francisco have come under close scrutiny regarding attendance and work of the Commissioners.  The Mayor’s office is requesting information on the mayor’s appointee.  The Commission is independent and not obligated to furnish information, however he wants the Commissioners’ opinion on whether to do so as a courtesy and in support of the goal of governmental transparency.  Commissioner Safont says it’s a good idea however she does not feel that excused absences should be omitted from attendance information, to avoid someone with 6 excused absences appearing to have a good attendance record versus someone with two unexcused absences, for example.  Commissioner Gleason thinks this information should appear on the Commission’s webpage, and that the link be provided to the Mayor’s office.  Commissioner Yu requested that this information be provided first to the Commissioners.

Motion – That the Commission’s secretary keeps track of attendance which contains information showing the attendance as present, excused absence, or unexcused absence.  This information is regularly updated regularly on the website after review by commissioners, and the link forwarded to the Mayor’s office.

Vote was taken and was unanimous to approve the Motion       

7.  Discussion and possible action regarding commissioner observation and oversight of the November 8, 2011 Consolidated General Election. 

President Matthews will be a FED in this election.  Commissioners Yu and Safont will be observers and Commissioner Gleason will work as a pollworker as is his custom.

8.  Discussion and possible action to approve the Minutes of the September 21, 2011 Commission Meeting.

Vote taken and was unanimous to approve Minutes.   

9.  Discussion regarding items for future agendas.


Commissioner Gleason announced that there will be a Budget and Oversight of Public Elections Committee meeting on November 2.

Adjournment: 6:40




Last updated: 2/3/2014 11:00:54 AM