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October 27, 2011 Special mtg

Minutes Draft

Elections Commission Special Meeting

Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 6:00 pm

City Hall Room 263


Order of Business

1.  Call to Order & Roll Call- 6:00 p.m.


Present: President Richard Matthews, Vice President Winnie Yu, Commissioner Gerard Gleason, Commissioner Rosabella Safont, Commissioner Arnold Townsend, Commissioner Jill Rowe, Commissioner Catalina Ruiz-Healy.  Also present:  Brenda Carlson Attorney for San Mateo County

2.  Discussion and possible action to adopt a resolution regarding third-party assistance with or handling of Vote-by-Mail ballots.





Unanimously Adopted October 27, 2011


WHEREAS, democracy depends on elections that are free and fair, and the two most basic elements of that are the safety of voters to vote their conscience and the security of ballots to ensure the results are the will of the electorate; and

WHEREAS, San Francisco Charter section 13.103.5 created this Elections Commission “to oversee all public federal, state, district and municipal elections in the City and County,” and makes this Commission “responsible for the proper administration of the general practices of the Department [of Elections],” and

WHEREAS, in its oversight capacity and responsibility for general practices, this Commission is always concerned that all rules pertaining to elections are followed by all citizens so that the integrity of elections continues to be maintained at the highest levels, and

WHEREAS, this Commission has no interest in campaigns or the acts of campaigning, but rather concerns itself solely with the processes of elections and becomes concerned only about infringements on those elections processes if  campaigns or their supporters undertake election-related functions, and

WHEREAS, this Commission recognizes that part of the “general practices of the Department” of Elections for which the Commission is ultimately responsible is the canvass of the ballots cast, and the integrity of that canvass depends in part upon the California Election Code being followed with respect to the voting upon and return of vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots so that only ballots that are supposed to be counted under the law are in fact counted, and

WHEREAS, the time for this Commission to reinforce the information VBM voters receive of the proper ways to return their ballots, and to call for campaigners’ adherence to the laws of the Elections Code is before an election rather than after, and

WHEREAS, while we make no factual findings whatsoever, this Commission has been made aware of recent allegations, photographs, and video recordings which purport to show individuals on sidewalks and other places in advance of the November 8, 2011 Consolidated Election who may have done any or all of the following:

  1. Obtained VBM ballots from voters before they have been voted, gotten the voter to sign the return envelope, after which persons other than the voter have marked the ballot and returned the ballot for counting; and/or
  2. handled the voter’s ballot cards; and/or
  3. provided the voter a plastic stencil or template that permits the voter to cast a vote only for the supporter’s preferred candidate or candidates and no others, and shielding from voters the second and third choices available to them in ranked-choice voting contests; and/or
  4. taken possession of the voted VBM ballot and return envelopes for the purpose of returning them to the San Francisco Department of Elections; and

WHEREAS, the reports regarding the above described alleged activities appear to have occurred on only a limited basis, and this Commission is not aware of any report that these alleged activities occurred on a widespread basis, nor does this Commission have any reason to believe that unlawfully handled VBM ballots have occurred in statistically significant numbers in this or any past elections; and

WHEREAS, this Commission would nevertheless like to discourage any unlawful practices, and

WHEREAS, approximately half of the votes cast in San Francisco are by mail, and in this election VBM ballots were sent to approximately 45% of the registered voters in San Francisco, and therefore this Commission desires for any improper ballot-handling  activities to cease completely and for the public to be aware of the relevant provisions of the Elections Code, and

WHEREAS, California Elections Code section 3017(a), states:

(a) All vote by mail ballots cast under this division shall be voted on or before the day of the election. After marking the ballot, the vote by mail voter shall do either of the following: (1)return the ballot by mail or in person to the elections official from whom it came or (2) return the ballot in person to any member of a precinct board at any polling place within the jurisdiction. However, a vote by mail voter who, because of illness or other physical disability, is unable to return the ballot, may designate his or her spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, brother, sister, or a person residing in the same household as the vote by mail voter to return the ballot to the elections official from whom it came or to the precinct board at any polling place within the jurisdiction. The ballot must, however, be received by either the elections official from whom it came or the precinct board before the close of the polls

on election day[;] (emphasis added)




WHEREAS, California Elections Code section 3017(d) states:


(d) The provisions of this section are mandatory, not directory, and no ballot shall be counted if it is not delivered in compliance with this section[;] (Emphasis added) 




WHEREAS, in order to ensure that every vote is counted, a voter should never return his or her VBM ballot in violation of Elections Code Section 3017, such as giving it to a campaign worker or other volunteer who is not a member of the voter’s family or household,  and to only give it to family or household members if the voter is ill or disabled and unable to return the ballot himself or herself, and completes the appropriate designation on the back of the return envelope; and


WHEREAS, California Elections Code section 3017(e) states in relevant part:


(e) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), no vote by mail voter's ballot shall be returned by any paid or volunteer worker of any 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.... [;] (emphasis added)


WHEREAS, as described above, the consequences of third-parties returning VBM ballots fall upon both the voter (by having that ballot not counted if the improper return is detected) and the elections official (unwittingly counting an improperly returned ballot because there was no way to detect the return),


WHEREAS, California Election Code section 18403 states:

Any person other than an elections official or a member of the precinct board who receives a voted ballot from a voter or who examines or solicits the voter to show his or her voted ballot is punishable by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months or two or three years or in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both the fine and imprisonment. This section shall not apply to persons returning a vote by mail ballot pursuant to Sections 3017 and 3021 or persons assisting a voter pursuant to Section 14282.


WHEREAS, California Elections Code section 18371 states:

 (a) No candidate or representative of a candidate, and no proponent, opponent, or representative of a proponent or opponent, of an initiative, referendum, or recall measure, or of a charter amendment, shall solicit the vote of a vote by mail voter, or do any electioneering, while in the residence or in the immediate presence of the voter, and during the time he or she knows the vote by mail voter is voting.

 (b) Any person who knowingly violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor. (Emphasis added)

WHEREAS, while it is not certain that “representative” in this statute applies to volunteers for a group operating independently of an official campaign, it is clear that the purpose of these laws is to help safeguard the integrity of the entire voting process by ensuring that a VBM voter’s ballot does not get lost or misdirected through benign or malicious means, and by creating a zone of safety around the VBM voter similar to that of a polling place on election day so that a voter may vote in secrecy, and


WHEREAS, the Commission has been made aware that the Director of Elections has referred these matters to the San Francisco District Attorney for investigation and, if warranted, prosecution,



THAT it condemns any form of tampering with the process of elections in any way that interferes with the security of a voted ballot by taking it out of the chain of custody prescribed in the law, or by interfering with the secrecy of the ballot, or by obtaining voters’ vote-by-mail ballots and procuring their signature on the return envelope, and

THAT it asks all campaigns and committees to ensure to the best of their abilities and within all applicable laws that all conduct of their supporters is in accord with the Elections Code so that all ballots are cast and returned correctly so that they can be counted by the Department of Elections, and

THAT this Commission, following this election, will study any necessary changes to the California Elections Code, the San Francisco Municipal Elections Code, or other laws to ensure that the Department of Elections may have confidence during the canvass that every VBM ballot was cast and returned in compliance with the Elections Code, and


THAT this Commission encourages all voters with questions regarding their ballot or the returning of their ballot to call the Department of Elections Call Center at 415.554.4375 or visit




President Matthews moved to adopt the Resolution, and it was second by Commissioner Safont  

Vote was taken and was unanimous to approve


Adjournment: 6:40


Last updated: 12/2/2011 11:22:22 AM