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August 1, 2012

Draft Minutes
August 1, 2012
At 6:00 pm
City Hall, Room 421
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place

1. Call to Order & Roll Call
Chairperson Jill Rowe called the meeting to order at 6:00pm. PRESENT:
Commissioners Richard Matthews and Catalina Ruiz-Healy. ALSO PRESENT:
Commission Secretary Tachina Alexander and Director of Elections John Arntz.

2. Approval of Minutes
Commissioner Matthews moved to approve the minutes of the February 1, 2012 and April 4, 2012 meetings of the Budget and Oversight of Public Elections Committee. It was seconded by Commissioner Ruiz-Healy. The roll call vote was UNANIMOUS to approve the minutes.

3. June 5, 2012 Election Plan Review
Chairperson Rowe voiced her understanding that one of the Elections Commission’s duties is to determine whether the Department of Elections complied with the prior election plan; which is the reason this item is on the agenda. She asked Director Arntz if he had any particular comments in any areas that might not have been in compliance or perhaps need to be improved for future elections.

Director Arntz stated that the department was in compliance. The overseas ballots were not out on time so that may be an area where they need to improve though this was not part of the Election Plan. There may not be as many new practices for the November election, for which the Department will try to improve efficiency and fine tune things for a bigger expected turnout.

Commissioner Matthews referred to page 4 of 28 of the June 5 Election Plan regarding practices for voters to opt out of receiving their VIP (Voter Information Pamphlet). He asked Director Arntz if he knew how many voters opted out of using their VIP and are we realizing any kind of savings from that? Do we expect it to grow or what’s your sense of it all?

Director Arntz stated that it was not that many people who opted out. His estimate was about 1500 people. The word is being put out there in flyers and voter guides. He feels that over time it will grow but the Department is in an in between position because it does not want to push people to opt out since getting the voter guide in the mail can let people know that the election is coming around soon.

Commissioner Ruiz-Healy was concerned about voters not getting the pamphlet and wanted to know if there was a voter tracking measure in place to assess who voted versus who did not. She is concerned about the low turnout of voters and whether those who do not receive the voter information pamphlet in the mail will be more likely to forget that there is an election. Even though it may be another expense to do that, perhaps it would be worth considering in order to bring more voters out to the polls.

Director Arntz stated that it could be done but the sample size may not be large enough for accurate analysis.

Commissioner Matthews inquired about the RFID. Did it turn out to be helpful?

Director Arntz stated that two tags had to be put on the equipment because depending on positioning, what’s between the reader and the tag, they needed a second tag for a more consistent reading. The Department will try to get two gates (for McAllister and Warehouse) and keep expanding because it saves so much time. Every quarter the Department has to charge all of the elections equipment. Whenever the equipment is used, staff has to walk down with a reader and scan the bar code in order to show its usage in a spreadsheet.

Chairperson Rowe asked about logic and accuracy testing and the use of tablet devices for this election. How did that work out?

Director Arntz stated that the tablet usage was enjoyed by staff, but the Department has to develop a better database to use it more effectively. The delivery people also liked it because the information could be synched. Written pages could be transferred directly to the database therefore more information out in the field can be uploaded. Tablet usage is also helpful in providing negative responses i.e. if the employees haven't checked off everything, they get a negative report for that precinct telling them it has not been completed. It’s taking a little bit of time because it’s not in the Department's budget and people are resistant to change but overall it’s proved useful. The polling place locaters take pictures of polling places out in the field and synch that as well. The tablets can also measure the slope at polling places and use it as a level which provides faster information capture.

Chairperson Rowe noted that prior to this, the process was done manually on paper, and asked if it is fair to assume that there is a cost savings on manpower which offsets the cost of the tablets.

Director Arntz stated that there would be a cost savings over time, though often the Department has to show zero cost to receive funding. Ideally, Director Arntz would like everything to be in real time at some point. A future goal is to have that and to synch the information to the Department's website as well.

Commissioner Ruiz-Healy stated that if the tablets could be scanned on site verses having to haul equipment to another location, that that would be even more helpful. Having an app to synch to tablet would save the Department and the parking folk’s time.

Director Arntz stated that then the concern would be that the Department wouldn’t have a certification checks and balance system. Wireless is against regulations, but if the Department could zip the information in from the precincts that would even be better. The equipment is clunky and old (1970’s) so it wouldn’t be compatible.

Commissioner Matthews sent a link from the Brennan Center for Justice to a study on ballot design. Nationwide the ballot design sucks. He knows there are legalities in regards to the vendors, company split, etc. but later this year he’d like to look into seeing if we’re losing votes above the national average attributable to ballot design. Part of this thought was triggered by the Brennan Center study along with the increased number of questions from this last election. For instance some people couldn’t find the presidential choices due to the ballot design. He knows it wasn’t necessarily the Department's mistake but could be attributed to the vendor. Moving forward he’d like to make sure that the Department is on a top tier of current best practices of ballot design to enable voters to get their votes cast and counted. Ballot design is a national problem and he’d like to look into it to see if we’re losing votes.

Chairperson Rowe referred to page 3 of 28 “Voters with Party Preferences” item. Having served at a polling place, there was a fair number of people registered as American Independent who thought that that meant No Party Preference and were not pleased that they couldn’t vote for whomever they wanted. It sounds like the department made efforts to notifying those parties by mail, but Chairperson Rowe requested more detail about that and if there is anything else that the Department should be doing to address this issue. She then asked Commissioner Matthews if he experienced that at his polling place as well. Commissioner Matthews stated that yes he had and that it has happened at every election that he was aware of.

Director Arntz stated that we do not send letters to Independent Party Voters because we’ve assumed that they have checked the right box but acknowledges that does happen sometimes. There are some voters who believe they are non-partisan because they are registered American Independent.

Chairperson Rowe asked Director Arntz if he sends letters saying here’s what you can vote for?

Director Arntz replied that the Department does send letters to Non Partisan voters but not to Party Voters. The people who’ve been registered for more than three years have at least seen a ballot or a voter guide that showed them that they are American Independent. Some register but may only show up every 4 or 8 years but it’s not that many of them; overall the number of registered American Independent voters in San Francisco is estimated to be around 1,700.

Commissioner Matthews stated that this did remind him of an issue peculiar to this election because the vendor messed up the ballot stubs. The parties were mislabeled on the stubs. There was a movement initiated by the California Chair of the American Independent Party who was seeking an injunction and complaining about that error. Reading through the IRIS report there were a few voters who noticed it. Commissioner Matthews asked if that lawsuit was ever filed.

Director Arntz replied no. He further stated that the Department had notices at the polling places.

Commissioner Matthews stated that he had one person at his polling place who noticed it and spoke up so Commissioner Matthews just said we know, we are aware of it, there’s nothing to worry about and directed him to the document.

Chairperson Rowe referred to page 5 of 28 regarding expanding the criteria for identifying language assistance needs; did that result in any changes or have an impact?

Director Arntz replied that close to 90% of our polling places have language assistance anyway so there’s little room to expand much more. With the new census data, the Department had a statewide database and the same consultant who did the redistricting work. She analyzed the census data, and there were a handful of precincts where the Department added Chinese or Spanish speaking poll workers, but it otherwise had little effect.

Chairperson Rowe inquired whether Chinese and Spanish were the only two languages for which poll workers provide assistance at this point?

Director Arntz stated that Chinese and Spanish are the only two required languages for assistance. There are some places where the Department tried to place Russian speaking poll workers. Even though Russian is approximately less than 1% of the voters they are very active and always want to know what’s going on. During outreach the Department has a bilingual Russian speaking because their community always wants to stay informed. There are some polling places where the Department tries to provide a bilingual Russian speaking poll worker. This is something that would not appear on the chart; it’s just something the Department does based on experience.

Chairperson Ruiz-Healy asked, in regards to outreach , did Director Arntz see a change, based on previous and other comparable elections, in higher turn-out by Chinese, Russian, or Spanish speaking voters as a result of the outreach?

Director Arntz stated that the Department does not track demographics. There are only 23,000 who request information in Chinese and 3,500 in Spanish. So the Department could possibly go back and compare those records but does track demographics. The Department gets that question a lot but does not know.

Chairperson Ruiz-Healy then asked if Director Arntz could track that or if it’s legal.

Director Arntz replied that the Department could compare lists of people who have requested materials. Chairperson Ruiz-Healy wanted to know if he could do a surname search because it would be interesting to know from an outreach perspective due to traditional lower turnout. Director Arntz said that surnames are not very accurate but the Department can look at the materials from those who request it, which is not that many.

Chairperson Rowe asked about the Edge machine usage and disability access. The Commissioners received a letter from one voter who was not satisfied with disability access. She asked Director Arntz if he had any thoughts on that, noting that it’s a complicated process to get those machines set up and it’s a lot of training. Looking at the Edge reports most polling places don’t use them.

Director Arntz stated that the Edge machines are not used very often so most poll workers don’t have much experience with them. The Department does train all poll workers but without having practical experience it’s hard for them to retain the knowledge. Even though it’s in the guides and poll worker’s manual it’s difficult. Every election someone who has a sight disability goes to the polling place and it takes a while to get the machine up and going. Director Arntz has called the voter who sent the letter to the Commissioners, and essentially he wants to meet with the department to share his experience and how the Department can improve it. The Department goes through a lot with the Edge machines to get them ready for the election, track the seals' serial numbers, provide training, and review the audio content on the machines. The Department is always trying to improve this service, and does a lot. The Department does not use the machine language, but instead records in local dialect so the audio ballot has our terminology on it and not some canned dialect from Ohio. The Department maintains a glossary of election terms to have consistency and uniformity throughout the election, which they use for outreach, voter guides, Edge machines, and any voter material, and the materials to different divisions of the Department. For November the Department will try to get that message out again. The Department has extra hands-on equipment and there is training that people can come and get. The use is so low that it wouldn’t be a good idea to change things as long as they have these machines. Even though they are accessible they are clunky machines. There was such a need for accessible equipment and this is what the people came up with so until the next generation of machines come along this is all the Department has. Effectiveness is negatively impacted by the fact that the machines are used so infrequently and are not very intuitive.

Chairperson Rowe asked about the turnover rate of poll workers. She expects that there are certain polling places that typically have need to access to the Edge machines. If they are the same poll workers who used the machines last year does the process become easier each year they return and is that something that the Department can control at all?

Director Arntz replied that if the Department knows that the Edge machine audio ballots are being used, they contact the voters before the election. They try to set up a specific time for the voters to go to the polling place so that the Department can have someone in place to help them. When the voter arrives, the equipment is all ready for them and they can just walk in and have an effortless experience at the poll. The Department also works with the Lighthouse for the Blind to advise voters that they can call to let the Department know when they are going to be at the polling place so that things can be set up prior to their arrival. The Department tries to provide this service not just the day at the polls where poll workers can be overwhelmed by the number of procedures.

Chairperson Rowe commended the Department for these efforts.

Director Arntz stated that for the gentleman who contacted him about his experience with accessibility, when he arrives in November he will walk into the polling place and things will be ready to roll.

Chairperson Rowe asked that if Director Arntz meets with the voter who raised these issues, can Director Arntz provide a report of the discussion and outcome to the Commissioners, as she would be very interested in any ideas that might be helpful. She feels that it is an important issue and appreciates the challenges.

Commissioner Matthews moved that BOPEC refer this issue back to the full Elections Commission with a recommendation for a finding that the Department of Elections substantially complied with the Election Plan for the June 5, 2012 election.

Commissioner Ruiz-Healy seconded.

Vote was Unanimous to approve.

4. General Public Comment
No public present.

5. Adjournment at 6:29pm

Last updated: 1/10/2014 10:57:05 AM