FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:
April 19, 2006 (916) 651-4028/(916) 215-5953
AFTER THREE WEEKS, THE SECRETARY OF STATE RESPONDS TO
BOWEN’S CALL TO FIX THE REGULATIONS THAT HAVE PREVENTED
THOUSANDS OF ELIGIBLE CALIFORNIANS FROM REGISTERING TO VOTE
SACRAMENTO – In the wake of a legal opinion issued by the Legislative Counsel of California on Tuesday night, the Secretary of State has filed new emergency regulations with the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) to amend his previous regulations that have prevented thousands of eligible Californians from registering to vote.
“After refusing for three weeks to fix the problem, the Secretary has finally acknowledged that his regulations and his deal with the Bush Administration are what caused the problems that have prevented thousands of eligible Californians from registering to vote,” said Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee.
According to the legal opinion issued Tuesday night by the Legislative Counsel of California:
“. . . the Secretary of State has the authority under existing federal and state law to adopt regulations that, pursuant to appropriate safeguards to protect the accuracy and integrity of voter registration data, would allow state and local elections officials to correct erroneous information regarding a driver’s license or social security number contained in a voter affidavit of registration, or, if that information is not provided by the affiant, to add that information to the affidavit.”
“The Secretary of State has been saying for weeks that his hands are tied by the law and he can’t do anything to fix a problem that his deal with the Bush Administration in fact created,” noted Bowen. “I’m glad he’s realized it’s time to interpret the law in a way the voters deserve, which is to make it as easy as possible for eligible Californians to register to vote, instead of putting bureaucratic roadblock after roadblock in their way.”
The Secretary of State filed his emergency regulations with OAL today, explaining:
“. . . these amendments are needed immediately to permit the elections officials to utilize driver’s license or state identification numbers identified by Calvalidator and complete these registrations so that eligible voters do not experience delays in the voter registration process and will be permitted to vote regular ballots on Election Day . . . To adequately prepare for the election, and to ensure that delays in registering to vote do not penalize voters, the voter registration process requires this flexibility.”
A full copy of the new emergency regulations can be found at:
This is in direct contrast to the Secretary’s April 5th explanation that accompanied his request to extend the emergency regulations he first issued on December 12, 2005, that led to thousands of eligible Californians being denied the right to vote:
– MORE –
“. . . the Secretary of State has concluded that the need for changes or additions to the regulations may only become apparent once their functionality has been observed in the course of an actual election. Accordingly, the Secretary of State has determined that it is in the best interests of the voters of this state to readopt the emergency regulations prior to their current expiration deadline, and wait until after the June 6, 2006, election to begin the process of revising the regulations and implementing them on a permanent basis.”
“I’m glad the Secretary of State has changed his mind and realized it’s not in the ‘best interests’ of the voters for him to sit on his hands and continue relying on a system that’s preventing thousands of eligible voters from registering to vote,” said Bowen.
“The State Constitution ensures that everyone who is a U.S. citizen, is 18-years-old, is a resident of California, and isn’t in prison, on parole for a felony conviction, or mentally incompetent has a right to register to vote in this state,” noted Bowen. “The Secretary of State should be focused on upholding the Constitutional right that every eligible California voter is entitled to instead of working with the Bush Administration to make it more difficult for people to register to vote.”
On April 6, the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee held a three-hour hearing on the problems that have resulted from the Secretary of State’s regulations and data matching standards, though the Secretary declined to take part in the hearing. During her testimony, Wendy Weiser of Brennan Center for Justice noted the Secretary of State has adopted the most restrictive standards in the country that are preventing “thousands and thousands” of eligible voters from being able to register to vote.
Following is a timeline of events:
o November 2, 2005 – The Secretary of State announces he has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to create the Statewide Voter Registration Database mandated by HAVA. The Bush Administration refers to it as a “model for other states . . .”
o December 5, 2005 – The Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) and the National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials (NALEO) write to the Secretary of State to comment on the regulations he proposes to implement the agreement, saying they would “disenfranchise many voters.”
o December 12, 2005 – The Secretary of State adopts emergency regulations to implement the agreement. Emergency regulations can only last for 120 days, so these were set to expire on April 11, 2006, but were extended on April 5, 2006.
o February 24, 2006 – The Secretary of State responds to the APALC and NALEO letter by saying in part, he will consider amending the regulations following “the experience of the June primary.” This means tens of thousands of people may be prevented from registering to vote and voting in the June primary.
o March 24, 2006 – The Brennan Center for Justice in New York (www.brennancenter.org) issues a report on how the 50 states are implementing the HAVA requirement to create a Statewide Voter Registration Database. The report finds that California has implemented one of the most restrictive systems in the country in terms of setting up barriers that may prevent eligible voters from registering to vote.
o March 28, 2006 – Senator Debra Bowen and the League of Women Voters of California write to the Secretary of State independently, pointing out figures from Los Angeles County showing nearly 43% of all registration forms are being rejected by the Secretary of State’s database, and urging the Secretary to alter his regulations and data matching criteria to resolve the problem.
o March 29, 2006 – The Secretary of State’s spokesperson is quoted as saying the rejection rate is 26% across the state. According to county elections officials, historically only about 1% of all voters attempting to register to vote are found to be ineligible to do so.
– MORE –
o March 31, 2006 – The Secretary of State announces that instead of changing his regulations or data matching standards, he’s proposing legislation to change one piece of the law so that if a county elections official submits a voter registration form without a driver’s license number on it, the form will be accepted as long as there is a match to only one record in the Department of Motor Vehicle files. County elections officials estimate this will address between 33% and 50% of the problem.
o April 5, 2006 – The Secretary of State files a request to extend his emergency regulations, saying “… the need for changes or additions to the regulations may only become apparent once their functionality has been observed in the course of an actual election . . . it is in the best interests of the voters of this state to readopt the emergency regulations . . . and wait until after the June 6, 2006, election to begin the process of revising the regulations and implementing them on a permanent basis. If the regulations are not readopted, the Secretary of State will be out of compliance with HAVA and the November 2, 2005, interim compliance agreement with the Department [U.S. Department of Justice], resulting in the risk of legal action by the Department ...”
o April 6, 2006 – The Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee holds a three-hour hearing on the issue. The Secretary of State declines to appear at the hearing. A witness for the Brennan Center for Justice testifies that as a result of the Secretary of State’s regulations and data matching standards, California’s policy is “an unmitigated disaster that would disenfranchise thousands upon thousands of eligible voters.” She also states the Secretary of State cannot be sued for changing the regulations or data matching standards in a way that doesn’t comply with his agreement with the Bush Administration. He can only be sued for failing to comply with HAVA and 41 other states have adopted regulations and data matching standards that allow eligible voters to easily register to vote without violating the requirements of HAVA.
o April 7, 2006 – The Secretary of State, in an e-mail sent to county elections officials, announces he is changing his data matching standards in one area. The change would allow people who submit a voter registration form with their driver’s license number on it (if the license was issued before December 2005) to be automatically registered by the Secretary of State’s computer system if the number matches a record in the Department of Motor Vehicles database using the first three letters of the person’s last name or their date of birth. Under the previous system, only the first three letters of a person’s name were used for the match, meaning people whose driver’s license was in a different last name (perhaps they’d gotten married), had spaces in their name the computer didn’t recognize (such as “de la Torre”), or have two last names (such as “Lam Chen”) were routinely rejected.
o April 18, 2006 – The Legislative Counsel of California issues a legal opinion concluding that nothing in state or federal law precludes the Secretary of State from changing his regulations or data matching standards to reduce the number of hurdles an eligible voter has to clear before being able to register to vote.
o April 19, 2006 – The Secretary of State files a request with OAL to amend his emergency regulations to ensure that eligible voters who submit a voter registration form without a driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, the individual will still be registered to vote and added to the rolls – as long as the Calvalidator computer system can find a driver’s license number through the DMV database that matches that voter.