California Bill Could Address Voting Issues, Watchdog Says

May 20, 2019 Updated: May 20, 2019

California, as the most populous U.S. state, has the largest representation in Congress of all states, making its voter base a valuable one. But as news reports discuss the Golden State’s recent election missteps, some wonder whether state legislators should look into this matter more urgently.

After the Election Integrity Project California Inc. (EIPCa) looked into the many failures of the state’s 2018 midterm elections for a recent report, researchers learned that thousands of Californians didn’t receive vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots in time. Additionally, hundreds of voters saw polling places giving them incorrect VBM designations, while hundreds of others saw the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) change their registration to permanent VBM without their consent, making them ineligible to vote at the polls.

A bill that made its way through the state House and is now in the hands of the Senate seeks to address some of the concerns involving voting in the state. And because there could be a risk California senators won’t feel pressed to pass it, as few—if any—reports on this bill have made it to the news recently, advocacy groups are urging voters to act.

In a statement, EIPCa President Linda Paine said that Californians are losing their voting rights because of the state’s inefficiency.

“Tens of thousands of individuals have been harmed by ongoing roster ‘printing mistakes,’ DMV registration ‘software errors’ and, now, what appears to be a systemic failure to simply mail out ballots in an accurate and timely manner,” she explained.

The only way to force California to respond better, Paine said, is to get the federal government to investigate and get “Secretary of State Alex Padilla to take immediate steps to ensure the future integrity of our election process.”

But until a federal probe is initiated, the nonpartisan group is asking Californian voters to press their Senate representatives to take quick action on a bill that should be up for a floor vote soon.

AB 49 may not fix the ballot-harvesting situation, which some argue began to benefit Democrats after Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown made the practice legal in 2016, but it could force the state to get all VBM ballots out within five days of voters’ request for ballots. If anything, EIPCa argues, this bill would allow voters to be aware of when their ballots should arrive, giving them time to report their ballot as “missing,” in the event it gets lost in the mail.

Furthermore, the bill might help to prevent state authorities from sending out ballots to those who aren’t eligible to vote, but only if voters who are aware they were illegally harvested take action to stop their lost ballot from being counted.

Despite these potentially good outcomes, there’s a lot more to California’s voting blues than meets the eye.

Big State, Big Problems

When it comes to the state’s voting system issues, it’s important to look at the DMV.

Recently, state lawmakers initiated a new audit, hoping to focus on the DMV’s voter registration program.

After the agency admitted having troubles registering voter information for more than 23,000 drivers and mistakenly registering nearly 77,000 others twice, Republican and Democratic lawmakers both called for a probe.

“The problems with motor voter have risen to such a degree that there is a bipartisan effort in this,” Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson told local news outlet KFSN.

“The errors include registering 16-year-olds to vote. We have numbers of people who had their registration changed without their approval or knowledge, and actually sending them ballots they could vote through the mail,” he added.

Beyond the DMV, some believe California’s large, bureaucratic government system, which has to deal with a massive state population, might have problems enforcing any new rules.

Ryan McMaken, an economist and fellow with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, is one of them. In an interview with The Epoch Times, he explained that AB 49 could only benefit voters if rules can be properly enacted.

“If a state is going to engage in widespread voting by mail,” he said, “it needs to have the resources and the will to make efforts to ensure the integrity of the election process. That is, it needs to be able to investigate fraud, keep voter rolls updated, and even prosecute those who can be shown to be misusing ballots. With these sorts of things, scale matters.”

While theoretically, it is “possible to run an efficient and clean all-mail election,” he added, larger states have problems others less densely-populated don’t.

“In a state as enormous as California, it is likely that a much larger bureaucracy than currently exists is necessary,” he explained.

“The county-level election officials are likely to face much larger problems of logistics in California than in smaller states like Colorado or Oregon—two states with all-mail election. For instance, no county in Colorado has a population of more than 700,000 people, and most counties have fewer than 100,000 people. [Los Angeles] County, on the other hand, has 10 million people, and even mid-sized counties are now approaching half a million people. The potential for big problems that can really affect the outcome of a statewide election appears significantly higher.”

McMaken suggested that California officials could improve the situation with a comprehensive, yet perhaps unexpected plan.

“To improve the potential for abuse affecting statewide or long-term outcomes,” he said, “Californians should consider decentralizing the state into several smaller states, and making county size smaller.”

And to those who truly care about the will of the people, McMaken suggested that holding more elections could make a difference—especially when it comes to holding elected officials accountable.

“Over the past 200 years, elections in the United States have become less frequent, with terms of office growing longer, removing politicians from the influence of the voters. This has its downside and also increases the impact of any single election, thus magnifying the effects of election errors.”