Democracy in America is at a crossroads. Voter confidence in the voting process was shattered by the Florida experience in November 2000. Voter participation in the November 2002 General Election nationally was estimated to be a disappointing 39.9 percent. i (See footnote) So many citizens today feel disconnected from the voting process.
In response to the crises in voter confidence and participation, the Congress passed and the President signed the Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA") in October of 2002. This federal law borrows much from California's steps to restore voter confidence and facilitate participation, including modernizing voting equipment. California led this effort with the Shelley-Hertzberg Voting Modernization Bond Act of 2002, Proposition 41, adopted by the voters in March of 2002.
California, however, has its own electoral crisis, as evidenced by the shockingly-low turnout of some 36 percent of our eligible citizens at the polls last November. As Secretary of State, I have no higher priorities than restoring voter confidence in the integrity of the voting process and increasing the participation of informed voters. To further these objectives, I appointed a 24-member Advisory Committee, made up of a diverse, cross-section of Californians, to assist me in drafting a plan for voting in the 21st Century.
The Committee held five public hearings — in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Fresno and Sacramento. We heard from more than 250 Californians who shared their ideas with us about how to make the voting process more user-friendly and more secure and how best to implement the provisions of HAVA given the unique characteristics of our state in terms of size and diversity.
On June 17, 2003, I made available for public inspection and comment my Preliminary Plan, publishing notice to that effect. Thereafter, I issued a news release requesting inspection and comment, posted a copy of the Preliminary Plan in English and in Spanish on my official website and sent copies to interested individuals and organizations. The Preliminary Plan remained on public display until after July 17, 2003. I received 53 written comments regarding the Preliminary Plan.
The public testimony and input from the members of the Advisory Committee were very helpful in drafting my Preliminary Plan. In preparing my Final Plan, I have carefully considered the public testimony and the input from the members of the Advisory Committee and I have considered the additional comments of the public and the members of the Advisory Committee in response to my Preliminary Plan. The Final Plan reflects this input and comments.
"My Vote Counts"; is a comprehensive road map to restoring voter confidence, a prerequisite to increased participation "My Vote Counts" details how California will implement HAVA as part of our continuing challenge to make our voting process fairer, more accessible and more secure. Every eligible citizen must be able to say "My Vote Counts" and know it's true.
My Plan calls for:
- Modernizing voting equipment. Punch card voting machines will be replaced.
- Making all polling places accessible to individuals with disabilities or with alternative language needs. Every polling place will have at least one touch screen voting device.
- Enhancing California's provisional balloting process. Provisional voters will be able to determine whether their votes were counted.
- Augmenting the information provided to voters. Voters will receive more information at their polling places and elsewhere.
- Improving California's statewide voter registration database.
- Expanding California's efforts to inform eligible citizens about the voting process. A greater effort will be made to reach eligible citizens, including young people, about voting.
- Increasing the education and training of elections officials and poll workers. Elections officials, including poll workers, will receive more education and training.
- Improving California's complaint procedure. California's existing complaint procedure regarding alleged elections law violations will be formalized and made more accessible.
Funding for the plan is based on funds authorized by HAVA and Proposition 41. At this point, the exact cost of implementation is impossible to pinpoint. Variables include the amount of money appropriated by Congress in subsequent years and the methods of implementation determined to be the most cost-effective. All expenditures will be subject to tough state and federal audit procedures.
I am determined to make "My Vote Counts" the defining phrase that captures the essence of voting in California.
Secretary of State
a. Voting-eligible turnout estimate by Dr. Michael P. McDonald, George Mason University.