A drive through the office parks of Silicon Valley may fool you into thinking California is a state with its eyes focused firmly on the future. But there’s nothing like a national report from a presidential commission on state election systems to make you feel like you’re living in the Dark Ages.
Silicon Valley, meet Paper Mountain.
While parts of “The American Voting Experience” study from the bi-partisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration are a great antidote to insomnia, vast sections speak to election systems of states in a parallel universe – one more advanced than California’s. Specifically, two sections of the report illustrate how, despite its status as most technologically advanced corner of America – the Golden State is saddled with a 20th-century experience when it comes to voting.
Take, for example, page 23 of the report (which is 100 pages in all). The presidential commission casually celebrates “the statewide voter registration lists mandated by HAVA [the federal Help Americans Vote Act, 2002]. Prior to HAVA . . . voters who moved between counties, even within the same state, often appeared on two (or more) county registration lists for a considerable time. The statewide lists go a long way toward addressing that problem.”
California today would fall under the category of “prior to HAVA”. More than a decade after the law’s passage, with $300 earmarked for America’s nation-state, California remains one of the last states without a statewide voter database. After an initial commitment of $4.5 million to a vendor who failed to deliver, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the state’s chief election officer, chose the information technology firm CGI – yes, the same folks fired earlier this month by the Obama Administration after the botched launch of HealthCare.gov – to create the database. That was supposed to be finished in 2015. A recent tweet from Bowen suggests that even that deadline might not be realistic.
This failure not only delays the launch of same-day voter registration in California, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2012, it’s also a barrier to ballot integrity. Merely abiding by longstanding federal legislation under HAVA would move California toward 21st-century voter roll accuracy, which, the report notes, “is often a prerequisite to effective election planning and administration.”