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Meeting Information

Elections Commission

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 City and County of San Francisco

Elections Commission

Approved: ______________

Minutes of the Meeting at City Hall Room 408

July 19, 2006



1.   CALL TO ORDER.  President Matthews called the meeting to order at 7:01 pm.


2.   ROLL CALL.  PRESENT: Commissioners Gerard Gleason, Richard P. Matthews, Arnold Townsend (arrived at 7:07 pm), Jennifer Meek, Michael Mendelson, Deputy City Attorneys Miguel Márquez and Ann O’Leary, Director of Elections John Arntz.  ABSENT: Commissioner Victor Hwang.


      Deputy City Attorney Márquez explained that he would be returning to the Unified School District and introduced Ann O’Leary who would be his replacement for the Department of Elections.  Deputy City Attorney O’Leary said that her elections background was primarily from her number of years working in politics in Washington, DC.




      Update on current status of 2006-07 budget.  Director Arntz said that there had been no changes in the budget numbers since the last Commission Meeting. 


      Update on re-certification of voting equipment for RCV.  The Commission has been given a letter that the Secretary of State’s office (SoS) sent to the State Certification Manager of Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) about that company’s inaction in seeking certification for its system.  (NOTE: a copy of this letter is attached to these minutes)  In the case that the equipment cannot be certified, the Department is preparing its hand tallying procedures for the RCV election.  The Director said that he spoke with the SoS yesterday and was assured that they will do everything they can to assist the Department.


      Commissioner Meek asked if the Board of Supervisors had been notified of the letter and the events that led to the choice of ES&S over Sequoia voting systems.  The Director answered that the choice has been well documented.  He asked the Commission if it would consider how to move forward and whether the DoE should go with Sequoia, ES&S or some alternate system and then advise the Department.  He recalled the Commission’s Voting Systems Forum with its public testimony as one example of past input.


      President Matthews said that the Commission could look into further activities regarding voting system selection but that, legally, the Commission might be prevented from doing much because this is not the Commission’s responsibility.


      Director Arntz said that he wasn’t looking for the Commission to make a decision, but a public discussion after which the Commission could make an advisory statement.


      For clarification, President Matthews asked the Director if he wanted the Commission to weigh in on which system or which vendor.  Director Arntz said he would like to hear from the Commission about what would be its recommendation as the best plan, and how the City should proceed with its voting system and voting system’s provider at the conclusion of 2006.  The contract with the vendor must be signed BEFORE December 31, 2006 for a new system if the City is to continue with optical scanning technology.  However, if the contract is signed after that date, the City cannot get the HAVA reimbursement for that system, therefore the system will have to be touch screen.


      Commissioner Meek said that the Board of Supervisors needs to know right away about the problem with ES&S.  Director Arntz replied that the Board would be notified.


      President Matthews referred to the letter from Bruce McDannold of the SoS's office to ES&S, in which reference is made of a June 20, 2006 letter that said that the originally certified system does not fulfill HAVA’s requirements for accessibility.  He asked the Director if he had been notified of this by ES&S.  The Director answered that this letter was the first he had heard of this information being formally stated – although the Director had been saying it for several months.


      Commissioner Meek said that the Department needs to get the word out to the public about the possibility of a hand tally for the RCV election this November to avoid conspiracy rumors.


      The Director said that he puts out implementation memos on the website and that he would do this, as well as a  press release.  He said that he will include the letter this commission discussed earlier as an attachment.  The Director said that other memos on this topic are on the website and the link can be found on the front page of the site.


      Update on preparation for November 7, 2006 Election.  Staff is returning from a break after the June Primary election.  The beginning stages are being implemented for the November election and there is not much to report at this meeting.


3.   Commissioner’s Reports.  Commissioner Townsend reported that he attended a meeting of the Oakland City Council to discuss the San Francisco Elections Commission’s experience in the implementation of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).  RCV will be on the Oakland ballot in November.


4.   Discussion and possible action regarding the positive evaluation of the Department’s compliance with and the effectiveness of the Election Plan used for the June 6, 2006 Consolidated Primary Election.  (Report from the Budget and Oversight of Public Elections Committee)  Commissioner Gleason reported that the Committee would like to work with the Department on improving the Election Plan for the November 2006 election.  The plan should follow where and what happens to the ballots and how the public has access to the process.  In addition, the Committee would like to see the Election Plan on the DoE’s website and see that the front desk staff is aware of the Election Plan if inquiries from the public are received.  The Commissioner said that the Department followed everything in the plan but more procedures need to be included, such as the 8 pm pick up at the Post Office and voting of patients in hospitals on election day.  He said that instead of the Election Plan being “text heavy”, he would like to work with the Department to make the information resemble a flow chart of where the ballots go and how they are handled during an election. 


MOTION that the June 6, 2006 Consolidated Primary Election complied with the approved Election Plan.  Commissioner Townsend MOVED and Commissioner Mendelson SECONDED.  Roll call vote was UNANIMOUS.


5.   Discussion and possible action regarding selecting a date to review and approve the Election Plan for the November 7, 2006 election.   Commissioner Gleason explained that currently the template for the Plan says that a window of 80 to 55 days and no less than ten days before the election is when the plan is presented to the Commission. 


      President Matthews asked the Director for his input for a date so that his resources and those of the staff would work best to produce a document that will be comprehensive, open and with full disclosure.  Director Arntz replied that with the Department’s 60-day close, mailing to overseas voters, and the hiring of staff, to have the plan due 55-days before the election would be workable.  


      Commissioner Meek asked when the approved Election Plan could be posted to the Department’s website.  Director Arntz said that it could be posted the following day after the Commission’s approval.


      The Commission Secretary was asked to schedule the approval of the Plan for the meeting on Wednesday, September 20, 2006.



6.   Discussion and possible action to establish a policy of costs to send Commission Meeting information packets to the public who request them.  The Brown Act 54954.1 states that the legislative body may establish a fee for mailing the agenda packet, which fee shall not exceed the cost of providing the service. (Commission Secretary) Commission Secretary Shirley Rodriques reported that she researched the cost per page that is charged at the DoE front desk and was advised that for the last eight years, the cost has been ten cents for printed page.  This would be twenty cent for a page that is printed on both sides.  She explained that the Commissioners’ packets are mailed “priority mail” at $4.05 for a package weighting less than one pound.  If the weight goes over, which it seldom does, fifteen more cents is added to the postage.  The packet for this meeting, for example, has 64 pages at a cost of $6.40 for printing to which is added $4.05 for a total of $10.45 per packet.  Commissioner Townsend MOVED and Commissioner Mendelson SECONDED a motion to charge the public for the copying and mailing of the agenda. 


      Commissioner Townsend said that charging for the packet would make things more difficult for the public.


      Commissioner Mendelson suggested that the packet be scanned and placed on the website.


      Public Comment.  Chris Jerdonek, said that if the packet were available on-line, then it could be emailed to him.  Mr. Jerdonek said that he was the person who has made this request.  The cost of ten dollars per meeting or twenty dollars a month, he said, was steep.  


      A Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS.  The motion FAILED.  The Commissioners urged Commission Secretary Shirley Rodriques to look into posting the agenda on-line.


7.   Discussion and possible action regarding Supervisor Elsbernd’s proposed amendment of municipal election code which would require mailing the Voter Information Pamphlet at least 29 days before an election. (Commissioner Gleason)  Commissioner Gleason reported that the Supervisor attended the Budget and Oversight of Public Elections Committee’s meeting on July 13, 2006 and advised the Committee that he had received his Voter Information Pamphlet (VIP) three days before the election and that his office had received many calls from constituents with similar complaints.  Commissioner Gleason said the Supervisor is concerned that the current code deadlines do not help to make voter information accessible to voters during the early voting period that begins 29 days before an election.  Additionally, the Supervisor said it was unfair to people who paid for their arguments to appear in the VIP because they are not arriving in time to be effective.  The Supervisor said that he wants a system in place to make sure this situation, of mailing the VIPs so late that voters do not receive them in a timely fashion, never happens again.  Commissioner Gleason said that it was apparent that the Supervisor is very willing to work with the Department and the Commission to move this forward and added that he has five Supervisors who are supporting this proposal for an amendment.

      President Matthews reported that Supervisor Elsbernd said that he would be willing to hear any refinements or suggestions from the Commission or the Department regarding the amendment within the next two weeks.  The Commissioner asked Director Arntz if the Department wanted to make any input to the proposed amendment.  The Director replied that the Department was already looking at deadlines to make the 29 days work, but so many parts of the process are out of the Department’s control.   He said that to “begin” the mailing at 29 days would be a better statement.  The Director said that he will have suggestions for the Supervisor’s proposal next week. 

      Commissioner Townsend said that, again, the Commission has a Supervisor trying to set policy for the Elections Department who doesn’t know how the Department works and doesn’t know how elections happen.  He said, “what are we going to do if we get another situation where there’s a lawsuit”?  Then, we wouldn’t be able to await the result of the lawsuit before sending out the VIP, and if the lawsuit changes what is in the VIP we would have to mail out a second VIP at double the cost and it will get there late anyway.  Commissioner Townsend said that the problems that caused the late mailing of the last VIP were out of the Department’s control and will likely not reoccur. 

      President Matthews said that Supervisor Elsbernd said he wanted two things.  One was a explanation that was more detailed than the one he has been provided about what happened in the last election; and the Supervisor understands that what happened was not likely to reoccur.  The second was that he wanted a plan that would assure him that it would not happen again. 

      Director Arntz said that the Department could not “guarantee” that problems would not occur again and that the explanation was given to members of the Board already.  Director Arntz said that he would explain what happened at the Board’s hearing regarding the amendment. 

      Commissioner Mendelson said that if the Board of Supervisors wants to investigate, then it can, the Board is a legislative body, the Elections Commission is not.  The Commission is a policy making body.  He said let the Board investigate and present its findings. 

      President Matthews reminded the members that it is not the Commission’s job to weigh in on policy questions, it is the Commission’s job to implement them.  He said there have been occasions when proposed ordinances or Charter amendments were bad ideas and harmful to the DoE.  He said that the Commission’s role is to be supportive of the Department and that is why the Commission is discussing this matter.  President Matthews said that if the Supervisor’s amendment is enacted as written, it is a bad idea, 29 days is just too difficult, especially if it weighs in to the detriment of the Department.    


      Commissioner Townsend said that it is not a good idea to base legislation on the “abnormal”.  He said that this is the first time this has occurred during his tenure. 

      Commissioner Gleason said that the real problem is that the way that elections operate has completely changed and the DoE is operating under old rules.  In the precinct that Commissioner Gleason worked at in the June election, there was a 17 percent turn out and 34 percent of the voters were absentees.  When the law was first set up at 29 days, it was an accommodation.  Now it is used as a regular course, as is absentee voting.  He said we don’t have election day anymore, we have election season.  The Department needs the guidelines changed so that everything is skewed to allow time to prepare the VIP.  He said that putting more layers on the Department isn’t the answer.  The Commissioner said that this is an opportunity to go to the Board of Supervisors, who are in charge of the Municipal Election Code, and say that something needs to be done with the existing codes, for example, the paid arguments, how the VIPs are set up, and the requirements and deadlines so that the Department can be prepared to send VIPs out on the 29th day.

      President Matthews asked if it was correct that the Commissioner feels that all elections should be treated the same in regard to the lead-time before the VIP is mailed.  Commissioner Gleason replied that this is true, at least as a minimum action.

      Commissioner Meek said that she agreed that codes need to be changed to reflect how voters are voting today.  Elections begin when voters get their absentee ballots.

      Commissioner Townsend said that he disagreed because voters, like himself who vote absentee, are stepping out of the norm.  It is a consideration for these voters, so that for whatever reason, i.e. the voter is going on vacation, it is an accommodation for the voter.  The voter is choosing not to do what is a normally excepted practice of going to the polls.  He said that if he chooses to do this, then he must accept that he might have to put himself to some inconvenience because he’s asking the Department and the City to do something special for him.  The election is about that day – Tuesday, Election Day.  The Commissioner said that he didn’t think it was right for the City to change the way it does business because he has something special he wants to do or some place he wants to be on election day.

      President Matthews asked the Director, “for this 29-day (rule) to work reliably and regularly for any county, not just us, but any county that is tasked with that…would it require some …major changes to the State Elections Code?”  Director Arntz answered that he did not think that would be the case.  He said that the main concern would be the public review periods.  He said that it would be a good idea for the Board to submit Charter amendments, ordinances and bond measures to the Department earlier.  The Director said that a primary election, like the one this June, is a “different beast” from a general election.  There were 156 different ballot styles in the primary, as opposed to 50 in a general election.  He said that in a general election, the 29 day goal is attainable, however, in a primary election it may not be.  He explained that in a primary election, the Department has to wait for the state to give it information, and the ballots and voter guides cannot be printed until that information is received.

      Commissioner Mendelson suggested that President Matthews and Commissioner Townsend represent the Commission before the Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee.

      President Matthews attempted to put the collective opinion of the Commission into the following statement:  There is no dogma with the 29-day mailing out of the VIP, provided that all the other constituent time deadlines in the code move back a commensurate amount of time as well to permit the Department of Elections to do its work.

      Commissioner Gleason said that he agreed that the codes need to be uniform.

      Director Arntz said that there is a lot of work happening around the 29-days before an election, suggested that the time be changed to 25 or 21 days, and said a little bit of breathing room for the Department would be better.

      Commissioner Gleason said that, “if it is under state law, perhaps the City consider that they cannot put local bond measures in a primary election, because of the discrepancy of when this material is sent out.”

      President Matthews summarized discussion so far as: “That the Commission would authorize the President to appear before the Rules Committee or the Board of Supervisors to discuss Supervisor Elsbernd’s proposal supporting, perhaps, some movement back and some number of days as long as it is commensurate with a similar moving back of the deadlines of the public review period and other deadlines of the Charter.”

      Commissioner Meek SECONDED. 

      Public Comment.  David Pilpel said that any problems with the mailing of the VIP was because the Board withheld approval of the contract until the Department had to move so quickly with the AutoMARKS and the ballot design issues.  That is unlikely to reoccur until there are system changes again, and if there is a system change, it should not be done in close proximity to an election.

      The roll call vote was UNANIMOUS.

8.   Discussion and possible action to approve the minutes for the Commission meeting of June 21, 2006.  MOVED by Commissioner Mendelson, SECONDED by Commissioner Meek.  The Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS.


9.   Discussion and possible action to approve the minutes for the Special Meeting of June 26, 2006. MOVED by Commissioner Gleason, SECONDED by Commissioner Meek.  The Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS.

10.    Discussion and possible action to approve the minutes for the Commission meeting of July 5, 2006.  MOVED by Commissioner Townsend, SECONDED by President Matthews.  The Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS.

11.    Discussion regarding items for future agendas.  Commissioner Townsend said that he wanted the Commission to consider outreach in various Communities, especially those that have not had RCV, and getting a community based organization to host the meeting.

12.    Public Comment on any issue within the Elections Commission’s general jurisdiction.  David Pilpel said that the DoE’s publication manager position was saved (it was to have been cut to .75 ) on a three to two vote in the Board Committee and this was due to the VIP issue.  Chris Jordenek thanked Commissioner Townsend for coming to the Oakland City Council the previous evening and sharing San Francisco’s RCV experience.  


ADJOURMENT at 8:31 pm

July 19th, 2006 Elections Commission