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Meeting Information

Elections Commission

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City andCounty of San Francisco

Elections Commission

Approved: November 15, 2006

Minutes of the Meeting at City Hall Room 421

October 18, 2006



1.   CALL TO ORDER.  President Matthews called the meeting to order at 7:00 pm.


2.      ROLL CALL.  PRESENT: Commissioners Gerard Gleason, Richard P. Matthews, Jennifer Meek, Michael Mendelson and Deputy City Attorney Ann O’Leary, Deputy City Attorney Jon Givner, and Director of Elections John Arntz.  Commissioner Victor Hwang arrived at 7:05 pm.  EXCUSED: Commissioner Arnold Townsend.


  1. Public Comment.  David Pilpel complimented the Department for having sent out the VIPs and he said that he has already received his permanent absentee ballot.


4.4.            Director’s Report

Director Arntz reported that the Secretary of State’s office (SoS) conducted a hearing and produced a staff report on the equipment testing that occurred in Omaha in August and again in San Francisco last month.  The staff report recommends that the ES&S equipment be approved for November 2006, including the equipment for RCV (Ranked Choice Voting).  Certification will happen next Tuesday after public comment on the testing.  Unfortunately, the AutoMARK machines cannot be used for early voting until next Wednesday because they were part of the certification.


Regarding preparations for this November’s election: 125,000 permanent absentee ballots and 412,000 voter guides have been mailed.  Pollworkers have been recruited, and now that division is concentrating on lining up stand-by pollworkers.  RCV mailers have been mailed to the districts affected this election.  Absentee Voters have already returned 5,500 ballots and approximately 300 people have voted at the early voting counter.  


Negotiations regarding the Sequoia Voting Systems contract continue.


Commissioner Meek asked if the Director will post information about the certification of the electronic voting systems to the DoE website along with a link to the SoS website regarding the certification.  The Commissioner said that the website make it clear what equipment is being used in San Francisco, since many people who attend the Commission meetings incorrectly think the City uses Diebolt equipment.  Additionally, Commissioner Meek asked that the Election Plan be on the site.  Director Arntz responded that the Election Plan has been on the website for two weeks and can be found under the memorandum section of the site.


Commissioner Gleason asked the Director if there have been any requests to use accessible voting equipment, and if so, how is this being handled.  Director Arntz replied that he doesn’t have any numbers, but that the procedure is to let those requestors know the equipment cannot be used until it passes certification, and to advise those voters of the earliest date we expect the equipment to be available.  Director Arntz said that he had not received any complaints about the unavailability of this equipment.


5.      Commissioners’ Report.  Commissioner Hwang reported that he attended a Mandarin Bi-Lingual Pollworker training, and did not identify himself as a Commissioner.  He said it was an excellent training with many questions from those in attendance.  The Commissioner said that everyone but himself and one attendee was a repeat pollworker.  One complaint was that the lunch breaks on election day were not long enough for workers, especially the seniors, to go home and return to the site.  People said they were very unfamiliar with the AutoMARK, and that people, with apparent disabilities, who came to vote in June didn’t use it.  Commissioner Hwang said that this training lasted one and a half hours and that approximately one hour was devoted to AutoMARK training – plus hands-on-experience with the machine after class.  He said the pollworkers seemed to be excited with the AutoMARK and said they would encourage more voters to use it. 




(a)       Discussion and possible action regarding the U.S. Department of Justice memorandum dated September 12, 2006, pertaining to San Francisco ’s compliance with the Voting Rights Act. (Commissioner Matthews)

President Matthews asked the Director if he had any information regarding his response to the memo.  Director Arntz said that he was very dissatisfied in June about the funding the Department received.  He feared it was not enough money for staffing the work that had been done in previous years.  He met with Mr. John Tanner, head of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ at a meeting of registrars in San Diego, and expressed concerns that the Department would not be able to meet language assistance requirements in outreach and at the polling sites.  Mr. Tanner assured the Director that he and his staff would look into the situation.  The letter is a result of that meeting.  Director Arntz has shared the letter with people in decision making positions regarding the Department’s budget.  Supervisor Sandoval’s office has said he will help to see that the DoE has full time outreach positions, Supervisor Ma’s office has said they will help with the pollworker division positions.  The Director asked the Commission to help by speaking with Supervisors Sandoval and Ma’s office as well as others to show support for the Department’s need to fund these positions. 


Commissioner Gleason added that the Budget and Oversight of Public Elections Committee had discussed the letter in their last meeting.  He said he felt that input from all the Commission is important for this issue.  The Department works very hard to get bi-lingual pollworkers for its 550 precincts (he noted that at the precinct at which he worked last election there was only a 17% turnout), but this would be less of a hardship if the number of precincts was cut to 350.  With fewer polling sites, the Department could staff them with 100% bi-lingual workers.  With 125,000 absentee ballot requests, there is less need for precincts and these precincts only have a 20% turn out.  Commission Gleason said these issues need to be discussed. 


Commissioner Meek MOVED to make a recommendation to the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors to address this issue and to make known the Commission’s support for the Director’s letter in response to the DOJ memo.  Commissioner Hwang SECONDED. 


Public Comment.  David Pilpel said that the memo to Noelle Simmons clearly shows that the DoE needs permanent staff and that he is in favor of sending the support memo.


Commissioner Hwang said that he has received a communication from the Chinese for Affirmative Action group, which is referenced in the letter, in which Christina Wong mentions a series of conference calls with the DOJ.  They also indicated that they feel there are 108 precincts which are problematic. 


Commissioner Gleason said that he would support asking the Board to give funds to keep the DOJ satisfied with the requirements under which the Department will operate, but he said it does not answer the larger issue of how to run the polling locations better. 


MOTION: That the Commission will send a letter to the Board of Supervisors and to the Mayor’s Budget Office regarding increasing funding to an appropriate level for bi-lingual pollworkers.  A Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS.


(b)               Discussion and Possible Action on Attendance Policy for the Commission. (Commission Secretary Rodriques)  Elections Commission Secretary Rodriques reported that she received communication from the Mayor’s office dated September 18, 2006 asking Department Directors and Commission Secretaries to incorporate specific baseline standards for commissioner attendance in their policies and procedures.  The memo asks that each member attend each regular and special meeting of their Commission and that the Secretary maintain a record of attendance.  Further, that non-notified absences and any instance of three consecutive absences be communicated to the member’s appointing authority.   Finally, that at the end of each fiscal year, the Secretary submit a written report to each appointing authority of membership attendance. 


Deputy City Attorney O’Leary called the Commission’s attention to the draft Attendance Policy she provided for this meeting, which further explains the origination of the policy and it’s purpose and requirements.


Commissioner Mendelson asked how reporting to the appointing authority would work and would poor attendance constitute cause for removal, because he said, technically a Commissioner is “insulated from your appointing authority.”


Deputy City Attorney O’Leary replied that the insulation is in terms of influence regarding matters before the Commission.  But the appointing authority has the right to reappoint a Commissioner or not and attendance can be taken into consideration.


Commissioner Hwang said that it was his understanding that the interpretation is for appointees of the Mayor only.


Deputy City Attorney O’Leary responded that there are two provisions.  One is the Mayor’s letter in September and the other is the Board of Supervisors resolution in August which includes the other appointees.  Therefore, her interpretation is that each appointing authority will get a report of their appointee’s attendance.  


Commissioner Meek said that she would like to see this requirement included in the Elections Commission By Laws.  President Matthews said that this would be done, but proper notice would need to be made before that discussion could occur. 

Deputy City Attorney O’Leary reminded the Commission that the request is to pass a policy and that this is requested to be submitted to the Board by December 1, 2006, and that an amendment to the By Laws can happen later.


MOTION:  It shall be the Elections Commission Policy that a members’ absence shall constitute a notified absence where the member, in advance of the meeting, informs the Secretary of the Commission or other person whom the Commission has designated, that the member will be absent.  An absence due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness or emergency shall also quality as a notified absence where the member reports such absence to the Secretary as soon as reasonably possible.  The Secretary shall record as non-notified all absences involving neither advance notice or unforeseen circumstances.  The policy would also include that information listed under “Purpose”, “Attendance Requirements”, “Report to the Appointing Authority” and “Annual Attendance Report” in the Deputy City Attorney’s draft. 


Commissioner Mendelson MOVED and Commissioner Gleason SECONDED this item. 


Public Comment.  David Pilpel said that he was not sure if “all special meetings” should be handled in the same manner as a regular meeting because some members might not be able to attend and shouldn’t be held to the same standard.  In addition, he said, the policy does not address Committee meetings, and probably should, because attendance is important at those meetings.  Mr. Pilpel suggested striking the words “fiscal year” for three consecutive years because missing three meetings in a row can occur between two years. 


President Matthews and Deputy City Attorney O’Leary gave a few small edits that were also noted by the Secretary. 


Deputy City Attorney O’Leary asked Commissioners to provide her with any corrections/changes to the draft within the next week and she will incorporate them into a final draft for Commission consideration at the next meeting.


This item was TABLED to the CALL of the CHAIR.



(c)               Update on requirement for the expenditure of HAVA funds. 

(Deputy City Attorney Ann O'Leary)


         The Deputy City Attorney recalled that at the Commission’s previous meeting, a member of the public, Roger Donaldson, asked about the Commission’s interpretation of Section 301 regarding whether Help America Vote (HAVA) funds needed to be expended by the end of this calendar year.  The Commission requested that the City Attorney’s Office check into this.  Ms. O’Leary reported that she contacted the SoS who was in contact with the Federal Elections Assistance Commission.  The SoS has long interpreted that the Counties must expend their funds by the end of 2006.  There has been disagreement on the Federal level, including by congressional staffers who drafted this section, regarding use of the funds by the end of the year or whether it is only for funds provided after January 1, 2007.  The Federal Elections Assistance Commission is planning on placing information on its website, but has made it available to our Commission in advance.  They plan to interpret Section 301(a)(3)(C) of HAVA to be that the funds provided by the federal government after January 1, 2007 can only be spent for fully assessable voting systems.  Therefore the $5.4M for which San Francisco is already eligible (because the state has allocated it) can be spent after January 1, 2007 on a full range of voting systems so long as the Department and the City are in compliance of the other provisions of HAVA (which we are).  


Ms. O’Leary added that this provision does not change the advice she gave last week regarding the RFP process.  The DoE is still under obligation to continue negotiation under that process and it has to be continuous and timely.  She reminded the Commission that the HAVA funds are tied to the Department’s RFP.


Public Comment.  David Pilpel said that with the intent to have equipment ready for November 2007, it needs to be on hand by late spring-early summer, and that something must be at the Board in a month or two so the contract can be signed in time.  Jim Soper said that his contacts in Los Angeles have told him that the County has “banked $50M” in HAVA funds. He recommends that the City slow down on its purchases because more information is coming forward about “these machines”


                        Steven Hill thanked Roger Donaldson for bring the matter of spending deadlines for the HAVA funds to the Commission’s attention.  Jennifer Hammond also thanked Mr. Donaldson and the Commission for getting more information on the spending deadlines.  She also said that the Department should wait and not purchase “an under par system with another under par system”.    Roger Donaldson said that he was pleased to see that the Commission and Department has more flexibility regarding the spending of the HAVA funds, and suggested that the City rethink its spending for equipment.  Brent Turner said that he hoped the Commission was in touch with the FBI and the DOJ regarding what he referred to as “HAVA Gate”, and that the Director and Deputy City Attorney not rush into a contract.

Derek Turner said that he was “struck” by the new information about spending deadlines and that this is now a “whole new ball game”.  He said that the opportunity to use the money for research and development was something he hoped the Commission would consider.  Jessica Cole asked Deputy City Attorney O’Leary to clarify what she meant when she said the Department was obligated to go forward with the RFP process.


Deputy City Attorney O’Leary said that the requirement is when there is a current RFP process that is ongoing.  The top bidder in that process is Sequoia.  The Director is the contracting officer for the City under this contract.  He is under duty to continue negotiations or to terminate them.  The Director always has the ability to terminate the RFP process and begin a new RFP process.  The process often takes a year or more.  Therefore, it is unlikely that an RFP process can begin and be completed by November 2007.   The Deputy City Attorney stated that her only legal advice is that under the current RFP process, in order for it to stay “alive”, the Director must continue to negotiate or must decide to end negotiations and terminate the process.






(a)       Discussion and possible action to approve the Elections Commission minutes for the meeting of October 4, 2006.  The Commission Secretary explained that the recording device failed at that meeting and she requested that persons making public comments provide to her 150 words or less regarding what they would like to see recorded as their input at that meeting.  The Secretary received comments from Roger Donaldson and Chris Jerdonek only.  Additionally, the Secretary asked for similar input from the presenters from ES&S and Sequoia.  To date, she has not received the comments from ES&S. 


            David Pilpel offered a clarification of his public comment at the October 4, 2006 meeting.  The Secretary agreed to make that addition to the minutes.


            Approval of the minutes is CARRIED OVER to the next Commission meeting.


(b)       Discussion and possible action concerning oversight of Election Day operations. 


            -Commissioner Gleason will be a precinct inspector.

            -Commissioner Hwang plans to visit precinct and observe bi-lingual activities.  He will consult with the Director for possible site suggestions.

            -Commissioner Meek wants to prepare a report of how the election ran and will go to the polls and interview workers and voters regarding their experience.

            -President Matthews will visit a wide selection of precincts and observe.  He will focus on those mentioned in the last complaint log for problems other than user errors.

            -Commissioner Mendelson will continue working on his video project – four years of elections in San Francisco. 


(c)        Discussion and possible action to hold a public hearing at the Elections Commission Meeting of November 1, 2006 on the future of voting systems to be used in San Francisco.  Commissioner Meek presented the draft agenda for the proposed hearing.  Discussion by Commissioners covered the potential problem of having this hearing so close to the election, whether the outcome of the hearing would be a presentation of the information obtained at the hearing and a recommendation from the Commission, as a result, to the Board of Supervisors and or to the Mayor’s Budget Office.


            It was mentioned that the Commission has already, over the past months, had much public input at its meetings regarding the future of voting systems to be used in San Francisco.


Deputy City Attorney O’Leary reminded the Commission that the current contract (with ES&S) will end, and the City needs to begin a new contract.


Director Arntz added that he did not mention in his report earlier at this meeting, that one of the conditions of certification that the SoS is imposing on the current system is that this is the last time they will review the Eagle for Ranked Choice Voting.  This is the last election, as far as the SoS is concerned, that San Francisco will use the Eagle to run an RCV election.


Public Comment.  David Pilpel said that the substance of the proposed hearing occurred at the last Commission meeting and to hold another hearing is a bad idea.

Jim Soper said the hearing was a good idea and needs some professors in computer science to attend.  Brent Turner said that discussion began eight months ago.  Roger Donaldson said timing is not good and the hearing should happen after the election and should include speakers who can cover best practices and what’s coming onto the market.  Jennifer Hammond asked if there was an option to discontinue the RFP and not starting a new one if the City is already in compliance.


Deputy City Attorney O’Leary answered Ms. Hammond question.  She said that the current contract expires next year.  Therefore the City has to have a contract to have services for its elections.  The answer is “yes” the City would have to start a new RFP process if it ends the current one, it cannot continually amend the current contract because it has been amended numerous times and the contract attorneys in the City Attorney’s office believe that a new process needs to be started, that is to continue this one or start a new one.

Brent Turner said that he disagreed and that any number of addendums may be made to a contract.


President Matthews reminded the Commission that the public hearing was originally suggested by the Director of Elections.  He asked Mr. Arntz if having the hearing in December would be helpful to him.  The Director said that at this point, the hearing would be more for the Commission than for the Department because, to him, it is clear that the RFP continues or does not.  He said he cannot wait, and that he has heard a lot of opinions from the public about the process from previous meetings.  He said he is following the process that is in place.


Director Arntz said the reality is that the Department has to pick a product that exists, is capable of doing the job and meets the certification requirements of the state and federal governments.  He said he has been listening to the concerns voiced by the public Commission meetings, and he understands where those concerns are concentrated.  The Department of Elections can consider those concerns and do a very good job of showing people that the system is going to work, it’s going to capture the vote, the vote will be tabulated correctly, and that the machines will be secure.  One point important point is that San Francisco will remain a paper ballot county.  We are not going to all touch screens or anything else, we have a hybrid system. 


ACTION:  This item was continued to the CALL OF THE CHAIR.


8.                  Discussion regarding items for future agendas.  Commissioner Mendelson suggested that the annual report be submitted to the Commission by the President by November 15, 2006 and asked the President if this was an obtainable goal.  President Matthews replied that it was.


Public Comment.  Jim Soper invited attendees to visit his website “”, particularly the security and testing pages.  Roger Donaldson said that he had experienced failure of four out of five of the AutoMARKs when he worked as a FED in the last election.  He explained that he tried the cards and they did not read.  Mr. Donaldson suggested that those machines be tested in every precinct.  Jennifer Hammond said that she was concerned about the expense involved in maintaining and servicing the current voting equipment. 


9.      Announcements.  Commissioner Mendelson asked that the recent passing of Freddie Fender, a musician, be noted in these minutes.







ADJOURNMENT at 8:41 pm