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Meeting Information

Budget and Policy Committee

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 


(Approved:  February 7, 2006)

City and County of San Francisco


                                            BUDGET AND POLICY COMMITTEE    

Minutes of the Meeting Held

Thursday, August 4, 2005


1.         Call to Order and Roll Call.  Chairperson Gerard Gleason called the meeting to order at 5:30 pm.   PRESENT: Vice Chair Sheila Chung and Commissioner Richard P. Matthews and Chairperson Gerard Gleason.


  1. Commissioner Matthews MOVED and Commissioner Chung SECONDED approval of the minutes.  The motion CARRIED.


3.         Discussion and possible action to develop a plan to recommend to the Commission that it support voter eligibility notification for ex-offenders. 

Chairperson Gleason explained that there is one group of citizens from whom the right to vote is denied, persons within the jail system.  He said he wanted to discuss the rights of persons in the jails and those who are released.  Vice Chair Chung gave a review of Commissioner Safire’s report at the full Commission regarding his investigation and discussion with the Public Defender.  At that time, Commissioner Safire stated that the Public Defender was open to supporting efforts to educate ex-offenders regarding their voting rights.  Commissioner Gleason said that some effort should be made to educate the public as well as ex-offenders about this issue, the status of the DoE regarding this topic and what other agencies should be involved.  Commissioner Gleason said that there is a state code, through the Secretary of State, that requires High School graduates to be given a voter registration form upon graduation.  This is not always done, he reported. 


Eileen Hirst, Chief of Staff to the S. F. Sheriff addressed the Committee.  She reported that Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations requires that County Jails provide voter information and assist prisoners in registering to vote and having access to absentee ballots.  Currently, Prisoner Legal Services, a division on the Sheriff’s Department, includes voter information during their contact with the prison population.  The Sheriffs’ Department has flyers posted throughout the jails that inform inmates about voting procedures.


Ms. Hirst said the jails work closely with DoE’s Voter Services Division manager Deborah Brown, regarding the voter applications, absentee ballots and getting them returned to the DoE in time before the polls close. 


Ms. Hirst stated that it is easier to reach persons in custody than those who are released and do not return to the jails.  She gave the Committee a list of five organizations who have direct contact with ex-offenders: Senior Ex-Offender Network, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Northern California Service League, Friends Outside and California Prison Focus.  Ms. Hirst said that all but Friends Outside have a San Francisco office.


Ms. Hirst suggested that the Commission contact residential treatment programs, social service programs like “Ariba Juntos” who do job finding and transitional services. 


The Sheriff’s Department has a charter high school in the jails, in which civics classes are very popular.  She said post-release high school classes are also available and voting information is available. 


Commissioner Chung asked if prisoner legal services conducts exit interviews with prisoners who are leaving, or give the released prisoners packets of information in which voting materials could be provided.  Ms. Hirst answered that they do not.  She said there are two entities that have contact with prisoners when they leave: the Department of Public Health, and the charter school.  There are 42,000 bookings annually, and 2000 prisoners in the system on any given day.  Voter information is readily available to these prisoners “if they are paying any attention at all.”  A large portion of the population exits to state prisons. 


Commissioner Chung asked Ms. Hirst where, in the system, should the Commission devote its attention to get the best results.  Ms. Hirst suggested the focus should be on ex-offenders who are released from state prisons and have not come back to jail and are availing themselves of services by one of the organizations listed or a job finding service.  It is a real challenge, finding these ex-prisoners.  She said that it’s amazing how many people make the assumption that because they have been to prison, they are no longer eligible to vote.  Ms. Hirst said that getting cooperation from the State Parole Office would be helpful.


Commissioner Gleason asked Ms. Hirst to clarify the terms “parole” and “probation”.  Ms. Hirst explained that probation, in broad terms, is a county function and parole is a state function – when a person is convicted of a felony, that person receives a certain amount of years in prison followed by a number of years on parole which is typically three years.  When a felony commitment is completed, the right to vote is restored along with other civil rights.  If the prisoner is convicted of a misdemeanor, he maintains his voting right.  


Commissioner Matthews suggested that the Commission might contact the Secretary of State’s Office and suggest that they contact the newly restructured state correctional system regarding educating ex-felons of their franchise rights.


Deputy City Attorney Julia Moll asked what percentage of the jail population is there pre-trial or pre-sentencing?  Ms. Hirst answered that the number is close to 70 to 80%, but many are on parole for a previous offense. 


Commissioner Chung suggested that law students might want to get involved in educating prisoners about voting rights.


Director John Arntz reported that Prisoner Legal Services is very active in contacting inmates about voting and has a list of all prisoners who are eligible to vote.  The DoE has worked with this group in the past to get absentee ballots to inmates.  The DoE is now looking to set up a separate program for inmates which will be similar to the one used for hospital patients.  Ballots will be delivered to the facilities and returned in time for tallying.  This will be a new system in the jails and will be in place for the upcoming election.    The V.I.P. will have information regarding ex-offender rights, and the same will be true of the DoE’s website.  The Director said that the Department has contacted the state probation department, the Department of Correction, and the parole community division to allow the DoE to provide information to people leaving the prison system to be aware of their rights.  A brochure is being developed to send to Prisoner Legal Services and the State regarding voting rights and the DoE’s Outreach Division is formulating ways to reach that population. 


Commissioner Gleason asked what would happen if a prisoner or ex-offender called the DoE and asked if he or she could vote, where does the Department refer the caller?  Director Arntz said that there is a basic “cheat sheet” that staff refers to when answering questions from the public.  However, with so many levels of custody, he doesn’t feel his staff will ever be able to answer that question with great detail.  Mr. Arntz said that what staff usually reply is “as long as you are not convicted of a felony or your parole has ended, you are eligible to vote.”  Mr. Arntz said that he could contact the Public Defender’s Office to determine a resource for determining a voter’s eligibility, because that office has offered to assist the DoE.


Public Comment – David Pilpel said that he was “troubled” that the DoE would refer someone to another agency for information about voting rights.



  1.   Commissioner Matthews said that he realizes this procedure could not be implemented for several years but wanted to research it.  He reported that the state of Oregon has been using all-postal-return ballots for years and voters’ satisfaction has been high.  Last year, Oregon had an over 85% voter turnout, fraud issues were resolved, and it’s the only state where100% of all ballots are signature-checked. 


Commissioner Matthews said that he wants to investigate the drawbacks to such a system, what was Oregon’s experiences, what were their problems, how did they do it?


Commissioner Chung asked what problems had Commissioner Matthews heard about.  Commissioner Matthews said that ballot security, sight-impaired voters’ concerns, voter’s wanting to change their vote or who spoil their ballot, and possible drop-off sites for voters who failed to mail their ballots in time were some that he recalled.


Commissioner Gleason asked if the Secretary of State has done an investigation of this topic.  Director Arntz said that he did not know but would check to see if the committee that was considering the topic produced a report.


Commissioner Matthews stated that there was a plan to have five or six California counties pilot all-postal-return ballots, but the pilot plan never went forward.  He asked the Director if, when time permitted, he and his staff could do a report of cost and savings that would be realized by the City if an all-postal-return ballot was a reality.


5.         Public comment on items appearing or not appearing on the agenda that are within the jurisdiction of the Budget and Policy Committee.

David Pilpel recalled attending a conference ten years ago in which the Secretary of State of Oregon announced that the state was about to proceed with its all-postal-return ballot plan.  Mr. Pilpel suggested ten “super sites” where voters could take spoiled ballots and/or ask questions.


6.         ANNOUNCEMENTS – Richard Matthews announced that the formal composition of the Budget and Policy Committee is as follows:  Commissioner Gerard Gleason is Chair, Commissioner Sheila Chung is Vice Chair, and Commissioner Richard Matthews is the third member.



ADJOURNMENT at 6:30 pm