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Meeting Information

Elections Commission

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City and County of San Francisco

Elections Commission

Approved: April 19, 2006

Minutes of the Meeting at City Hall Room 408

March 15, 2006


1.   CALL TO ORDER.  President Matthews called the meeting to order at 7:03 pm.


2.   ROLL CALL.  PRESENT: Commissioners Gerard Gleason, Richard P. Matthews, Sheila Chung, Arnold Townsend, Jennifer Meek and Michael Mendelson.  ABSENT: Eric Safire (Note: Mr. Safire resigned his position with the Commission effective March 14, 2006).




  Report of Controller’s Audit – The personnel review audit is not completed.


  Update of the voting equipment contract for June 2006 election – Sequoia decided that because a contract had not been executed, the company cannot commit substantial resources to San Francisco for implementation of their system.  For this reason, negotiations for a contract for the June election with the company have ended.  ES&S (Elections Systems and Software) has agreed to provide the services and equipment for the June election.  Our contract with them will be an extension of the existing contract that expires in April 2006.. 


  Plans for voting equipment for November 2006 election – ES&S has agreed to contract with the DoE through the November election.  However, there is still an opportunity for Sequoia to provide a voting system that could be used in the 2007 election.  For this to occur, the General Fund would need to provide up to $3.5 M for the purchase before Sequoia can be an option.  The ES&S ranked choice voting system had conditional certification twice in the past, and ES&S will need to receive that certification again from the Secretary of State before it can use the system for RCV in November 2006.


  Election Plan for Consolidated Primary Election for June 2006 – The Eagle and AutoMARK voting systems that will be used in June are not certified for use in tandem.  Therefore, they will be treated as two individual certified systems at each polling site.  Their ballots will be different, and the AutoMARK ballots will not be tabulated at the polling site.  They will be counted at City Hall with a special tabulator.


Updates to the previous Election Plan are expected to be completed within the next two weeks.


Commissioner Chung said she was concerned that $3.5 M was being spent (to use the ES&S system) after all the advocacy the Commission has done with the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s office for additional funds to run the Department and the upcoming elections and now the Department would need additional funds to go forward with Sequoia.  She said this puts the Department and the Commission in a tough situation.


Director Arntz said that this will be a decision that the City will have to make if it wants the option of moving to Sequoia in the future, and if that is the case, more funds will need to be allocated from the General Fund.


Commissioner Gleason asked if the $3.5M was for service and equipment that includes the Eagle and the AutoMARK or was it for the AutoMARK alone. 


Director Arntz replied that this amount was what ES&S said is needed to incorporate the AutoMARK into the Department’s existing system/equipment and he was not sure how much of this money will be used to cover service.  He couldn’t give a more precise answer at this time.


President Matthews read from a letter from Sequoia dated March 14, 2006, entitled “Update Number 4”, in which there was the statement “Sequoia cannot continue to work in good faith and expend substantial dollars and time without having a signed contract with the City of San Francisco” and in the next paragraph, “this situation with San Francisco is unique to this jurisdiction”.  The letter was over the signature of Jack Blaine, President of Sequoia.  Mr. Matthews asked the Director if Mr. Blaine’s “take” was on target, and if so, what makes San Francisco unique. 


Director Arntz replied that the “uniqueness” may be the long time it takes to get a contract through San Francisco’s administrative process.   President Matthews asked if it was the contract or the payment piece that was Mr. Blaine’s concern.  Director Arntz replied that they are not independent of one another.


  Divisions’ Preparations Report -   Administration has hired an accountant who is familiarizing himself with the DoE; Ballot Distribution is readying sites for ballot deliveries, determining how the AutoMARK will effect their plans, finalizing negotiations with the post office regarding mailing absentees (126,000 permanent absentee voters to date), and preparing for the South of Market Project Committee Election and the Health Service System election that are scheduled to be held in May; Campaign Services completed candidate filings, and held a brown bag luncheon regarding ballot argument designations today; MIS is constantly upgrading the Department's database, especially as it relates to HAVA (Help America Vote Act); Outreach has 80 events scheduled, including 59 presentations (some to be held on site at Nationalization Ceremonies), has begun contacting community organizations, and has been working with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on their ex-offenders’ program; Poll Working Training is in hiring mode; Precinct Services is re-contacting previous site owners and has made accessibility priorities paramount (last March there were 209 inaccessible sites, this March there are 89 inaccessible sites); Voter Services has contacted all “declined to state” voters to ask if they want to vote a “party card” for the June Primary Election.  Currently there are 417,000 registered voters.


4.     Commissioners’ ReportsCommissioner Gleason reported that he was at a meeting with Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi regarding voting systems along with Director John Arntz and the City Attorney.  He said there will be resolutions presented to the Rules Committee tomorrow and it was stressed that the DoE had important deadlines to meet.  Additionally, Commissioner Gleason attended a meeting with Rob Richie, the Executive Director of Fair Vote and Director Arntz regarding rank choice voting in San Francisco.  Commissioner Townsend reported that he has had several conversations with Supervisor Mirkarimi to express his personal concerns about the Sequoia contract and public input regarding the contract.  The Commissioner said that comments from the public are very important to the work the City does; however, care must be taken that we do not make the work of the DoE and its Director more difficult.  President Matthews reported that he and Commissioners Safire, Townsend and Meek attended a meeting with the California Secretary of State at the DoE last week.  President Matthews thanked the Director for including the Commission in this visit.

5.      Discussion and possible action concerning what the Commission can do to ensure that the Department’s budget is adequate.  President Matthews posed this question to the Director who responded that, at this time, he could not propose any action for the Commission.


6.    New Business


(a)   Discussion and possible action to approve the minutes for the      Commission meeting of February 15, 2006.  Commissioner Chung MOVED and Commissioner Meek SECONDED approval of the minutes.  The roll call vote was UNANIMOUS for approval of the minutes.


      (b)    Discussion and possible action to provide Commissioners with badges permitting unlimited access to all elections operations. Commissioner Gleason MOVED and Commissioner Meek SECONDED this item. 


Public Comment.  David Pilpel said that since this is a request to the Director by the Commission, the Director can respond back to the Commission with a letter with whatever clarification, restriction or understanding are necessary to not interfere with the fair conduct of the election and still allow the Commission to observe, in a reasonable manner, without undue delay.  Roger Donaldson said that the Commission should consider access by the observers from the political parties that should be broader and is part of the oversight function.  Steven Hill said that oversight includes election day and everywhere the election is being conducted, which means inside the computer room as well, and that voters would expect that the Commission they created would have this oversight. 


After discussion, the MOTION read: The request of the Commission is that the Department provide members with badges permitting unlimited access to all elections operations, subject to escorting requirements as dictated by the Director, and if an escort is required, it will be provided as promptly as possible under the circumstances.


This item PASSED with a roll call vote that was UNANIMOUS.


(c)         Discussion and possible action to resume two meetings per month of the full Elections Commission.  Commissioner Gleason MOVED and Commissioner Chung SECONDED the resumption of two meetings of the full Commission per month. 


Commissioner Townsend said he was concerned that two meetings a month would put too much strain on the Director and the Department as we draw closer to the June and November elections. 


Commissioner Gleason reminded the members that at the February meeting there were major and significant issues that arose and those issues are now in the media and before the Board of Supervisors, but the Commission did not have a meeting until tonight’s meeting.  He said that this is the season (with an election approaching) when the Commission should be most active.


Public Comment.  David Pilpel said it is reasonable and appropriate to have only one regular meeting and a committee meeting per month, and to hold special meetings when warranted.  Steven Hill suggested that the Commission meet more often because there is much it is not doing which it would be able to do with more meetings, for example, making plans for advocating for money for more outreach.  Mr. Hill said he could provide “lots of ideas” of topics about which the Commission could meet. 


Commissioner Mendelson said that the Budget and Policy Committee should be where issues should be vetted.  He said he is against two meeting per month of the full Commission.


Commissioner Chung said that she wonders why there is a Budget and Policy Committee because the role of the full Commission is to approve the budget and deal with policy issues.  She said that, although she sits on that committee and sees the benefit of having more open, less restrictive dialogue, the full Commission needs to get more involved in these “pieces” of its responsibility and not just “kick it back" to a small Committee.  Commissioner Chung said that she would like to see the Commission reassess its role and the role of a separate Budget and Policy Committee.  She added that she was concerned that the Commission was placing a lot of power in the hands of the three members of the Budget and Policy Committee.


Commissioner Townsend gave a brief history of the reason the Budget and Policy Committee was first formed.  He said that there were issues at the beginning of the Commission that the public was very concerned about and that the Committee allowed the public to have more time to voice their concerns about issues that were “very dear to them”.  Also, the Committee allows the public to have dialogue with the Commissioners and get responses from them, which cannot be done as easily in the full Commission forum.


Roll Call Vote was: Matthews – yes; Chung – yes; Gleason – yes; Meek – yes; Mendelson – no; Townsend – yes.


This item passed with one “No” vote.


(d)         Discussion and possible action to refer budgetary classification of Commission Secretary position matter to Budget and Policy Committee.  Motion: To refer to the Budget and Policy Committee the question posed by the Director of Elections of whether to continue classifying the Commission Secretary position as full-time; to hold hearings and take testimony, if necessary, from the Director of Elections, from the Controller or his designee, and from any other party that might be able to provide useful information; and that the Budget and Policy Committee will provide a recommendation at the April 19, 2006 full Commission meeting.  (Commissioner Gleason) 


               President Matthews asked the Director if this was a classification or full-time employee status question.  Director Arntz replied that the question is whether the Commission wants the position to be a full-time equivalent (FTE) position, and asked that the Commission make this decision.  Mr. Artnz stated that the Mayor’s budget office made it a half-time position and the Department paid the remainder of the salary to make it full-time.  The Director said that he wants a statement from the Commission stating that it needs a full time secretary.


               Commissioner Mendelson asked if the Commission could, at this meeting, state for the record that it needs a full-time secretary.


               Commissioner Townsend said that he had already responded to the Director with his desire that the secretary remain full-time for the seven Commissioners.


               Director Arntz said that a letter from the Commission stating that a full-time Commission secretary is warranted would be helpful so he could send the letter to the Mayor’s Budget Office.


               Commissioner Townsend said that an explanation of why the position needs to be full-time and fully-funded should also go to the Mayor’s budget office along with the letter.  The Commissioner said that he wants the Commission to go on record as needing a full-time secretary.


               President Matthews agreed that the explanation have “heft” to it and that this is why he thinks the subject should be sent to the Budget and Policy Committee.


               Public Comment.  David Pilpel said that he thinks the evidence is clear that the position needs to be full-time, and that the situation should not be further examined.           Jim Soper said that he would be available to go before the Board of Supervisors to explain all the responsibilities of the DoE and its Commission to justify the budget requests, and that the Board should support the Department in its needs.


               Director Arntz asked if the Committee meeting would be the additional second meeting per month that was discussed earlier.  President Matthews stated that there will be two Commission meetings per month in addition to one Committee meeting.


                     Commissioner Townsend suggested that the Commission dispose with this matter at tonight’s meeting because the voters created the Commission, and it would be impossible to run a Charter-created Commission without at least one full-time staff person devoted to its seven Commissioners.  He said that holding a hearing on this subject would send a signal that the Commission takes the idea of a half-time secretary seriously enough to hold an evidentiary hearing.


                     Roll Call Vote was: Matthews – yes; Chung – yes; Gleason – yes; Meek – yes; Mendelson – no; Townsend – no.   


This item passed with two “no” votes.


      (e)     Discussion and possible action to make a presentation to the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors to explain what happens in the Department and how voters are affected by budget cutbacks. 


This item has been HELDOVER  to the next meeting at the request of Commissioner Townsend.


(f)         Introduction of proposed amendments to the Elections Commission's Bylaws, including (a) clarifying the Commission's powers and duties in accordance with the San Francisco Charter, (b) reforming the jurisdiction and function of the standing committee, (c) removing President's status as ex officio member of all committees, (d) changing the dates of election of Commission officers, (e) reforming "Annals" section to conform with Charter requirements for annual reports and other changes, and (f) editing grammar, punctuation, and diction.  Discussion and action on these proposed amendments will be scheduled for the April 19, 2006 Elections Commission meeting.


   President Matthews reported that subsection (e) of the above proposal is no longer valid as there will be no amendments to that section.


   Commissioner Mendelson advised that he would not be available to attend the next Elections Commission meeting because he will be observing Passover.


   President Matthews passed out a draft of the proposed changes to the Bylaws and announced that this item will be on the agenda at the next Commission meeting.


7.         Old Business


  Update on the Voting Systems Forum for March 29, 2006. (Commissioner Gleason)


Commissioner Gleason handed out flyers for the Forum, and announced that the panel of experts will include: Susan Lapsley, of the Office of Voting Systems Technology Assessment for the California Secretary of State; Warren Slocum, Assessor, County-Clerk, Recorder for San Mateo County; and Alan Dechart, President & CEO for Open Voting Consortium.  Commissioner Gleason reported that invitations have been sent to the members of the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s Office. 


8.      Discussion regarding items for future agendas


         Commissioner Townsend asked that the Commission hold community meetings in the districts of San Francisco which will be experiencing RCV for the first time this November, as we did last year for the first districts to vote for their members of the Board of Supervisors on a RCV ballot.



9.    Public comment on any issue within the Elections Commission’s general jurisdiction.

                     Sherry Healy, from the California Election Protection Network, said that she agreed that AutoMARK was the best equipment to use for persons with disabilities but that she was not a supporter of ES&S.  She said there are a couple of devices that would be cheaper to use and are under review by the Secretary of State.  David Healey said that there is no reliable systems to comply with the HAVA requirements.  Ferris Gluck, of Equalivote, demonstrated a “low tech, low cost, non-computerized alternative assistive device” that allows voters who are blind, and/or have dexterity problems to vote at the polling place on the same paper ballot as other voters.  Carl Carter said that he knew many people who have been working on the subject for the Forum and that he would like them to be able to make a presentation.  Jim Soper said that he has notified the Board of Supervisors of Alameda County and asked that the Commission email them more information about the Forum that will be held on March 29, 2006.  David Pilpel said that he hoped that the City would not need to purchase the AutoMARK because it is the only system that will be ready for the June Election.  His objection is that this would lock the City into that system.  He said that renting or leasing would be more desirable.  Roger Donaldson said that he was also concerned with the expense of the AutoMARK system.  Jennifer Hammond said that she is pleased that the City is not going with Sequoia.  Steven Hill said that San Francisco might want to come up with its own voting equipment.