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Meeting Information

Elections Commission

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 

City and County of San Francisco

Elections Commission

Approved: August 19, 2009

Minutes of the Meeting at City Hall Room 408

June 17, 2009




  1. CALL TO ORDER.  President Joseph Phair called the meeting to order at 6:10 pm.


    2.   ROLL CALL.  PRESENT.  Commissioners Rosabella Safont, Richard P. Matthews, Arnold Townsend, Winnie Yu, Gerard Gleason  (arrived 6:16 pm), Joseph Phair, Deputy City Attorney Jon Givner, and Director of Elections John Arntz.


  3.   Announcements.  President Phair congratulated Commissioner Winnie Yu regarding her appearance recently on KGO television in which she instructed viewers about switching their television receivers to DTV (Digital Television) reception and the upcoming deadline to do so.


         Commissioner Townsend asked if there had been any word regarding the appointment that the Board of Education is due to make to the Elections Commission.  President Phair said that the official letter of resignation from Commissioner Malcolm Yeung stated that his position as public policy manager at the Chinatown Community Development Center would require him to take positions on matters that may be appear on the ballot and this was the reason for his resignation from the Elections Commission.  The letter was dated April 15, 2009.  President Phair said that he would remind the Board of Education of the vacancy.


  4.   Discussion and possible action to approve the minutes of the April 15, 2009 Elections Commission Meeting.  Commissioner Matthews MOVED and Commissioner Safont SECONDED this item.


         The Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS to approve the minutes with a minor grammatical correction from the President.




5.   Commissioners’ Reports


         5(c)  Long-range planning for Commission activities and areas of study.  President Phair noted that he has been in contact with Commissioners who have agreed to be responsible for assignments made at the April 15, 2009 meeting and there is nothing to report yet. 


         Commissioner Matthews reminded the Commission that there had been a discussion at the end of 2008 or early in 2009 regarding functions formerly assigned to the DoE (Department of Elections) but are now contracted outside the Department, or privatization of these functions, such as vote-by-mail ballots.  The Commissioner asked that these functions be reviewed.  President Phair agreed and said that the item was not on the list from the previous Commission meeting.  Commissioner Matthews clarified the item as: A study to allow the Commission to understand the functions related to the conduct of elections that are contracted out to private companies rather than continuing to be done by the Department, and an understanding of the concerns, cost savings and efficiency obtained by these contracts.  This item is to be added to the areas of study from the last meeting.  Commissioner Matthews offered the following:


         MOTION:   That privatization of election functions be added to the Elections Commission’s areas of study and that the President be authorized to designate a Commissioner to further that study.


         Commission Safont SECONDED the MOTION. 


         The Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS.


         5(d)  Report of the Budget and Oversight of Public Elections

         Committee (BOPEC) meeting of June 3, 2009.  Commissioner Matthews reported that the Committee heard from Director Arntz that the canvassing proceeded well and that the May election had been certified on the date of the Committee meeting.  BOPEC Chairperson Matthews asked the Commission Secretary to forward the draft of the Committee meeting minutes to all members of the Commission.


  6.   Director’s Report


         6(a)  Report of the May 19,2009 Statewide Special Election.  Director Arntz reported that the election ran well, there was a 28% voter turn out and there were no unusual issues.  He added that over 65% of the ballots were by mail.


         President Phair asked if the Director had received any comments regarding the reduced number of polling sites.  Director Arntz replied that he had not.  President Phair asked if the number of vote-by-mail ballots was higher than usual.  Director Arntz replied that it was not but there has been a small, incremental rise over the years in San Francisco.  President Phair asked if there was an increase in provisional voting.  Director Arntz said that the number was not more than usual, and that 94% of the provisional ballots were accepted.


         6(b)  Discussion and possible action regarding the Department of Elections annual budget. 

         Director Arntz reported that today there was a hearing regarding the Department’s budget and that the Board wanted an additional reduction of $126,000.  The Director explained that this would be met by removal of one unfilled position and cost savings regarding professional services like the Voter Guide and Ballots. Therefore Director Arntz accepted the reductions the Board requested and the process is now completed.  The Commission Secretary’s position remains at half-time and none of the current staffing in the Department has been affected.


         President Phair asked if the Department would be able to cut the legal text from the Voter Guide (VIP) in future municipal elections and Director Arntz replied that he asked the Board about eliminating it and the suggestion wasn’t positively received.  Legal text will continue.  President Phair commended the Director for presenting the idea to the Board and asked that he not give up trying in the future.


         Commissioner Townsend suggested that the Commission make a policy that it does not support the elimination of the legal text for the VIP and to have the subject aired in a future Commission meeting.  President Phair agreed and said that this would be a good way to solicit public comment and it should be considered for a future meeting.


         President Phair thanked the Director for his successful work on the budget and other Commissioners echoed their congratulations.




         (a)  Discussion and possible action regarding Commissioners’ May 19, 2009 Statewide Special Elections observations. 

         Commissioner Gleason reported that he worked as a pollworker for this election and attended pollworker training and that the training session was excellent. He said that the video productions that the Department used for the training was short, to the point and excellent and that other counties should look at San Francisco’s model.  The Commissioner added that one benefit of consolidating the polling sites was that because fewer pollworkers were needed, they were the best trained and most knowledgeable.


         Commissioner Gleason said that he observed voters who had voted by mail but were contacted by the DoE and advised that they had failed to sign their vote-by-mail ballot envelope, thereby invalidating their ballot.  The DoE did an excellent job of contacting these voters the weekend before the election (when the Department is processing most of the vote-by-mail ballots) so they could vote.  This is one example of why it is important for voters to provide their telephone number on their voter registration form even though there are complaints by some voters regarding removing this information from their registration.  Commissioner Gleason suggested that the Department collect the phone numbers but not make it part of the voter profile available to political campaigns to use to contact voters.


         President Phair asked the Director what were his thoughts regarding Commissioner Gleason’s suggestion.  Director Arntz replied that the State law requires the voter’s phone number be provided in the street index.  Many voters complain that they don’t want the information provided to voter campaigns by way of the Master Voter File.  Director Arntz said that he thinks separating the contact information from this file is worthy of pursuit by the Commission.  He reminded the Commission that it would need to work through the Mayor’s Office lobbyist to proceed with this change in the law.


         Deputy City Attorney Givner added that the Commission would need to work with the City’s state legislation committee as well.


         Commissioner Townsend said that voters have to take some responsibility, and if they do not want campaigns to have their phone numbers, then they should not provide it and if the voter fails to sign their vote-by-mail ballot envelope, then it is on them that their vote is not counted.


         Commissioner Safont commented on her election day experiences.  She agreed that her pollworker training was excellent.  However, there were only 300 voters in her precinct and still, at the end of the day, her students had a lot of difficulty balancing precinct reports. 


         Commissioner Wu said that she had the same experience when she worked at the polls during the November 2008 election.  The Commissioner suggested that a cheat sheet for balancing records at the end of the day be included in a tear-out page for each precinct showing each step, in order, and which numbers to reconcile for balancing.  Another problem was that there were so many bags, especially for new students.  Commissioner Wu suggested that “Closing Procedures 101” be included in the training video to show what goes into each bag, how each form is to be filled out, what to do with each, a timetable for doing each step and arranging things correctly for the Sheriff’s to expedite pick up at each precinct.


         President Phair attended the inspector training for the May election and reported the training and the demonstration of the equipment was excellent.  President Phair attended the opening of his neighborhood precinct and observed a minor problem with the set up of the DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) equipment.  He agreed that a closing check sheet that can be removed from the book would be a great addition.  He observed that the experienced inspector at his precinct had difficulty with a few of the steps.  President Phair suggested that the Director allow Commissioners to attend any training session, even if the session is full and the Commissioner would have to stand to observe.  Commissioners should be allowed to observe, even if they are not being trained to work for an election because it is part of the Commission’s authority to observe the election process.


         Commissioner Matthews reported that he attended three training sessions and they were all excellent.  In addition to the video, the manual which had an increase in photos that showed the details of the rear of the “Edge” machine were excellent.  All three trainers were knowledgeable and engaging.  Two of the three, when asked what to do when one person uses the DRE (which is well covered in the written material) handled the answer well.  However, one trainer said “don’t worry about that, some of the precincts have had 40 people use the DRE” – this answer, Commissioner Matthews noted, was absurd.  He said that although the reply is “factually true” the point people draw from it is erroneous.  He raised the point that once something gets repeated enough, it becomes the norm, and to keep repeating that some precincts have had 40 DRE users without any additional comment, creates an impression among poll inspectors that this is normal, when it is not.  Commissioner Matthews said that other than this one incident, the training was “top notch”, and other counties should look at the great training the DoE does.


         Commissioner Matthews also visited approximately ten precincts - individual and consolidated - during the day of the election, from the outer Sunset to Visitation Valley.  He reported that everything he observed was well done.


         President Phair said that reports on other observations, which need to be tallied, will be made in at the next Commission meeting. The President said that he noticed that the information at the training, perhaps on the video, stated that the distance for electioneering was no closer that 100 feet from the door to the polling place.  The law is 100 feet from the book.  This can be an issue if the polling area is deep inside a school, the MUNI barn or some large facility.


         (b)  Discussion and possible action regarding approval of the Elections Commission Annual Report for 2008.  Commissioner Gleason apologized for not getting the draft to the members early enough to review for the meeting.


         The item was TABLED until the next Commission meeting.


         (c)  Discussion and possible action regarding selecting outside counsel to advise the Elections Commission (the Commission) and Department of Elections (DoE) on matters that directly involve the election or campaign of the San Francisco City Attorney in the November 3, 2009 municipal election pursuant to San Francisco City and County Charter section 13.103.5.  Deputy City Attorney Jon Givner reported that his office has identified a possible volunteer, Miguel Marquez, of Santa Clara County to represent the Elections Department and Commission should an issue arise in reference to the November 3, 2009 election or campaign.  Mr. Marquez is familiar with the San Francisco Elections Commission because he served as the Elections Department’s counsel when he worked for the City and County of San Francisco.


         President Phair MOVED and Commissioner Safont SECONDED the following resolution:


         That the Commission approve to select the Santa Clara County Counsel Office to advise the Elections Commission (the Commission) and Department of Elections (DoE) on matters that directly involve the election or campaign of the San Francisco City Attorney in the November 3, 2009 municipal election pursuant to San Francisco City and County Charter section 13.103.5.


         The Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS.


         (d) Discussion and possible action regarding authorizing the Commission’s President to contact candidates for outside counsel, discuss retainer agreements with such candidates, and make recommendations to the Commission at its next meeting regarding selection of outside counsel and ratification of a retainer agreement.  Deputy City Attorney Jon Givner offered to assist the Commission President in discussions regarding retainer agreements and to get in touch with Miguel Marquez.  Commissioner Gleason MOVED and Commissioner Matthews SECONDED this item for approval.


         The Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS.


         (e)  Discussion and possible action regarding authorizing the Commission’s President to determine whether specific matters directly involve the election or campaign of the San Francisco City Attorney and consult with retained outside counsel about such matters pursuant to San Francisco City and County Charter section 13.104.5.  Commissioner Matthews MOVED and Commissioner Safont SECONDED this item for approval.


         The Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS.


         (f)  Discussion and possible action regarding the Commission’s evaluation of the performance of the San Francisco City Attorney’s office as counsel to the Commission over the previous year.  President Phair proposed that each Commissioner fill out the evaluation form and forward his or her form, with any comments, to the President who will compile them into one evaluation form and prepare a draft.  President Phair asked the Deputy City Attorney to inform his office that the Elections Commission would have preferred to have more time than was given to complete this task.  Deputy City Attorney Givner said that he would inform his office.


         Commissioner Matthews MOVED and Commissioner Safont SECONDED approval of President Phairs proposal to combine the Commissioner evaluations and comments into one performance evaluation for submission to the City Attorney’s office.


         The Roll Call Vote was UNANIMOUS.


  8.   Discussion and possible action regarding items for future meeting agendas and meeting dates.

         The following suggestions were made during this meeting: (1) a policy to eliminate the legal text from the VIP arguments, (2) working with state and City legislation offices to protect voter’s phone numbers and email addresses from public view, (3) further reports from Commissioners regarding observations of the May election.


         It was decided that the July Elections Commission Meeting be cancelled and that the Commission Secretary make all necessary notices.  The next regular meeting of the Elections Commission will be Wednesday, August 19, 2009.




ADJOURNMENT at 7:25 pm.