AB 308 - Ranked Ballots for Overseas Voters
June 10, 2010 -- CfER sponsored AB 308 in the 2009-2010 session of the Legislature. The bill was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 27, 2009, effectively killing it for the first year of the session. On June 9, 2010, the bill number was re-used for an emergency measure on an unrelated subject. This is CfER's archived action page on the bill. The content below was last updated on June 29, 2009.
CfER-sponsored AB 308 would help overcome the frequent disenfranchisement of overseas vote-by-mail voters by providing them with a special ranked ballot whenever a runoff election might have to be conducted within 90 days of the preliminary round.
On June 29, the Senate Appropriations Committee placed AB 308 in its suspense file. It may be reconsidered at any time up to the end of August. There is a lot of important work to be done to insure tha the bill is sent to the Senate floor. Please see the important call to action below.
Action Page Index and Links
- Introduction - what the bill would do (and why it matters)
- Talking points - the essentials in bullet point format
- Supporters -- endorsements of the bill
- Links - the problem
- Senator Charles E. Schumer, "Schumer Releases Survey Suggesting Ballots of One in Four Overseas Military Voters Went Uncounted in '08 Election", press release, May 13, 2009
- Overseas Vote Foundation, "2006 Post Midterm Local Election Official Survey Report", May 8, 2007
- National Defense Committee, "Military and Overseas Absentee voting in the 2004 Presidential Election", March 30, 2005 (tables here)
- Federal Voting Assistance Program, "California 2007 Legislative Initiatives and Suggested Wording", December 18, 2006
- Links - the solution
- More details
When the first and second rounds of a two-round runoff election occur close together, it can be difficult for voters located overseas to receive their second-round ballots (which aren't printed until the first-round results are known) and return them in time to be counted. Only a small number of California cities have second rounds within 45 days of the first round, but a larger number have second rounds 60 to 70 days after the first (details here).
Because the right to cast an effective vote is at stake, this is a significant problem even if it affects only some voters in only a few jurisdictions.
In the long run, CfER wants to replace two-round runoffs with IRV. In the meantime, providing ranked ballots to those voters who might not be able to receive and return their runoff ballots by a deadline, is a valuable reform. Under this bill, affected voters would receive both a normal ballot for the first round, and an optional ranked ballot. Only the normal ballot would be counted in the first round. The special runoff ballot would be counted only if there is a runoff and if the voter does not return a normal runoff ballot. It would count for the candidate who receives the highest ranking of those candidates who made the runoff.
Arkansas, Louisiana and South Carolina have already adopted this reform. A bill to expand it from active military to all overseas voters was passed in Arkansas, after one election cycle of experience, with virtually no opposition. In Illinois, new legislation was passed authorizing it in all cities, after the city of Springfield adopted a similar measure affecting local elections in April 2007.
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- The Problem
- Tight deadlines and slow mail delivery are two major reasons why at least 20 percent of overseas vote-by-mail voters who attempt to vote do not have their votes counted.
- When the first and second rounds of a two-round election occur close together, it is especially difficult for overseas voters to receive their second-round ballots and return them in time to be counted.
- In California, special elections to fill state and federal vacancies have runoffs either eight or nine weeks after the first round. About ten charter cities have runoff elections within 90 days of the preliminary round -- four of these within 50 days.
- The Federal Voter Assistance Program urges election officials to allow 45 days transit time for the round trip -- and that?s after the first-round votes are canvassed and second-round ballots are designed and printed.
- Members of the active military in combat roles are affected most of all, since they are very mobile and in places where mail delivery is understandably erratic.
- The Solution
- When there is a possibility of a runoff election within 90 days, overseas voters would receive both a normal ballot for the preliminary round, and an optional ranked ballot. This allows the voter to rank the first-round candidates in order of preference. Voters may rank as many or as few of the candidates as they wish. Only the normal ballot will be counted in the first round.
- If a runoff is required, the voter would be sent a regular runoff ballot. If the voter does not return the normal runoff ballot then the special runoff ballot would be counted for the candidate who receives the highest ranking of those candidates who made the runoff.
- Responses to Questions
- Both CfER and the Assembly Appropriations Committee estimate the total cost to counties to be on the order of $50,000 - $60,000 per year. Click here for details on these estimates.
- The counting procedure is not like instant runoff voting (IRV). The special runoff ballot is examined to determine which of the candidates participating in the runoff is ranked higher than all other candidates in the runoff. There is no process of elimination and subsequent rounds of counting as in IRV.
- Processing the special runoff ballot does not require any equipment changes. In fact, the number of ballots per election is so small that it would not be cost-effective to modify voting systems.
- Deadlines in Louisiana, Arkansas and South Carolina -- where this reform has already been adopted -- are even tighter than those in California. But runoff elections in California are clearly affected when the time to canvass the first round, plus the time to prepare runoff ballots, is added to the round trip transit time.
- Regular runoff ballots will continue to be sent to overseas voters (this differs from the other states). The special runoff ballot will only be counted in the event that the regular runoff ballot is not received by election day.
- It has been argued that the special runoff ballot deprives overseas voters of new information that comes out during the runoff campaign. Such information -- even the part of it that reaches overseas voters -- is of little use to them if their ballots cannot be returned on time.
- Recent legislation allowing facsimile or unspecified other forms of electronic transmission only helps some overseas voters, not all of them. In addition, some voters who do have access to fax equipment may be reluctant to use it because of privacy and election integrity concerns.
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- Assembly Member Bill Berryhill (R-26), co-author
- Assembly Member Mike Davis (D-48), co-author
- Assembly Member Kevin De Leon (D-45), co-author
- Assembly Member Chuck DeVore (R-70), co-author
- Assembly Member Nathan Fletcher (R-75), co-author
- Assembly Member Diane L. Harkey (R-73), co-author
- Assembly Member Steve Knight (R-36), co-author
- Assembly Member Brian Nestande (R-64), co-author
- Senator Bob Huff (R-29), co-author
- Senator George Runner (R-17), co-author
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August 28, 2009 -- The deadline for the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve AB 308 and send it to the floor is Friday, August 28.
June 29, 2009 -- AB 308 was heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee and placed on the committee's suspense file. Bills accumulate in Appropriations suspense files in both Houses until near the end of the session, when they are deal with all at once. Some are sent to the floor for debate and possible passage, while others are not. Technically the latter group are not defeated and remain on suspense until the second year of the session.
June 16, 2009 -- AB 308 passed the Senate Elections Committee on a 4-0 vote with one abstention.
May 14, 2009 -- AB 308 passed the Assembly, 74-0 with one abstention and five absent. It now goes to the State Senate.
April 29, 2009 -- AB 308 passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee by a vote of 15-0 with two absentions.
March 31, 2009 -- AB 308 passed the Assembly Elections and Reapportionment Committee on a 7-0 vote.
February 17, 2009 -- AB 308 was introduced in the Assembly by Paul Cook (R-65).
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Timing of California Runoff Elections
In special elections to fill vacancies in Congress and the state legislature, the runoff (when required) is either 8 or 9 weeks after the primary.
Cities that have runoff elections (this list may not be complete since we haven't looked at every city charter):
- Modesto (Stanislaus County) - 5 or 6 weeks
- Pasadena (Los Angeles County) - 6 weeks
- Burbank (Los Angeles County) - 6 or 7 weeks
- Compton (Los Angeles County) - 6 or 7 weeks
- Long Beach (Los Angeles County) - 7 or 8 weeks
- Inglewood (Los Angeles County) - 10 weeks or less
- Redondo Beach (Los Angeles County) - 10 weeks or less
- Riverside (Riverside County) - 10 weeks
- Los Angeles (Los Angeles County) - 10 to 11 weeks
- Seal Beach (Orange County) - 10, 11 or 12 weeks
General law counties, and charter jurisdictions that have primaries in June and general elections in November, would not be affected by AB 308. Five months is plenty of time for a normal runoff.
What will it cost?
Our estimate of the cost of this new procedure is quite close to that of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, even though we use a different approach. The fact that these estimates are arrived by different methods should increase our confidence that they are valid.
- From the Assembly Appropriations Committee staff analysis: "The number of run-off elections held each year statewide within the 90-day window is unknown, although several cities have such run-offs on a biennial basis. In addition, elections to fill vacancies in Congress and in the Legislature often result in a runoff. There were approximately 103,000 voters for the November 2008 election. Assuming 10% would participate in runoff elections each year statewide, and assuming 20 special runoff ballots could be processed and hand tabulated per hour at staff costs averaging $100 per hour, annual state reimbursable costs would be about $50,000. The additional cost to prepare and disseminate special instructions for the runoff ballot would be around $1,000 per election."
- CfER's estimate is as follows. Overseas ballots comprise about a half a percent of all ballots cast. Since more ballots are mailed out than get returned, we allow for extra printing and postage based on one percent of total turnout. The procedure ? and labor cost ? for processing returned ballots is very similar to handling a provisional ballot. Special elections to fill vacancies generally average between two and three a year. Average turnout is around 100,000, so there might be 1,000 overseas voters per election. In addition, we have found ten charter cities that hold runoffs within 90 days, mostly in the Los Angeles area. Total turnout in these cities is about 300,000 every two years, so a high estimate of the number of overseas voters in these municipal elections is about 1,500 a year. On an annual basis we estimate six to eight contests, roughly 4,500 overseas absentee voters, and perhaps 3,000 returned ballots. Even at a cost of $20 per returned ballot, the total is $60,000.
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