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Sunday, June 15, 2014

California's Poor Administration of Elections

One might think that California, the home state of Silicon Valley would have the most sophisticated electronic systems for keeping government records, especially for elections.  Think again.

Pew has devised the Elections Performance Index, or EPI, a comprehensive assessment of election administration in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Using data from 17 key indicators, the EPI compares election administration policy and performance across the states.

Out of the 50 states and DC, California ranks 49th.  It is just one of two states (Vermont is the other) with no online voter information lookup tools.

John Diaz reports at The San Francisco Chronicle:
Journalists, campaign workers and others trying to track the ultra-tight four-way race for state controller were frustrated to the max by the days-old numbers on the secretary of state's website.
On Tuesday, a full week after the election, the state's website showed that 755,921 votes remained to be counted. But those numbers were clearly out of date. The state listed 98,500 unprocessed votes in San Diego County; the county website showed only 5,000 left to count.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office seemed to be working on 20th century time.
Perhaps the biggest disgrace to those who care about campaign transparency is the inaptly named "Cal-Access" system Bowen inherited. The system is so cumbersome to navigate, with records that are sometimes outdated or incomplete, that it's as if it was designed to stymie anyone who truly wanted to know who is giving money to which candidate in a timely manner.
"Here we are, in the state of California, Silicon Valley, and it's riddled with errors, it's sloppy, it's against the principle of timely disclosure," said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, in a view shared by many journalists, including me, who have tried to use it.

At least Bowen did one thing right: She agreed last year to a request from the government-access group MapLight to make the bulk data her office collects available for public retrieval.

In just three months, MapLight set up a program for searching and cross-checking donations that is generations ahead of the official state site. As Daniel Newman, MapLight's president and co-founder, put it, its "powersearch" engine allows a user in five minutes to retrieve what might require two weeks of research on Cal-Access.