If you thought the 2018 elections in California were a mess, you were right. Dangerous new election laws and lax practices contributed to that mess, and now they want the rest of the nation to suffer the way Californians do.
First, the mess. Election Integrity Project, California (EIPCa), a group of concerned citizens in California, has been documenting problems in the state’s election system for years. We have done the hard, messy work on the ground to catalog the problems.
California election officials and legislators have turned our elections into a free-for-all, with few safeguards, all in the name of “voter access.”
Recent initiatives include “top two” primary elections, automatic voter registration, allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections, allowing mail ballots to arrive after Election Day, rejecting voter ID, removing restrictions on who can handle and return mail ballots (aka ballot “harvesting”), same-day registration and voting, allowing voters to “cure” their mail ballot signature mismatches via the honor system and, in 2020, providing all registrants with mail ballots.
These are the election laws that some now want to make a federal mandate nationwide.
In some cases, officials simply ignore election laws intended to safeguard California elections. When EIPCa alerted election officials about widespread non-compliance with the few state laws protecting election integrity, election officials continued to ignore the laws and the legislature simply changed those laws rather than comply.
Adding to the mess, “reform” advocates have sprung new initiatives just before our elections with little testing and many technical problems.
Automatic DMV voter registration, known as the state’s New Motor Voter Program, was launched just before the June 2018 primary. It automatically mis-registered 23,000 people, including many ineligible registrants. Not to worry. This effort specifically exempted from prosecution everyone who was ineligible — such as non-citizens — if they “inadvertently” became registered and voted. The problem is that there is no way to reach into the count and remove their votes from the blended tally.
These DMV-generated registration errors were pervasive in California’s November 6, 2018, election. EIPCa observers documented hundreds of angry voters at the polls who found they were re-registered by the DMV as mail voters without their consent. Though registered as mail voters, they did not receive mail ballots, had none to surrender and had to vote provisionally.
This is the chaos that some want as federal law.
Much has been written since the election about how ballot “harvesting” dissolved double-digit leads in several key California House races. What has not been published is that, based on EIPCa observers’ documentation, thousands — possibly hundreds of thousands– of the state’s mail voters never received their mail ballots, though the counties had announced successful mailings in early October.
Vote by mail is a disaster because it encourages criminal activity in voting, and also puts our elections in the unreliable hands of the United States Postal Service.
Like those whose registrations had been involuntarily altered by the DMV through automatic registration, these voters had no ballots to surrender and were forced to vote provisionally on Election Day, resulting in an unprecedented surge of provisional ballots in many counties. Los Angeles County, for example, had to process about 400,000 provisional ballots compared to 100,000 in the last midterm. They attributed most of the 300,000 ballot increase to mail voters who had no mail ballot to surrender, illustrating the magnitude of the problem.
In addition to flawed election laws, California has chronically lax election practices. Though federal law requires the state to maintain an accurate centralized voter list, California has not been compliant for over 20 years. Since 2010, EIPCa has reported hundreds of thousands of deceased, duplicated, inactive and relocated registrants it has found on the rolls, along with missing names, birthdates, and other required information.
With no voter ID requirement, the risk is that anyone can vote in the name of a deceased, duplicated, or relocated person still on the rolls. EIPCa’s reports were ignored by the counties and the secretary of state until several counties’ bloated lists eventually exceeded the eligible citizen population. EIPCa brought a lawsuit to remedy the problem. A settlement in that case contained a solid first step in removing upwards of 1.5 million ineligible “inactive” registrants, but there is a significant amount of additional work ahead to clean California’s lists.
The effort in Congress to import California’s election system would make it illegal to clean rolls using information about “inactivity” in any way.
Initiatives like same-day registration/voting and automatic DMV registration rely on an accurate state voter list to ensure that registrations are not duplicated. However, EIPCa has shown that the state’s new “VoteCal” system is unable to identify persons already registered in multiple counties or simply registered twice at the same address. That’s how bad it is.
If you think California’s laws and practices cannot affect your state, think again. After a successful 2018 election (some say through the benefit of California’s ballot harvesting and other laws), newly powerful House Democrats’ first legislative act is HR1, an attempt to nationalize the mess that is California. Automatic voter registration with lax oversight of your state’s expanding voter rolls, “seeding” mail ballots to every registrant, and then “harvesting” these ballots may be in your state’s future.
While HR1 is not likely to pass the current Senate, parts of it might. Also, beware: California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is the new chairman of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State (DASS). Over his four-year term, Padilla sees his work with DASS as an opportunity to encourage other states to pursue policies similar to California because “we think we have the right ideas.”
Citizens across the country need to actively monitor their state legislatures, be on the look-out for California-style election initiatives, and fight to defeat them.
Don’t say we in California didn’t warn you.
Ellen Swensen is the Chief Analyst for the Election Integrity Project, California, a citizen-funded, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) corporation.