starsGrand Jury Report No. 1 – May 8, 2018

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County Elections Office

Fresno County Grand Jury Report No. 1 May 2018

Elections remind us not only of the rights but the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy.”

-Robert Kennedy

 

SUMMARY

  

The 2017-18 Fresno County Grand Jury received a citizen request to investigate the security of the Fresno County election process. News of attempted voter registration hacks, mounting political partisanship in our country, and tales of cybersecurity breaches have raised insecurities about the U.S. election system. The Grand Jury chose to investigate what measures are being taken in Fresno County to secure the integrity of the electoral process and the accuracy of election results. In addition, California grand juries are mandated to investigate and report on county operations, accounts, and records of one department, function, or officer per year. (Penal Code, sections 925 and 933(a).) The Grand Jury chose to combine its yearly investigation requirements with the request by vetting the Fresno County Elections Office, which is under the direction of the Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters.

The investigation included a review of precinct worker recruitment and training, maintenance of voter registration rolls, the vote-by-mail procedures, ballot composition, Election Day ballot distribution and chain of custody, election system security and tabulation accuracy, County compliance with the California Voter’s Choice Act, and efforts to increase voter participation. Two county clerk office employees were interviewed. In addition, the Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters and California Secretary of State websites were scrutinized.

The Grand Jury found that election oversight and ballot security measures are well-planned and comprehensive. There is no evidence that any component of the electoral process is susceptible to a potential security system breach. With an eye to the future, the County Elections Office is being proactive in efforts to upgrade its system to comply with the California Voter’s Choice Act.

 

GLOSSARY

 

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) -The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life -- to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 -- the ADA is an "equal opportunity" law for people with disabilities.

California Voter’s Choice Act -The California Voter’s Choice Act is a law passed in 2016 that will modernize elections in California by allowing counties to conduct elections under a new model, which provides greater flexibility and convenience for voters. This new election model allows voters to choose how, when, and where to cast their ballot by:

●              Mailing every voter a ballot

●              Expanding in-person early voting

●              Allowing voters to cast a ballot at any vote center within their county

Kamai - The national language of Cambodia.

One-percent Manual Tally - The public process of manually tallying votes in 1% of the precincts randomly selected by the election official, and in one precinct for each race not included in the randomly selected precincts. (Elections Code, sections 336.5 and 15360)

Provisional Ballot - A ballot cast by a voter whose qualifications or entitlement to vote cannot be immediately established. The ballot will be isolated and researched by the Election Official to determine the voter’s eligibility.  [Elections Code, section 14310(a)]

 

BACKGROUND

 

News of attempted voter registration hacks, mounting political partisanship in our country, and tales of cybersecurity breaches have raised insecurities about the U.S. election system.

Increasingly, voters are calling into question whether the democratic will of the people is being adequately safeguarded. The Grand Jury chose to investigate what measures are being taken in Fresno County to secure the integrity of the electoral process and the accuracy of election results.

 

METHODOLOGY

 

Face to face interviews were conducted with employees of the Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Office familiar with the preparation and implementation processes for countywide elections.

Internet research:

Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters website California Secretary of State website

DISCUSSION

 

●        The Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Office (Clerk’s Office) is currently staffed by 32 permanent employees, many of whom are cross-trained in election preparation and procedures. In addition, for a statewide election, approximately 2,000 part-time employees are hired.

●        Efforts to increase voter participation: The Clerk’s Office reaches out to all area high schools twice per year to offer voter pre-registration to 16- and 17-year-old students. Upon their eighteenth birthday, pre-registered individuals are automatically registered to vote.

The Clerk’s Office offers training to individuals who may be interested in conducting voter registration drives.

A representative of the Clerk’s Office attends the naturalization ceremony held each month to offer and collect voter registration cards from newly naturalized citizens.

Officials are mindful to locate polling places along public transportation lines.

●        For any given election, over 60% of the electorate vote by mail. This includes 50% of the electorate who are registered as permanent vote by mail voters and several thousand people who choose to vote by mail on an individual election basis. The Clerk’s Office focuses on making it as easy as possible for people to vote. This includes a 24/7 ballot drop-off box outside the Clerk’s Office as well as the option to drop off the ballot at a polling place if the voter chooses not to mail it in.

●        The Clerk’s Office is mandated to provide all voting materials in Spanish. In certain precincts, they are also required to provide facsimile ballots in Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Kamai, Punjabi, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. Precinct workers who speak these languages are stationed at polling places.

●        For the 2016 primary election, there were 460 different ballots prepared, accounting for precinct variations, party specifics, and language requirements.

●        Maintenance of voter registration rolls: In September 2016, the California Secretary of State became the official holder of all voter registration records. This consolidation of records greatly aides the tracking of duplicate registrations. In addition, county election officials routinely receive State Department of Public Health reports of deceased people. Clerk’s Office employees also scan local obituaries and process sample ballots returned by family members indicating that a person is deceased. There are very specific instances in which a registration can be cancelled. More often, they are reclassified from active to inactive status.

●        Election system security: The voting system is housed in a triple-security level room which may be accessed only by the County Clerk and a limited number of staff. The voting system must be certified by the state of California. The system is totally self contained, i.e. there is no internet access nor other data transmission hardware connected to the system. The County Internal Services Department – Information Technology Division has installed numerous firewalls and constantly monitors the system. The Federal Department of Homeland Security also monitors the data to detect attempted hacks.

The voting equipment that goes to the polls is under the sole control of the County Clerk.

Elaborate logic and accuracy testing is conducted. For instance, in June 2016, in preparation for the state primary, 44,000 test ballots were run. The equipment is delivered to the polling place by an authorized precinct officer. The memory cards in the machines are number sealed so when the machine is returned on election night, it can be verified that the seal has not been broken. Equipment with memory cards are brought back to election headquarters on election night by teams of two election workers. A GPS (Global Positioning System) device tracks the equipment location.

Separately, precinct officers count the number of paper ballots collected, place them in locked containers, and deliver them to 30 designated drop off points. These are staffed by at least four people who check in all the equipment from the precincts. All of these ballots are accounted for on election night. In house, “no ballot is ever left alone,” meaning there are always at least two election workers in possession of a ballot at any given time. In addition, security cameras are in place to monitor activity.

Memory cards from the voting machines are uploaded into the voting system. After the election, state law mandates a canvass procedure. Each precinct’s supplies are counted ensuring that each ballot supplied was returned either voted or unused and the correct number of people signed the voting roster. In addition, a one percent manual tally is required by law to affirm that the voting equipment is tabulating properly.

In instances where the machine is unable to read the ballot, the ballot is checked manually to determine clear voter intent and a duplicate ballot is created by a team of two. The duplicate ballot is then run through the machine to be tabulated. Approximately 15,000 of these are processed every election.

●        Observers are allowed to watch any or all of these processes.

●        A touch screen electronic system is required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For most elections, only approximately 50 ballots countywide are requested.

●        Currently, all hard copies of election materials are stored in a secured warehouse for six to 22 months, depending on the type of the election. The materials are then destroyed according to state protocol.

●        Each polling place has one inspector and three precinct officers. State law mandates that each inspector be trained. Fresno County goes above and beyond this by also training all precinct officers via a two and a half hour training class. The class addresses how to process voters, provisional ballots, and what to do if voters are not on the voting roster. Inspectors are given additional hands-on training on how to set up and operate the voting equipment. On Election Day, there are approximately 50 field supervisors (more experienced precinct workers) to facilitate the election process.

●        Compliance with California Voter’s Choice Act: Fresno County plans to begin participation in 2020. A transition team is currently monitoring counties that are preparing to go to a vote center model in 2018. Initial costs will be substantial. The County currently has four million dollars earmarked for implementation. Traditional polling places will be replaced by vote centers. Voters will have the freedom to cast a ballot in-person at any vote center in their county instead of being tied to a single polling location. Vote centers look and feel like polling places, but provide additional modern features to make voting easy and convenient. At any vote center in a participating county, a voter may:

●       Vote in person

●       Drop off their ballot

●       Get a replacement ballot

●       Vote using an accessible voting machine

●       Get help and voting material in multiple languages

●       Register to vote or update their voter registration

 

Starting ten days before the Election and through the Friday before Election Day, one vote center is required for every 50,000 registered voters. On Election Day and the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday leading up to Election Day, one vote center is required for every 10,000 registered voters.

FINDINGS

 

F1. Election oversight and ballot security measures are well-planned and comprehensive. There is no evidence that any component of the electoral process is susceptible to a potential security system breach.

 

F2. The County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Office makes efforts to increase voter registration and offers materials that facilitate the opportunity for Fresno’s multicultural population to make informed voter decisions.

F3.       The September 2016 statewide consolidation of voter registration records under the aegis of the California Secretary of State aides in the accuracy, security, and maintenance of voter registration rolls.

 

F4.       Continual and deliberate strides are being made for the County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Office to comply with the California Voter’s Choice Act by its target date of 2020.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

None.

 

REQUEST FOR RESPONSES

 

California Penal Code, section 933(c) requires comments from elected county officers or agency heads within 60 days of submission of the final report:

 

Brandi L. Orth, Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters acknowledging receipt and accuracy of facts delineated in the Discussion section of this report.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

www.ada.gov/ada_intro.htm

 

www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voters-choice-act/about-vca/

 

http://www.co.fresno.ca.us/departments/county-clerk-registrar-of-voters

 

DISCLAIMER

 

Reports issued by the Grand Jury do not identify individuals interviewed. Penal Code, section 929 requires that reports of the Grand Jury not contain the name of any person or facts leading to the identity of any person who provides information to the Grand Jury.