Procedure for ballot initiatives, voting, and registering to vote in California elections, has changed with the onslaught of new bills signed into law in 2015.
Previously, for ballots to be counted, they must have arrived to either a polling place or the designated County elections office by close on Election Day. Essentially, ballots mailed on election day were not counted, per the law, had they not arrived to the elections office.
With the passage of Senate Bill 29, if a vote-by-mail ballot is postmarked on or before election day and arrives to the county elections office within three days of the election, it will be counted.
For example, during the upcoming Presidential Primary Election in California to be held June 7, 2016, personally delivered absentee ballots must still be delivered the time polls close on June 7, but, mailed ballots must be postmarked on or before June 7 and received by their designated county elections office by June 10.
According to lawmakers, cuts in postal service facilities that may cause delay in mail’s arrival prompted this measure after many county elections officials attested to significant delays in the arrival of ballots.
Additionally, with the passage of California State Senate Bill 113, 16-year-olds will be allowed to preregister to vote for once they turn 18, should they meet all the other voter eligibility requirements.
Existing law allows individuals as young as age 17 to pre-register to vote. This change makes it easier for young people to register to vote sooner when they become of driving age as many register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles when obtaining a license.
Though this bill is signed into law, it will not take effect until the VoteCal program is fine-tuned between the California Secretary of State’s office and individual county elections offices so that counties can access the entire State voter database rather than only their own county. It is anticipated that this database will be completed sometime this year, in time for the 2016 elections.
California is one of 10 states that allows citizens the opportunity to bypass the Governor and State Legislature to adopt new laws and amendments to the State constitution. This tradition dates back to 1911 with the intention of giving more power to voters.
Petitions proposing initiative of State constitutional amendments must be signed by at least 8 percent of registered voters from the number of total votes cast for Governor at the last gubernatorial election; 585,407 signatures would be required to qualify an initiative for the 2016 ballot.
Once proponents have gathered 25 percent of the number of signatures required, 91,470 for an initiative statute and 146,352 for a constitutional amendment, proponents must immediately certify they have done so to the California Secretary of State.
With the passage of Senate Bill 1253, amendments to proposed initiatives will be accepted during the 30-day public-review period as initiated by the California Attorney General.
During this public review period, the proponents are permitted to submit amendments that are reasonably relevant to the theme, purpose, or subject of the initiative measure as originally proposed. However, if the initiative measure, as originally proposed, would not effect a substantive change in the law, amendments would not be accepted.
The new law also requires that the fiscal estimate be prepared jointly by the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst and requires that estimate to be delivered to the Attorney General within 50 days, instead of 25 working days, from the receipt of the final version of the proposed initiative measure.
This law also extends the date that a petition with signatures on a proposed initiative measure is required to be filed with the county elections official from 150 days to no later than 180 days from the official summary date.
Additionally, it is now a crime for a proponent of a statewide initiative measure to seek, solicit, bargain for, or obtain any money or thing of value of or from any person, firm, or corporation with the intention of withdrawing an initiative petition after filing. As a result, the new law will impose state-mandated local programs.
Additional changes to voter registration laws have passed, including that of Assembly Bill 1311.
Previous law prohibited individuals from registering to vote except by affidavit of registration. If a court finds that a person is not capable of completing an affidavit of voter registration, as specified, the law stated that a person would be deemed mentally incompetent and therefore disqualified from voting.
The new law ensures that federal and state laws related to voter registration assistance are applied equally to any individual who seeks to register to vote. Now, the law prohibits a person, including a conservatee, from being disqualified from voting on the basis that they sign the affidavit of voter registration with mark, cross, signature stamp, or completes the affidavit of registration with assistance from another person.
For more information on a variety of changes regarding voter laws in the State of California, click here.
To register to vote in upcoming elections, visit the California Secretary of State’s website here.