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New Laws Promote Voter Access In San Diego

September 25, 2012 1:06 p.m.


Lori Shellenberger, Voter Rights attorney, ACLU, San Diego and Imperial counties

Deborah Seiler,San Diego County Registrar of Voters

Related Story: New Laws Promote Voter Access In San Diego


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: On this national voter registration day, California is celebrating a few new laws that will help make it easier to register and cast a vote.

CAVANAUGH: My guests, Lori Shellenberger is voter rights attorney with the ACLU in San Diego and imperial counties.

SHELLENBERGER: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Deborah Seiler is here, very busy San Diego County registrar of voters.

SEILER: Hi, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: How is the San Diego County registrar's office marking voter registration day?

SEILER: Well, we're marking it today by celebrating for the first time bringing in those online registrations into our database directly without having to key in that data. So that's a really exciting event for us.

CAVANAUGH: That was one of the new laws I wanted to talk about. It allows people in California to register online.

SEILER: A voter can go to our website or the secretary of state's website, and they will link into a site which allows them to go online, they will see the form, the data fields to fill in. Key in the data. That is then sent to the department of motor vehicles for validation. So if the voter has either a driver's license or a California identification card, that will match up against the DMV file, and that will pull their signature forward. And that goes into kind of a holding pattern if you will, and we pick up that file and bring it into our database.

CAVANAUGH: Then you can compare signatures if you need to.

SEILER: Yes, you can compare signatures. But for voters who do not have a driver's license or California ID card, they can just print out the form, sign it, and nail into us.

CAVANAUGH: How many eligible voters in San Diego are actually registered?

SEILER: 70% registered, which is pretty decent given that we're a very large military county.

CAVANAUGH: Why would that factor into it?

SEILER: Because so many folks who are in the military may actually reside outside San Diego. That makes it more challenging. But I think we've done a good job in getting them registered.

CAVANAUGH: If someone does want to register in person today, what do they need?

SEILER: If they want to go online and use the new form, it's extremely convenient. They can also come to our office in Kearny Mesa and the forms are available in post offices, DMV offices, city clerk offices, and libraries.

CAVANAUGH: Before I move to Lori, let me ask you one last question. Has San Diego County registrar's office documented many cases of voter fraud? Would you say you considered voter fraud a problem in San Diego?

SEILER: I don't consider voter fraud a problem in San Diego County. We do occasionally have groups that come in and register voters, and they pay folks to register voters. And that is sometimes tempting for people who want to actually maybe make up a voter registration. But they're doing it for the money. And we call that voter registration fraud. We do turn it over to the District Attorney and to the secretary of state's investigation unit. But that doesn't lead to vote fraud.

CAVANAUGH: And people who are ineligible to cast votes actually casting votes. That's what voter fraud is, right?

SEILER: That's correct. Somebody not eligible to vote casting a ballot.

CAVANAUGH: Lori, tell us about the legislation signed by governor Jerry Brown yesterday. It brings in same-day registration in California.

SHELLENBERGER: Well, it was a pretty exciting day yesterday for Californians I think because there were two significant bills passed expand opportunities for every eligible citizen. And California ranks 45th in the country in registration rates. The state overall has done fairly poorly in voter registration because there's an estimated 6 million voters who aren't registered. They're eligible but aren't registered. So these two bills are expanding those opportunities. One is doing it by providing opportunities to register at public service agencies and added the new health benefit exchange where millions of people will be going on that website beginning in 2013 and will be provided the opportunity to register to vote. Same-day registration, currently there's a deadline for voter registration which is October 22nd, and you have to register by that deadline. This bill would make it possible for people to register in the two weeks leading up to an election day. That bill will not make effect until we have a statewide voter registration database which is in the works. Hopefully by the next presidential election. As of now, you need to register by October 22nd. But soon, people will have the option of registering those two weeks before and on election day which is in a town like San Diego is really important. Because we do have so many military family, who sometimes wake up two weeks before the election and realize, oh, my goodness, I just moved for the fourth time in five years, I got my kids enrolled in school, and I'm still registered in Virginia.

CAVANAUGH: As California is moving to expand voter registration, other states are actually tightening the requirements for voting. Can you tell us about some of those efforts?

SHELLENBERGER: Sure. Since 2008, there have been many states passing restrictive voting laws that place restrictions on people's fundamental right to vote. Since 2011 alone, there have been 24 voting restrictions passed in 17 states. Those range from restrictions on voter registration and who can do voter registration, when voter registration cards need to be turned in that limit those incentives for groups to do voter registration. But probably the most significant are the voter ID laws that have placed restrictions on who can vote and are dependent on whether someone has a state-issued ID.

CAVANAUGH: Linda pane, welcome to the program. Yours is a poll watching group, the election integrity project, and member was your group turned up at San Diego polls, reportedly watching for voter fraud in the primaries. And since it doesn't seem that voter fraud is a big problem in San Diego, your you working to stop it?

SHELLENBERGER: Well, we're not a poll watching organization. We really are a citizen-based group that focuses really on working closely with the registrar of voters, looking at the voter Rolls. We learned in 2010 from many of our registrars of voters across the state that they did not have the budget to go through and update the voter Rolls, and that it was difficult to update them. And we also heard from many registrars of voters that they were frustrated that we did not have a statewide database. So it made the job for them difficult. One of the things we do, we volunteer to go to the voter roles, and we bring those reports to the registrar of voters. We do not remove anything. That is up to the registrar of voters. And we have a lot of respect for the hard work they do. The other thing that we do is we want to see that the election laws and codes that are already on the books in California are being enforced, and the reason for that -- in 2010 we did observe in many polls across the state that the laws, the enforcement of our current election code and laws were so lax that it opened the door for the potential for voter fraud. And one of the reports that we did receive in several counties is voter impersonation.

CAVANAUGH: In what county did you receive that?

SHELLENBERGER: LA County and San Bernardino county. People went in to vote, and when they arrived at the polls to vote, someone had already signed the book for them. So that is part of what motivated us to get involved and find out, are, how in the world did this happen? We are a nonpartisan organization. We bring the codes protect all parties regardless of affiliation.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, quickly, you are training people here in San Diego to be poll-watchers come November, right?

SHELLENBERGER: That's correct.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right. Well, I really appreciate you taking part in this. I'm just wondering, with this, how well are poll workers trained?

SEILER: We make every effort to tell them what the laws are. We have training courses that go over about a two-week period, and we have about 6,200 poll workers for this election. And we ask a great deal of our worker, we really value them and appreciate them, and we do lots of training. They have about four hours of training, and two hours of classroom training. There's additional opportunities for them to go to a laboratory. They're given actual real-life scenarios to work out. And in addition to that, we have a whole cadre of over 200 troubleshooters. And we train them to? Effect be super poll workers. So they're out there helping the poll worker resolve anything that might have to do with electioneering, or the equipment, or anything that might arise on election day. And they are also extremely well trained.

CAVANAUGH: There is criticism of the poll watchers. What effect could they have?

SHELLENBERGER: Well, I think one of the wonderful things in California is that we do have open elections and we do allow for poll monitors and observers to be present, to observe whether laws are being followed. Probably the best in the county is Deborah, which is why our elections run so smoothly. We don't have a situation where groups are coming in and interfering with election officials and their ability to administer those elections fairly. They are not doing anything that might intimidate voters particularly if we feel that those groups may be targeting particular populations. In other states, that has been the case.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, I think there is some question, why does the requirement in other states to show an ID at polls potentially suppress the vote?

SHELLENBERGER: Well, there are a lot of Americans who don't posses a state-issued ID. It's estimated that 1-7 seniors don't have the proper identification. And also those laws, I think what's most disturbing about those laws that they really are designed and targeting particular groups of people. And in a country where we treasure our democracy, and every vote makes our democracy stronger, the idea that politicians are passing laws that manipulate that system and are specifically designed to insure their own reelection, that weakens our democracy. So that's the concern.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Deborah, if an organization watching people vote has a suspicion that something is not right, that someone is voting who should not be voting, what is the proper channel that to express that? Obviously I would imagine that the vote should not be disrupted at that point.

SEILER: That is correct. We ask our observers to be mindful of the duties that the poll workers have to perform on election day. They're not to interfere with the process in any way. But we are certainly open to having observers in our polls, and we welcome the transparency of this entire process. So if people want to be out there, observing the process, if it promotes a sense of confidence in the voting process, if they can actually see it firsthand. We welcome that. But if they have comments, questions, criticism, we actually for this election will have an observer hotline number that we will set up. And we will have our most knowledgeable well-trained staff -- I personally give my cellphone number to these groups to use on election day if there's something they feel needs urgent attention, they can contact me.

CAVANAUGH: And the ACLU has actually observed at polls from time to time, haven't they and

SHELLENBERGER: They have. And the lawyers' rights for civil law has a hot line as well. If people have questions they can call, from I have polling questions to I was told I cannot vote, and I believe I'm registered. We have information on voting rights, wonderful polling information, check your status. So we're available to provide as much information to voters as possible.

CAVANAUGH: We talked about if you've moved, obviously if you moved, you do need to reregister; is that right?

SHELLENBERGER: That is correct.

CAVANAUGH: When is the deadline for registration again?

SEILER: October 22nd, and we will be open until midnight.

CAVANAUGH: When does early voting begin?

SEILER: October 8th. It always begins 29 days before an election.

CAVANAUGH: Is that when people start getting their mail-in ballots as well?

SEILER: That is correct. October 8th is a holiday for some folks. Not for the county. So they probably won't go into the mail until the 9th. But you they will be there in the postal service.