Town Hall Q & A on 2020 Voting and the Census

Congressman Gil Cisneros, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and Fullerton College hosted a town hall to answer questions about the 2020 Census and Orange County’s new voting system (under the Voter’s Choice Act) on Friday, January 17 at the Wilshire Auditorium.

On March 12, households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail. The official census date is April 1. For more information visit www.2020census.gov.

The California Primary Election Day is March 3, although voters will now have the opportunity to vote early, as explained below. For more information visit www.ocvote.com.

Here are some of the questions and answers from the Town Hall.

CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Fullerton College president Greg Schultz, and Congressman Gil Cisneros at the Town Hall.

Can you give an overview of the new voting procedures taking effect this year?

A month before the election, every voter gets their ballot in the mail, and they have options for how to return it:

1.) They can mail it back. Return postage is free.

2.) They can drop it in one of many ballot drop boxes installed throughout the county. Any voter can drop off their ballot at any drop box in the county up to the Election Day.

3.) They can vote in person at any of several Vote Centers located throughout the county. They can turn in the Vote by Mail ballot or get a replacement ballot. There is also same-day registration. These Vote Centers will be open 11 days up to and including Election Day.

At http://www.ocvote.com voters can find additional information, including the list of Vote Center locations.

President Greg Schultz of Fullerton College said that they just installed a voter drop box on campus, near the swimming pool.

“Democracy works best when as many eligible people participate as possible,” Secretary Padilla said. “So it’s our collective interest to make sure that we’re ensuring that as many eligible people as possible can register to vote and are able to vote.”

Can you provide an overview of the security procedures that are in place under the new election system to ensure the sanctity of our democracy?

Voting systems have to be tested and certified for use first. They need to meet the security standards the state requires. California has additional security standards that are actually higher than what the federal government recommends.

Among the security features are paper ballots. Paper ballots are the gold standard—you can count them as necessary.

Election equipment, by state law, cannot be connected to the internet ever. This ensures that it is nearly impossible to systematically hack or rig an election.

In December, Congress approved an appropriations bill which included $425 million for election security grants that are going to be available to states across the country to help them with their election security.

Can you speak to some of the mechanisms in place to prevent voter fraud and ensure voters can’t vote by mail in multiple counties for the same candidate or vote when they are not eligible?

Among the things that can prevent people from double voting is that there is a consolidated, centralized state voter registration database, which is updated in real time—so this prevents people from registering and voting in different counties.

Also, when vote by mail ballots come into the county office, they check to match the signature.

Voters can now verify their registration status at voterstatus.sos.ca.gov.

“The truth of the matter is that when it comes to voter fraud in America, it is nearly non-existent,” Padilla explained. “Other states use this as a pretext to make it harder for eligible voters to register and cast their ballots. We do audits, studies, research, and we even investigate when there are leads. But voter fraud is just extremely rare in California.”

How do primaries work in California for voting for President?

When it comes to voting for President, the political parties dictate some of the rules. If you’re registered Democrat, your ballot will have the Democratic candidates. If you’re Republican, your ballot will have the Republican candidates. That’s the case for all political parties.

But there’s a large and growing number of “No Party Preference” voters. And so the default ballot that “No Party Preference” voters will get is a non-partisan ballot.

Some parties allow for “crossover” voting, that allow “No Party Preference” voters to vote in their primaries: the Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party, and the American Independent Party. But the “No Party Preference” voter has to request that ballot. So if you go to vote in person, you’ve got to tell the poll worker you want a ballot for the party you wish to vote for.

Also, there are three parties that have “closed” primaries: The Republican Party, Peace and Freedom, and the Green Party. So if you’re “No Party Preference” voter who wants to vote for one of those parties, you have to re-register first—you can do this online.

What protections are in place to prevent misuse of ballot collection procedures, and what reforms were included under the Voter’s Choice Act?

A couple of years ago, under a piece of state legislation, restrictions were taken off regarding who can turn in a person’s ballot for them. That was initially controversial because of a lot of ballots that were collected by volunteers, community organizations, campaigns, and otherwise and dropped off at the polls. But signature verification is still in place. Voters don’t have to surrender their ballot to anyone they don’t want to. By making it easier to return that ballot, the goal is to get more to cast their ballots. So if you want someone else to turn in your ballot for you, you get to choose who that is.

After your ballot is turned in, you can go online to track your ballot as it goes through the mail. Go to ocvote.com.

How was the 39th congressional district boundary established? Can you explain how redistricting is conducted in California?

Census data is used for how states draw their boundaries for congressional districts throughout the country as well as how many representatives each state is going to have.

We use a Commission in California that’s made up of an even number of Republicans and Democrats, and some “No Party Preference” members. That commission is a group of individuals who do not have any involvement in politics—they don’t hold any office in the state. And that group, together, decides how our boundaries are going to be drawn.

It used to be the case in California, like it still is in other states, that the legislature draws the district lines. Over ten years ago, California decided that wasn’t the best way to do that, so the state set up an independent commission.

Why is the census important?

The census is a population count that determines not only district lines, but also our level of federal funding for the next ten years. This is funding for schools, health care, public safety, etc. If you have an undercount, that means our communities are shorted their fair share of federal funding. So if you want your fair share of federal funding, you have to participate in the census—and get all your neighbors to as well.

In March, everybody will get a letter from the census saying that you can now fill out your census form. The big difference this time compared to how it was done in the past is you would usually get a packet with a paper form that you would fill in. That’s not going to be the case anymore. Now, they’re encouraging everybody to complete their census form online, and it will be available in multiple languages.

What can be done to help count our historically undercounted communities, particularly the homeless and families who have undocumented members?

The 39th is one of the most diverse districts in the country. We’re a minority majority district with a large Latino population, and a large Asian American/Pacific Islander population. Historically, those two communities are the lease likely to fill out the census.

Knowing this, the legislature and the governor have approved more than $200 million in the last couple of state budgets to supplement the federal census outreach efforts—to get the word out about the census—phone calls, knocking on doors, community events, social media, traditional media. The state has invested in a lot of community groups as well in multiple languages, culturally competent, identifying community leaders—teachers, religious leaders, neighborhood watch captain—to make sure everybody participates.

Are census responses anonymous, and what protections are in place to protect confidentiality for census respondees?

Regarding confidentiality, people who work for the census take an oath that they will not release any information from responders. All the data that is collected is private, and it won’t be turned over to any other government agency. That’s not just a policy; it’s federal law.

The only information that’s shared from the census bureau with others is statistics—that’s how we know what federal funding is to be distributed, as well as the reapportionment and redistricting, and to guide policy.

But your personal information is private and confidential. California also recently passed a Census Bill of Rights. Everyone should be able to participate in the census with confidence, without harassment or fear. If someone approaches you asking for census data, demand to see a federal ID.

Why doesn’t the census ask about whether there’s a veteran in the family?

“As a veteran, I thought that was a good question,” Cisneros said. “But really what it comes down to is we’re trying to encourage people to fill out the census. The census is supposed to be simple and quick to encourage people to fill it out.”

There is actually another survey done on an annual basis called the American Community Survey—it’s sent out randomly and includes a veteran question, more details—to gather statistics. So, that information is determined in other ways.

What will the census and election efforts look like on college campuses? How can the students vote?

There are efforts to place ballot drop boxes or vote centers on as many colleges and universities as possible, trying to increase participation by young people.

“In the past, young people haven’t registered or participated in great numbers. So we’re increasing our outreach on college campuses,” Padilla said.

Fullerton College president Greg Schultz said that the college will have a ballot drop box.

“We also share information with students about safe and effective ways to register to vote if they haven’t already,” Schultz explained. “With regard to the census, we’re providing space on campus to host census worker training. We’re also leading a campaign called Fullerton College Counts in which students will have opportunities to complete the census on campus.”

Cisneros added that now when high school kids go to get their drivers licenses, they are now registered to vote. It’s one process—it’s about trying to make voting as easy as possible.

What is the security around these ballot drop boxes, and what is your plan if there is vandalism or incendiary devices placed in them?

The specs and requirements for the drop boxes are practically military grade. The ballots are collected daily, so there will not be an accumulation of ballots.

In the 5 counties that used the Voters Choice Act in 2018, there was nobody blowing up or lighting drop boxes on fire. Rather, all had higher vote turnouts. This model has proven to work, to be secure, and more efficient in the long term.

How do you go about verifying the voter registration on drivers licenses? Can’t anybody check off that box on the form?

When you sign the form on your drivers license, asking of the information is correct, you sign it under penalty of perjury, punishable by law. It’s extremely rare that people will break the law in this way.

There are some conspiracy theories that say that because California gives drivers licenses to undocumented people, and allows to register to vote at the DMV, therefore California allows undocumented people to vote. But, for those who apply for an SB-60 drivers license, there’s a firewall—they’re not offered the option to register to vote. Those who are applying for a regular license do have that option.

The March election, which everyone calls the Primary, is actually the main election for some offices, like Board of Education and several judges. Primaries are always lower turnout. What can be done to get more people out to vote for these important seats in this “primary” election?

“I think every election is important, whether a primary or a general election,” Padilla said.

He added that California now has a March, not a June, primary. Historically, Californians voted in June, which means the nominees had already been determined by all the other states. By moving our primary March, it will make us one of the first states to vote, to make California a state where primary candidates have to campaign, and hopefully increase the turnout.