Senate Bill to Upgrade California Secretary of State Website

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California’s secretary of state has been the subject of criticism regarding the state’s antiquated campaign finance reporting system and clumsy online interface. A letter signed by various government watchdog organizations, including Common Cause and Maplight, among others, urged the agency to upgrade its online capabilities concerning campaign finance reporting.

The issue remains unresolved, yet additional efforts are underway to bring the system into the 21st century.

Senate Bill 361, introduced by California State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), aims to add additional resources to the secretary of state’s website, including voter registration status, a polling location finder, ballot status (whether or not a vote was counted and why), as well as further enable the secretary of state to maintain more accurate and up-to-date voter records.

Other states like Texas and Connecticut already have similar services available on their websites. While most of the information has been accessible to Californians in previous years, it was not consolidated by the secretary of state.

When asked if outside resources for voter information had been sufficient, Padilla emphasized the importance of the secretary of state’s job to make such data available:

“The Secretary of State has a duty to make sure that all election information is easily accessible and available on its website to all California citizens. CDs, paper copies, and phone numbers were ok for the 20th century, but not in an era of mobile communications and apps”

He later pointed out that the office had recently been granted an additional $1.6 million under AB 113, which was signed into law last week.

Prior to AB 113’s passing, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen indicated that the agency had insufficient resources to improve accessibility to the state’s Cal-ACCESS reporting system hosted on the website.

“While the 14-year-old Cal-ACCESS system can do many things, it does not contain a design component… It is not clear to me that creating such a “filter” is cost-effective when designing, developing, and deploying it would divert limited information technology resources from other high-priority responsibilities.”

During the 2012 election, online voter registration was lauded as a very successful and widely utilized tool for Californians, especially decline-to-state voters. A University of California-Davis study found a considerable jump in voter participation, aided by online technology.

From the study:

“Boosted by online registration, the youth electorate in California grew significantly for the November 2012 election, dramatically outpacing growth in the state’s general registration and driving the decline in major party registration.”

Equipping the secretary of state with modern and user-friendly tools can improve both voter participation and transparency. Padilla indicated that the bill will likely pass the Legislature and be signed into law.

SB 361 is set for a hearing on May 13.