The California Voter Foundation Releases Policy Brief on the VoteCal Project and California's Struggle to Modernize its Statewide Voter Registration Database

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Nonprofit finds that despite earlier delays, VoteCal is currently on schedule

VoteCal Policy Brief

VoteCal Policy Brief

This has been a long-challenged IT project spanning four Secretary of State administrations...fortunately its success is the current Secretary of State's top priority.

Today the California Voter Foundation (CVF) released VoteCal and the Struggle to Modernize California's Statewide Voter Registration Database, a new policy brief examining the history and status of a $92 million IT project that began in 2006 and is finally on track to full implementation by next year.

CVF's policy brief debuts the same week California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced the successful launch of VoteCal in two pilot counties, Orange and Sacramento. Once all 58 counties are online with VoteCal in June 2016, it will officially become the statewide voter registration database, meeting federal requirements in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to ensure the accuracy of voter registration records.

"This has been a long-challenged IT project spanning four Secretary of State administrations and involving half a dozen state government agencies and departments," said Kim Alexander, author of the policy brief and CVF's president and founder. "Fortunately, its success is the current Secretary of State's top priority and our analysis finds the project is on track, on budget and on schedule."

As one of the last states to comply fully with HAVA's statewide voter registration database requirements, California finds itself far behind other states in harnessing computer technology to better serve voters. While voters in most states can easily check the status of their voter registration or mail ballot online, California voters will not get these services statewide until VoteCal is completed.

Reforms enacted by California's Legislature are also on hold until VoteCal is fully deployed in all 58 counties, including one allowing Californians to register and vote on Election Day at county election offices. Other state reforms awaiting completion of VoteCal include one allowing 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register to vote and another letting voters ask to have their state ballot pamphlet delivered electronically.

"Californians move around a lot, so having an easy way to check whether you are registered at your current address and allowing people to register and vote on Election Day are important tools to facilitate participation," Alexander noted. "At a time of historic low voter turnout, California needs to give voters more tools that facilitate participation," she added, noting that VoteCal will also greatly benefit local election officials by reducing duplicate registration records for voters who move.

When the project was originally planned in 2006, the anticipated completion date was December 2009; by the time the procurement process was finished it had been pushed back to February 2012. Then the first contract was cancelled and a second procurement process undertaken with an anticipated deployment date of June 30, 2014. Once a new contract was completed, the new deployment date was pushed back to June 30, 2016. In between, two audits of previous Secretary of States' handling of this and other HAVA projects were conducted by the Bureau of State Audits.

"VoteCal delays have had costs for voters. There have been lost opportunities for voters to verify their voter registration and mail ballot status online, to register and vote on Election Day, to pre-register youths while still in school and to save money by allowing voters to receive their ballot pamphlets electronically rather than through the mail," Alexander said. "Now that the project is on track Californians can look forward to improved voting services and opportunities in the 2016 Presidential election."

CVF recommends greater project transparency, and is urging the Secretary of State to publish monthly project status reports on the agency's web site. CVF's policy brief also highlights a number of other large-scale state IT projects that have experienced delays and cost overruns, suggesting the State Legislature should consider possible reforms to the procurement process to address such challenges.

The California Voter Foundation is a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization working through research, oversight, outreach and demonstration projects to improve the voting process to better serve voters.

CVF’s VoteCal policy brief is supported by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation, and produced with support from the Future of California Elections, a collaboration between election officials, civil rights advocates and election reform advocates to examine and address the unique challenges facing the State of California’s election system.

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