California Secretary of State Certifies VoteCal Ahead of 2016 General Election

By: Chelsea Brewer

On September 26, 2016, the California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, announced that he certified VoteCal as the State’s centralized system of record for voter registration. The online database seeks to ease the voter registration process by providing citizens a single online database where they can register to vote, check their registration status, find their assigned polling places, and more. Just in time for the November 2016 General Election, voters will even be able to confirm that their absentee mail-in ballot or provisional ballot was counted by their respective county elections officials. This is especially significant given states’ interest in preserving voter confidence in electoral administration in the face of skepticism about whether all votes are actually counted. VoteCal will also facilitate upcoming innovations in California election law after the November General Election, which include Election Day voter registration and the New Motor Voter Act.

VoteCal is a $98 million project that has been in the development stages for more than a decade in order to gradually connect all 58 counties in California into the efficient, central online database. Since the last county was officially integrated into VoteCal in March, the project has endured “accuracy testing, simulated exercises and security audits.” The project team overseeing the deployment of VoteCal even conducted mock elections, which were designed “to test VoteCal to validate that VoteCal will function as designed during an election.” VoteCal also contains “‘multi-layer security features and user access protocols,” ensuring that only those who meet the prescribed protocols have access to the State’s voter registration database. These security features of VoteCal are crucial in maintaining the integrity of the election, especially given recent fears of voter information hacks and recent cyber attacks on election databases in other states.

While some states like North Carolina and Texas have passed measures in an attempts to tighten voting restrictions, California has taken a drastically different approach in order to “modernize[] the California voter experience.” VoteCal reflects the premise that the most successful elections include the greatest number of eligible voters. The centralized online system allows increased access to the franchise, making it easier for the masses to participate in the electoral process. When asked, voter-eligible California citizens who were not registered cited a “lack of confidence in elections and politics” as their chief reason for declining to register to vote. Aspects of VoteCal, such as the ability to see whether one’s mail-in absentee ballot or provisional ballot has been counted, will hopefully prove to instill voter confidence in the State’s electoral administration. While California maintains a fairly steady voter registration rate of 73%, the State has experienced low voter turnout in recent elections—25% in the June primary of 2014 and 42% in the 2014 General Election. Hopefully, VoteCal will make the voting process a greater convenience and increase voter turnout in the 2016 General Election. As California continues to be a leader in election law innovations, VoteCal will serve to facilitate implementation of the State’s future plans to expand the franchise to as many eligible voters as possible.

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