An OC Political reader with a strong knowledge of recounts pointed out SB 183 (Correa, 2011) to me. I had earlier written about the difficulty of getting new results in recounts in California. SB 183 is the bill that made successful recounts virtually impossible.
Prior to SB 183, recount strategy typically relied on getting ballots tossed for identifiable marks, such as the infamous flower ballot of 2007.
Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) put an end to that with SB 183. Identifiable marks no longer invalidated ballots. Consequently, the only way a ballot can be tossed is if the voter voted for more candidates than were available on the ballot (e.g. two candidates for Supervisor, four candidates for three city council slots) or voted both yes and no on a ballot measure. Even then, the whole ballot wouldn’t be tossed, just the race in which the voter overvoted.
With more accurate ballot counting software and SB 183, recounts of anything other than provisional ballots are almost pointless in California. That’s why the Garden Grove mayoral recount had no vote changes, the State Controller recount had 8 vote changes statewide, etc.
As one friend suggested while I talked to her about this situation, perhaps Correa wrote SB 183 in 2011 expecting to narrowly lead in a future election and wanted to prevent a recount from overturning his result. Instead, he found himself narrowly behind in 2015 and wasn’t able to overturn the result.
The provisions of this bill allowing elections officials to process ballots that contain extraneous non-identifying marks are acceptable; however, I am concerned that remaking a ballot that contains personal identifying information compromises ballot secrecy and increases the opportunity for fraud.
The only difference two years later for SB 183 (Correa) of 2011 versus SB 387 (Hancock) of 2009 was a new Governor, Jerry Brown.
The two key changes in SB 183 were for Elections Code Sections 15154 and 15208:
SB 183 modified Elections Code Section 15154 as follows:
Any ballot that is not marked as provided by law or that is marked or signed by the voter so that it can be identified by others shall be rejected.
SB 183 struck this sentence out of Elections Code Section 15208:
Any ballot that is marked in a manner so as to identify the voter shall be marked “Void” and shall be placed in the container for void ballots.
SB 183 also replaced the voter instruction “All distinguishing marks or erasures are forbidden and make the ballot void” and replaced it with “Marking the ballot outside of the designated space to vote for a candidate or measure may compromise the secrecy of the ballot.”
Promoted by Common Cause and now-disgraced Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Correa introduced SB 183 on February 7, 2011. It passed the Legislature on near-party-line votes (oddly, Assemblyman Chris Norby voted against it in Assembly Appropriations and for it 12 days later on the Assembly Floor). Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 183 into law on October 9, 2011, and it took effect January 1, 2012.