State needs voter registration fix

Last year, the Sacramento County registrar of voters rejected thousands of voter registration cards submitted by Momentum Political Services, which had been hired by the Republican Party of Sacramento County. The party had paid $5 per registration card submitted for each new GOP registrant. Unsurprisingly, a number of newly registered Republicans complained that they were misled by the “bounty hunters.” Other problems included nonexistent street addresses and imaginary voters.

It’s obvious that paying workers a set amount for each voter registration card submitted for would-be members of any political party is a recipe for fraud, deceit and forgery.

Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, has introduced legislation that would prohibit parties and other interests from paying for each new registration for a specific party. Registrations would have to be paid for regardless of the party affiliation indicated or the workers must be salaried and not paid per voter. According to the legislative analysis of the law, scandals related to voter registration in 2006, 2008, 2010 and again in 2012 were traced back to employees working on a per-piece basis for a particular party.

But the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the law on free speech grounds. “Individuals have a constitutional right to support the political party of their choice, and to do so by paying others to encourage voters to register with a particular party,” the organization wrote.

Prior attempts to eliminate such bounty hunting have been vetoed twice, once by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and once by Gov.  Jerry Brown, who was not convinced we need any laws beyond the current criminal penalties for voter registration fraud.

However, the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials supports Pan’s proposal. As the people whose job it is to verify and protect voter information, the association’s endorsement should be enough evidence that the law is necessary. That and the continuing scandal of fraudulent registration cards.

On the subject of election reform, last week the Assembly also considered a law to allow lawful noncitizens to serve as poll workers. Remember that last month the Assembly passed a law allowing noncitizens who are otherwise lawful permanent U.S. residents to serve on juries.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, such noncitizens are needed on Election Day because millions of voters in California don’t speak English. Broadening the pool of potential poll workers will make it more likely that someone may be able to help those non-English-speaking citizens. All elections workers would still have to know and understand English.

Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, spoke against the law, arguing that it changes “tradition” and “the way we’ve always done it,” which is officially the lamest argument against legislation, ever — in any language.

Both bills passed in the Assembly on Thursday and now head to the Senate for consideration.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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