On Election Day, just
about one of every four calls that comes in to a county's
registrar of voters is about an absentee ballot –
typically inquiring whether the office got it. As one
might imagine, this can put considerable strain on a
region's chief elections official on what's arguably the
office's busiest day of the year.
Unless you're the elections official in San Mateo
Using the same technology for tracking overnight
packages, San Mateo's registrar puts a printed bar code on
the envelopes used for absentee ballots. San Mateo's
absentee voters can log on to a registrar's Web site using
their home address, ZIP code and birth date, then track
the status of their envelopes.
Hoping to build on
that example, Rep. Susan Davis is trying to move a bill
that would require a similar tracking system for all
mail-in ballots. The San Diego Democrat wants mail-in
envelopes to be stamped with similar bar codes that would
allow voters to check the mailing status of their ballot
via the Internet or an automated telephone number.
“The one thing voters wish for is verifying if the
ballot made it to the registrar,” said Davis press
secretary Aaron Hunter. He said the bill is “generating a
lot of interest.”
Davis believes the legislation would increase voter
participation as it increases voters' peace of mind,
Hunter said. Although adding bar codes would cost some
money – Davis says it would come to just fractions of a
penny per envelope – the bill presumably would save
taxpayer money in the long run by eliminating many of the
Election Day phone calls that registrars field about
The bill, introduced in March and now before the House
Administration Committee, on which Davis sits, would amend
the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the comprehensive
election reform legislation written primarily in response
to the controversial 2000 presidential election.
IN THE SWIM OF THINGS
Since we're on the topic of springtime legislation just
now coming up in congressional hearings, there's also the
bill by Rep. Brian Bilbray designed to extend
water-quality protections at the nation's beaches that
were first introduced seven years ago.
Congress passed the BEACH Act in 2000, a law designed
to strengthen water quality standards at beaches, improve
public access to beach advisories and closings and improve
The BEACH Act has had significant impacts during the
past seven years, according to a U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency report released in October. The number
of monitored beaches – those where water is tested for
pathogens and harmful bacteria – rose from 1,000 in 1997
to 3,500 in 2004. In addition, 35 coastal and Great Lakes
states now have up-to-date water-quality standards, up
from 11 states in 2000.
The Carlsbad Republican's bill – the Safe Water
Improvement and Modernization Act of 2007, or the SWIM Act
– would extend the BEACH Act until 2012 and authorize the
EPA to perform a two-year study that uses molecular
testing on water quality.
For the past two decades, the EPA has hunted pathogens
in the water using culture testing, which requires 72
hours to yield results. This method, which Bilbray
considers archaic, sometimes leads to public beaches being
closed unnecessarily or for too long, he said.
Molecular testing could produce results in as little as
four hours, Bilbray argued during testimony last week
before a Senate subcommittee.
“It is my hope that this study will open the door to
quicker and more efficient testing times which will better
protect the health and well-being of those that want to
enjoy our recreational waters,” said Bilbray, a longtime
surfer who has made beach protection a priority.
Dana Wilkie is a
Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and
a longtime observer of California politics and social
issues. Bethany Leach is an intern for Copley News