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Politics & Government

No, A California Program Designed To Help Voters With Disabilities Isn’t A ‘Security Concern’ As Recall Candidate Larry Elder Suggested

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Pablo Unzueta
/
CalMatters
A supporter of conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, holds a sticker in Norwalk, on July 13, 2021. Elder announced his bid as a recall candidate for governor of California.

GOP recall candidate Larry Elder tweeted a story from the conservative news website the Washington Examiner that claimed there are “security concerns” with a California voting system that helps people with disabilities.

GOP recall candidate Larry Elder recently suggested — without evidence — that there are concerns about the security of a California voting program, one that helps people with disabilities cast their ballot.

On Aug. 19, the conservative talk show host tweeted a Washington Examiner article with the headline, “California voters to be able to download ballots at home for recall election, sparking security concerns.”

But election and disability rights experts say the claim Elder promoted is baseless. What’s more, the article he tweeted doesn’t cite anyone who raised concerns about the specific program.

Given the intense focus on election security, we set out on a fact check.

How Does The Program For Voters With Disabilities Work?

The article points to a California election program called Remote Accessible Vote-By-Mail, or RABVM. It’s designed to help people with disabilities, particularly those with vision and dexterity issues, vote privately and independently. Without the program, these voters often rely on others to help them read and fill out a ballot.

The system is also used by military and overseas voters.

Certain counties have offered RABVM since 2017, while recent legislation required all counties to offer it starting in January 2020.

Registered voters must apply through their county elections office to take part. Once accepted, they receive a unique access code to download a ballot allowing them to read and mark it using their own assistive technology device, according to Jenna Dresner, spokesperson for the California Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections in the state.

The program does not allow voters to submit their ballot online, nor does it allow them to print out a blank ballot. Voters using RABVM must print out a single completed ballot and then return it in a vote-by-mail envelope or in-person.

“When [RABVM voters] log into the system with their unique credentials, they are temporarily disconnected from the Internet, so no votes can be submitted online or emailed,” Dresner explained.

“This IS NOT internet voting,” reads a Disability Rights California blog post from July about the program.

Newsom, Democratic Lawmakers Expand RAVBM Program

Ahead of last year’s presidential election and again before this year’s recall, Democratic state lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom temporarily expanded the remote accessible voter program to allow all registered voters in California to participate.

Both times, they cited health concerns about voting in-person during the pandemic.

Last year, Newsom signed Assembly Bill 860 to require all counties send out vote-by-mail ballots. The bill also included a provision expanding RABVM.

This past June, state lawmakers included a provision in Senate Bill 152 to again temporarily expand the remote accessible voting program to allow all registered voters to use it after applying through their county elections office. Dresner said that decision was also made following health concerns about voting in-person.

“The elections official shall permit any voter to cast a ballot using a certified remote accessible vote by mail system, regardless of whether the voter is a voter with disabilities or a military or overseas voter,” reads the legislation, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on June 28.

SB 152 temporarily changes portions of the state elections code in what a Sacramento Bee news article described as “an effort to benefit Gov. Gavin Newsom,” including speeding up the recall timeline. Republican state lawmakers opposed the bill, saying Democrats were “changing the playing field,” according to the article.

The bill would repeal the provisions, including the expansion of RABVM, on Jan. 1, 2022.

RABVM votes accounted for 0.14% of California’s total votes cast in the 2020 general election, or 24,248, according to figures from the Secretary of State’s Office. The total votes cast statewide was more than 17.7 million.

Election, Disability Rights Groups Say Program Not A Security Threat

Kim Alexander, president of the advocacy group California Voter Foundation, said she is not aware of any security issues tied to the RAVBM program.

“People may have valid questions about it since it does use the Internet to deliver a ballot to a voter. But it does not use the Internet to return the ballot,” Alexander wrote in an email. “The voter must print out the RAVBM ballot after making his or her selections and then put it in a [vote-by-mail] envelope they have signed just like any other vote-by-mail ballot.”

Paul Spencer, an attorney with Disability Rights California, who specializes in voting issues, said “there aren’t security concerns.”

Spencer said the same safeguards used to prevent fraud with traditional vote-by-mail ballots are used for RABVM. Voters, for example, are required to sign the outside of their ballot envelope. County elections officials then match that signature with the ones on file to verify each ballot.

“They will also check that the person has not voted elsewhere and that this is their first ballot,” Dresner, of the Secretary of State’s Office, added.

She said there’s no record of RAVBM sparking security concerns.

“We are not aware of any investigations or prosecutions related to the use of the RAVBM system,” Dresner said.

Elder’s campaign did not respond to a request for evidence.

Our Ruling

Republican recall candidate Larry Elder recently suggested, without evidence, that there are concerns about the security of a California voting program known as remote accessible vote-by-mail.

He also promoted the idea that some voters could download ballots. That part is correct, but needs context: RABVM allows people with disabilities along with military and overseas voters to download a ballot before submitting it by mail or in-person.

State lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the program each of the past two years to allow all registered voters to use it. A small fraction of voters used it in 2020.

The second part of the tweet Elder shared, about security concerns, is just plain wrong. Election and disability rights experts, along with California’s Secretary of State’s Office, say there’s no evidence showing the program is a security risk. It is subject to the same fraud protections as California’s traditional vote-by-mail program.

Registered voters must apply to use it. Once approved, they use a unique access code to download, complete and print out their ballot. The ballot cannot be submitted online.

Voters are required to sign the outside of their ballot envelope. County elections officials then match that signature with the ones on file to verify each ballot.

Elder’s campaign did not respond to a request for evidence to support the claim about security concerns. The article he tweeted out doesn’t include anyone raising concerns about the remote voter program.

We rated the claim Elder tweeted out as Mostly False.

MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

Source List

Larry Elder, tweet, Aug. 19, 2021

Washington Examiner, California voters to be able to download ballots at home for recall election, sparking security concerns, Aug. 12, 2021

Kim Alexander, president, California Voters Foundation, interview, Aug. 23, 2021

Paul Spencer and Fred Nisen, voting rights attorneys, Disability Rights California, interview, Aug. 24, 2021

Jenna Dresner, spokesperson, California Secretary of State’s Office, interview Aug. 19, 2021

California Secretary of State’s Office, information about Remote Accessible Vote-By-Mail (RAVBM), accessed August 2021

California Senate Bill 152, text, accessed August 2021

Disability Rights California, Many Voters with Disabilities Can Vote by Mail Privately and Independently, July 1, 2021

Sacramento Bee, UPDATE: California Democrats change election rules ahead of Gavin Newsom recall, June 28, 2021

CapRadio, Gov. Gavin Newsom Signs Law To Send Mail-In Ballots To All Registered California Voters, June 19, 2021

Copyright 2021 CapRadio