LOS ANGELES — California lawmakers moved forward with a bill to authorize the sale of $450 million in general obligation bonds for voting system improvements.
Assembly Bill 668, the Voting Modernization Act of 2018, which would place the bond on a ballot in a June 2018 election, passed a second reading Monday in the state Senate.
It now returns to the Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, where proposed amendments will be discussed.
California’s voting machines are becoming outdated and nearing the end of their useful lives, Sen. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, the bill’s author, wrote in the measure.
The state’s voting machines are a decade old or more, according to a Senate analysis of the bill.
“As voting systems age, the risk of failures or crashes increase, and systems may not even meet regulatory standards,” Fletcher said. “It is essential that investments in upgrading technology are made now, rather than waiting for our machinery to fail and possibly jeopardize electoral outcomes.”
After the 2000 presidential election controversies over equipment failures, the federal government provided money for such uses. Lawmakers consider it unlikely the state will receive additional federal funding for that purpose. In 2000, the state matched the federal funds with its own contribution through a bond act, money that has been depleted.
The aim of the legislation is to provide funding to upgrade systems in every county.
“The machines, are at, or near, and sometimes past their life expectancy,” said Alex Padilla, California’s Secretary of State during a May press conference.
The measure is unrelated to President Donald Trump’s allegations that voter fraud occurred in California. Padilla has called Trump’s comments regarding California’s election system a “witch hunt. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the state by almost 4.3 million votes in November’s presidential election.
The state currently has $74.5 billion of general obligation debt and $9.4 billion of lease revenue debt outstanding, which was deemed affordable in the Senate analysis. Governor Jerry Brown’s 2017 five-year infrastructure plan estimates that the debt service ratio for the current fiscal year is 6.48%.
Of the $144 billion in GO bonds voters have authorized, $32.9 billion hasn’t been issued yet. That includes $7.5 billion for high speed rail, $7.3 billion from the Proposition 1 water bond approved by voters in 2015, and $9 billion for school buildings approved by voters in November.
The fact that the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance has already approved four bond measures this year and is considering a fifth was raised as a concern in the senate analysis.
The measures that were approved are: the Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018; the Goods Movement and Clean Trucks Bond Act; the California, Drought, Water, parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018; and the Salton See Obligations Act of 2018. The committee is also reviewing the the Higher Education Facilities Bond Act of 2018.
Additionally, AB 668 will also fund critical innovations to improve voting access for Californians, such as early voting options, same-day voter registration, vote centers, language access, disability access, and cyber security.