After more than a decade, consolidating California's voter rolls takes big step

FILE: A voter casts his vote at a polling station in Pasadena, California, on Nov. 4, 2014.
FILE: A voter casts his vote at a polling station in Pasadena, California, on Nov. 4, 2014.

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California made major progress in a long-delayed effort to create a statewide election registration database compliant with federal law when Los Angeles County this week merged its voter rolls with the consolidated system.

Known as VoteCal, the statewide database is expected to fully roll out by June, sometime after the primary election. The goal is to create a centralized voter list that links the state's 58 counties together, eliminating voter registration duplicates and eventually making it possible for voters to check if their mail-in ballot has been counted.

So far, 38 counties have joined VoteCal; the remaining 20 are expected to connect in over the next few months, according to election officials. 

Los Angeles County with its 4.9 million registered voters is a major participant in the effort to create one statewide voter database, which was mandated for all states over a decade ago with passage of the federal Help America Vote Act. 

California is the last state to deploy the statewide voter registration database aligned with the federal act, according to the secretary of state's office. 

Cleaning up voter rolls for the California's database is a tedious and time-consuming task, but it's important in developing voter registration lists to ensure effective elections.

During a recent KPCC visit of the San Bernardino County elections office, workers were in the midst of data entry and data cleaning as part of the county's transition to VoteCal. The employees said they had found several hundred duplicate voter entries thus far.

Duplicate entries can occur when a voter changes his or her address. By eliminating duplicate names and mailings of voter information, officials expect VoteCal will save on election costs.

The project involves work such as manually verifying signatures on voter registration cards and talking to voters on the phone to check addresses.

"It hasn't been easy," said San Bernardino County Registrar Michael Scarpello. "You're merging 58 different county databases, millions of registered voters into one big database."

But without an accurate list of voters, elections are vulnerable to errors, he said.

Once up and running, election officials say VoteCal will allow voters to check the status of their registration and their ballot. Among other options, voters will be able to see if their mail-in or provisional ballot has been counted — and, if not, the reason why it may not have been counted.