Committee to explore options and costs in 2019

In California, the 2018 gubernatorial election is over and the results have been certified at both the county and state levels.

Nevertheless, the ballot counting took weeks to complete, frustrating many. Except for one supervisor race, Riverside County did not experience the sudden and, sometimes, unexpected reversal of fortunes between two candidates as occurred in several California congressional elections.

While “accuracy is the goal,” according to the Board of Supervisors, they did ask Rebecca Spencer, the county registrar of voters, why the counting took so long and what is necessary to shorten that time in future elections.

Basically, state laws have permitted voter registration very close to and on Election Day and have required the counting of mail-in ballots, which are postmarked by Election Day, but not received for several days later.

“Vote-by-mail lengthens the time to count ballots,” Spencer said. “A number of laws in place increase access to elections. But at the same time, they also increase the workload and time it takes to certify results.”

“It is extremely important that we retain the integrity of our elections at the same time we provide accurate and timely results,” Chair Chuck Washington (3rd District) said. But Supervisor Kevin Jeffries (1st District) had harsher comments about the process.

“For a state that prides itself on being the innovative leader in technology, to put us back into a horse and buggy days of transporting our ballots, I’m disappointed,” he said “We’re not taking advantage of the technologies that are out there, and recognizing there have to be incredible safeguards.”

The county spent millions of dollars on new electronic voting systems in the early 2000s. By 2007, the security of these machines came into question. Riverside County even hired an information technology expert to test its machine. The evaluation was not totally positive.

Independently, the then Secretary of State Debra Bowen had her staff conducted extensive tests of multiple voting systems. In August 2007, she decertified all electronic voting equipment in the state.

Since then, Riverside County has returned to paper ballots. And the state has essentially expanded the window to register to vote and to submit ballots. Also, questions about signatures and registration have created a much larger batch of provisional ballots, which must be researched. Voters can be contacted about their ballot, and have several weeks to come into the registrar’s office to review and provide proof of a valid ballot. This process takes time, according to Spencer.

“It’s really sad we’re still in the old school methodology basically on the state’s insistence,” Jeffries lamented.

In August, current Secretary of State Alex Padilla certified an open-source election tally system for Los Angeles County. This system was employed for vote-by-mail ballots in the county last month.

Jeffries will assume the board chair in January and promised to appoint a committee to work with Spencer and the County Executive Office to find and to fix the voting system going forward. However, he acknowledged, “Accuracy is more important than speed.”

When asked the possible cost, Spencer estimated that new electronic systems might be purchased for about $10 million. That total could be less if the county were granted matching funds, which the state is offering. The current state budget included $134 million for counties to replace voting systems. Counties can use the money for acquisition of hardware, software, and licenses and peripheral equipment.