RIVERSIDE – The Riverside County Registrar of Voters office is scheduled to update the Board of Supervisors today on operational modifications that have been made to improve transparency and efficiency as well as additional proposed changes for which the agency is seeking additional funding.
Registrar Rebecca Spencer is slated to update the board on what policy changes have been implemented since she presented an “After-Action Review” to the supervisors on May 11, concerning problems and challenges stemming from the 2020 general election.
In documents posted to the board’s agenda, the registrar’s staff indicated several steps have already been taken to improve ballot processing for the Sept. 14 gubernatorial recall election, as well as the June 2022 primary.
State law now permits opening mail-in ballots up to 15 days prior to an election to permit registrars to get a jump on tabulation. The previous limit was 10 days. According to Spencer, the 15-day option will be fully exercised going forward to accelerate gathering and posting returns on election night.
According to the registrar, the check-in process at polling stations will now be more efficient thanks to the purchase of hundreds of laptop computers that will be used to confirm voters’ registration status. Staff at all 145 stations set to open for the gubernatorial recall will have the computers up and running the day before to ensure they’re functioning, she said.
Additionally, with the acquisition of additional Adobe In-Design licenses for typesetting, the registrar said voter information guides will be printed and distributed at least a week ahead of the distribution of mail-in ballots for the June primary.
Some items remain on the registrar’s wish list, but those will require higher appropriations by the board, and Spencer is expected to address supervisors during the meeting. One proposal involves converting the registrar’s office to 24/7 operations “to meet demand of a large-scale election,” according to documents.
Spencer said adding night shifts 15 days ahead of the June primary would be one way to smooth out the collection and tabulation process. She is also seeking 700 additional touchscreen voting units for use in polling stations by next year, to reduce queues that may result from too many people showing up at the same time to fill out paper ballots.
The registrar is also seeking a full-time public information officer, as well as a new vendor for ballot printing and mailing, after snafus surfaced with the vendor employed for the general election last year and the special elections in Cathedral City and Eastvale earlier this year.
All of that will cost $1.5 million to $2 million, according to the registrar.
It was unclear whether the board will entertain the proposed expenses Tuesday or wait until later in the current budget cycle.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries in March 2020 requested that the registrar consider working with other county agencies to form a “Citizens’ Commission on Election Integrity” to ensure that all operations are observed independently, and reported on independently to the board.
Following the After-Action Review in May, sensing resistance from Spencer and Executive Office staff, Jeffries sent a letter pressing his case.
“Last November’s election showed exactly why having that extra layer of public trust in the system can be important, as the entire electoral process was called into question across the country,” the supervisor said.
“I am not suggesting that our current registrar needs more oversight, and I never contemplated that this group would somehow be directly investigating individual missing, duplicate or fraudulent ballot allegations.”
Jeffries said the citizens’ commission would meet bi-monthly or quarterly ‘to discuss real or perceived challenges and concerns with the protocols and processes of an election in advance so that they can hear about … plans that are being put in place to solve potential problems as we identify them.”
Spencer and Executive Office staff responded that there is already an Election Observer Panel that offers members of the public an opportunity to closely observe “behind-the-scenes” activities within the Office of the Registrar of Voters and submit input on what might be done differently “to ensure one-person, one-vote” is achieved.
The registrar and EO personnel are offering an amendment to Jeffries’ proposal that would amplify the non-partisan Election Observer Panel’s discretion and seek to establish meetings two months and one month prior to an election, as well as 15 days afterward, to provide reports on what’s good and bad about the county’s voting system.
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