By Paul Myers
visalia – Last year’s election was marred with inefficiencies and headaches in Tulare County, and last Tuesday the Tulare County Board of Supervisors took steps to avoid that for elections to come. Their first step was unanimously voting to promote former deputy clerk Michelle Baldwin from interim Registrar of Voters to the department head of the Registrar of Voters.
Last December the Board moved to appoint Baldwin to the interim position while a strategic management review was underway. According to the County Administrative Officer Mike Spata, the review revealed needs in the department. The first being that the Registrar of Voters in line with the Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA) passed in 2002 by Congress and California’s HAVA State Implementation Plan from 2008. The second being the need to proactively address revenue-raising efforts for the purpose of obtaining additional election-related funding, review the time allocated between full-time and temporary positions, develop procedures for payment and invoices and collaborate with Spata to establish a sustainable net county cost for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The third being information technology. Spata relayed to the board that the department of Registrar of Voters should take advantage of innovative information technology focusing on improvement in the areas of mapping, addressing, computer upgrades and preparing, dissemination, collection, securing and counting of ballots.
The news of a new head of the Registrar of Voters could not have been more of a relief for the Tulare County Election Integrity Program (EIP) organizers and participants. Many of which spoke at the March 28 Board meeting. The EIP encourages citizens to become volunteers to observe election proceedings at precincts in Tulare County. According to the Chair person of the EIP, Michelle Moore, there were 63 incidents reported by nine observers during the Nov. 8 election last year.
One observer, Lynn Peterforte, said that she went to precincts in Three Rivers and Exeter. In Three Rivers she noted that there were voters filling out their ballots in open space on a table next to other voters without barriers of any kind. She notified the authority of the precinct and she claims they told her that it was what they need to do because they did not have enough barriers. Another incident occurred at the same Three Rivers precinct where two people were discussing their ballots with one another and she claims that the authority said that it was okay because they were married.
She added that in Exeter voters were handed provisional ballots because they forgot theirs at home. Peterforte claims that provisional ballots are difficult to count and that voters who forgot their ballot were not informed that they could go home and come back with their ballot.
Amy Dickenson-Campbell, another EIP observers claimed that she was attacked by the former head of the Registrar of Voters, Rita Woodard on election day.
“I was attacked personally by Rita Woodard when she was wearing no identification and it was quite an embarrassment of herself and the way she behaved,” Dickenson-Campbell said.
A retired Tulare County Fire Department employee, David Higden, who now serves as an observer with the EIP, claimed that he was discriminated against during the 2012 general election. Higden, who is 74% industrially disabled by injuries that happened on the job, stated that he has trouble standing for long periods of time and was not allowed to sit while waiting to vote.
“I was told I could not sit and that I had to stand. That was a directive from the Registrar of Voters,” Higden stated. “I explained to them my 74% disability and they said there was nothing they could do about it.”
Another observer, Rick Parker stated that he had never seen so much corruption in his life while observing poll workers at three Dinuba precincts.
“These people who are paid workers don’t understand their responsibilities and have to carry out that act. I don’t know how to say it any plainer,” Parker stated.
Board Chairman Pete Vander Poel noted that bringing the Registrar of Voters out from the Treasurer-Tax Collector and Auditor position helps voters. Instead of being a part of a larger department, the Registrar of Voters can be more accessible to voters and residents.
“In general this department wasn’t even really a department. It had no control and was very far removed from pubic input,” stated Vander Poel. “This is a very important function. The right to vote is absolutely critical and what better way to take input from the public and be accountable to the residents of this county than to have the Registrar of Voters department created.”
Supervisor Mike Ennis harkened back to the month immediately after the election noting the concerns he fielded from constituents.
“I had never heard so many complaints from the community. It’s just frustrating,” Ennis said.
Board supervisor Steve Worthley noted that Baldwin’s leadership style is one that the Board has confidence in and plays well with the concerns of the EIP.
“We need to draw attention to this department making sure it has proper leadership. We have great confidence in Michelle having working with her for nine years on the Board of Supervisors. She is a task master,” stated Worthley. “I think you will find her accessible to her your input.”