“This is a seemingly never-ending conversation, something everyone seems to talk about every two years without getting anything done, ” said Supervisor Joe Simitian, who called for a review of the office. “I just thought this time, let’s tackle this and wrestle it to the ground.”
Ideally, he said, the county would buy entirely new ballot counting equipment—but that won’t happen for at least another few years. In the meantime, the county will consider hiring more people and ramping the office up to a 24-hour operation around Election Day to speed up vote counts. Simitian also wants to look at creating a policy that requires automatic recounts for close races.
"We need to establish public confidence in the system," he said. "Because what we’ve got right now is a process that is slow, cumbersome and not as well communicated as it can and should be."
Presenting to a special committee that convened Wednesday, Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey said the main reason this county is one of the slowest in the state in counting election tallies is because of its outdated equipment. Instead of counting results at each precinct and sending them in, they have to drive ballots back to the main office to be tabulated. She blamed third-party vendors for delays in posting results online and requested additional staffing to identify root causes of the problems. Read her entire report here.
But Sharon Sweeney, part of the seven-member Citizens Advisory Commission on Elections, said the office could speed things up by doing a better job of training what staff it has.
“There’s a culture problem,” she told San Jose Inside.
Sweeney sent a seven-page letter to supervisors (longer, if you include all the attachments of article clippings and other documents) picking apart Bushey’s report.
“The request for additional staffing is pre-mature given that the root cause(s) of problems have not been identified,” she wrote. “In other words, throwing more resources at a problem before it’s thoroughly known can complicate issues and could make matters worse. It might also be a misuse of taxpayer dollars. The bottom line is that the same issues that became evident during the most recent elections will continue to occur if there are no basic changes in the human element first.”
Bushey’s report, Sweeney continues, points to plenty of solutions, but fails to examine the root causes of the delays and failures this past election season. Bushey doesn’t mention the thousands of misprinted sample ballots and glosses over IT Manager Joseph Le's abrupt departure just before election night, when he reportedly walked out with his badge, county cellphone and "a hard drive loaded with voter information.”
In her report, Bushey says part of the reason results were so slow to post on election night was because of a server outage. Because the results web page was unavailable, they posted a scanned PDF copy of the results just after 10pm.
Sweeney says that’s not the whole story. A quarter past 10, she called Assistant Registrar of Voters Matt Moreles, asking about the lagging results.
“He answered my call immediately and told me that they were having issues uploading to and from the scanning machines and to the website,” Sweeney wrote. “Further, I asked why there were no results yet from the poll-voted ballot tallies. He told me that they were just receiving the materials and ballots from the polls and had just started running the ballots through the scanners. This information seems to be consistent with the ROV’s statement that they had one result update by approximately 10:07 p.m. My experience in past elections is that the first poll-voted tallies are usually reported earlier than that. What went wrong? The ROV’s report does not talk about this.”
She told supervisors that the ROV needs an independent review.
“The IT manager’s departure, the mishandled communications, the claim of media speculation, etc. has shed a strong beam of light on the Registrar of Voters’ operations and personnel,” Sweeney wrote. “The ROV’s report states that the November 2014 election ‘identified many opportunities to improve its processes and procedures.’ Yes, that same report fails to identify the root causes of their delays, mistakes and errors and fails to recognize their own human elements.”
Simitian agreed that training staff would be a useful short-term solution.
“It may not be the most exciting thing to talk about, but training is really important,” he said. “Unfortunately, whenever funds are short, one of the first things to get cut is training. And the county went through a very tough decade.”