The notoriously poor-performing Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters is back at the public trough, asking the Board of Supervisors (BOS) for millions more in taxpayer money for electronic equipment that may never be needed.
Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey and her lieutenants want to spend $2.5 million to buy electronic poll books to replace the paper logbooks that voters sign when they go to the polls on Election Day. They say they need about 800 of these little electronic gadgets.
Oh, there’s more. The Registrar of Voters (ROV) wants to spend an additional $150,000 a year for software licensing fees that would give the county the right to use its own poll books.
It makes no financial sense for the registrar to spend so much money for electronic poll books while at the same time it appears that the county supervisors are considering changing to all vote-by-mail elections.
Here’s the math:
The ROV says that the majority of Santa Clara County’s voters cast their ballots by mail, with only 20 percent to 30 percent still preferring to go to the polls. The math translates to 150,000 voters at more than 800 polling places in a presidential election.
That would mean buying more than 800 poll books—presumably one per polling place—to sign in about 188 voters at each location at a cost of $3,125 per book.
That’s more than sixteen bucks a signature.
Never mind that fewer and fewer voters are voting at the polls; there were only 96,000 of them in the November 2014 election. If the county does go to all vote by mail elections, there would only be a few places for voters to cast their ballots in person, at places where the electronic poll books could be used.
The ROV would be stuck with close to 800 unused electronic poll books that could join the roughly 4,500 touch-screen voting machines—another one of the ROV’s bad decisions—that have been gathering dust in the county’s climate-controlled warehouse for years. Once again, the ROV would be left with an additional stockpile of expensive but useless equipment.
But wait, there’s more!
The ROV wants board approval to buy four more optical ballot reading machines at a cost to be determined at a later date. The ROV already owns 14 of these ballot-reading scanners.
According to the county’s contract with the vendor, each machine can read 400 ballots per minute, or 24,000 per hour. That means all 14 machines combined could read 336,000 ballots an hour.
After the polls closed in the November 2014 election, the ROV claims it ran those machines for six hours and all operated satisfactorily. However, that was the infamous night of the agonizingly slow election returns. And the ROV processed only 96,000 poll-voted ballots with scanners that could have run 2 million in the same time.
So now the ROV honchos want four more machines to give them the ability to count 2.5 million ballots in six hours—more than double the entire population of Santa Clara County. Four more costly scanners is just simple, unnecessary overkill.
Remember, the November 2014 election was plagued by slow vote results, costly ballot errors, contradictory and confusing public statements by the Registrar of Voters, and the abrupt resignation of a key employee. The ROV’s response to that debacle was to ask the Board of Supervisors for 11 new employee positions at an annual cost of roughly $1.4 million. The board approved the positions and funding without stipulating any goals, performance measures or benchmarks for improvement.
Given its recent history, we wonder if the ROV came up with its wish list in an effort to deflect blame for its election dysfunction. Conversely, we wonder if the BOS is acquiescing to the ROV’s pressure as a means to stop the noise without the sustained focus needed to resolve the underlying problems. We question that if the BOS doesn’t give the ROV everything it wants, they could point their fingers at the Board in the event of any future crises. And, perhaps if the Board gives the ROV everything, they, too, would be off the hook.
None of these requests address the real and glaring root causes of the ROV's poor performance. Hiring more staff, acquiring new equipment, training poll workers on new technology and complying with new, unknown election legislation is a lot of uncertainty. It is a recipe for disaster that should not be risked in the 2016 presidential election.
The ROV’s request was discussed Tuesday, during a county budget workshop, and the ROV’s budget will be finalized in June.
Santa Clara County taxpayers’ money should not be spent frivolously. We deserve a better return on our investment given the Registrar of Voters’ poor track record. The Board of Supervisors should deny these costly big ticket items.