Sacramento County registrar acknowledges problems in elections office

Observers watch and take notes as they line up behind election officials including Registrar Jill LaVine, left, as they verify ballots in November 2012.
Observers watch and take notes as they line up behind election officials including Registrar Jill LaVine, left, as they verify ballots in November 2012. Sacramento Bee file

In their first extended remarks since the release of a critical report, Registrar Jill LaVine and her boss said Wednesday that they’re committed to fixing problems in the Sacramento County elections office.

Their comments came after the head of the Election Center in suburban Houston presented to county supervisors findings from a review that found poor morale, bad communication and shoddy work practices under LaVine and Assistant Registrar Alice Jarboe.

The report was spurred in large part by mistakes by the office in the 2012 and 2014 elections, including improper information sent to voters in sample ballots and the discovery of uncounted absentee ballots after an election.

LaVine’s boss, Chief Deputy County Executive Paul Lake, has also said the importance of the presidential election led him to request the review. In the June primary, county voters will also help decide contests to replace longtime Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Sacramento mayor, four council members and two county supervisors.

“Mistakes affect public confidence,” Lake told supervisors. “We take very seriously the need to correct these issues.”

LaVine noted that the report said most election employees are satisfied and her office has already taken steps to correct underlying problems that led to past mistakes. Still, she said she sees the need to improve and plans to implement the report’s recommendations, which include hiring a management facilitator to work with her and Jarboe, and conducting a study on staffing size and salaries.

“We are taking this very seriously,” LaVine said.

Supervisors offered very few comments on the report, perhaps because the discussion was delayed nearly two hours to nearly 5 p.m. by an earlier agenda item. They told staff to provide reports to the board twice a year about progress on the report’s recommendations.

Brad Buyse, a former campaign services manager in the office, told supervisors that leadership is the problem in the elections office because LaVine and Jarboe don’t work well with subordinates.

But Tim Mattice, executive director of the Election Center, said Jarboe and LaVine are well respected by their peers and most of their employees at the county.

In response to a question from a supervisor, Mattice said he expects this year’s elections to run smoothly, since the office has conducted four elections since the mistakes of 2014 and has had no problems.

Shirley Concolino, Sacramento city clerk, said her relationship with LaVine and her office have improved since the problems that last year led her to question LaVine’s competence. She said the city and the county signed an agreement formalizing how elections should be run for the city and LaVine and her staff have followed the agreement.

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