Editorials

Sacramento County supervisors must scrutinize elections office

Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine, shown in her office in 2012, has admitted to a series of errors in ballot material for last November’s election.
Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine, shown in her office in 2012, has admitted to a series of errors in ballot material for last November’s election. Sacramento Bee file

Holding elections without repeated foul-ups should go without saying.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in Sacramento County. That means county supervisors ought to take a hard look at the county elections office, starting at the top with Jill LaVine, the registrar of voters.

As The Sacramento Bee’s Brad Branan chronicled in a Public Eye report Sunday, LaVine’s office sent out sample ballot booklets for last November’s election with a litany of errors. It was missing the list of the Democratic Party’s endorsements, as well as a statement from a Sacramento City Council candidate. An argument in favor of a Rancho Cordova sales tax measure was printed where the opposition argument should have gone. Three months after the November 2012 election, more than 400 uncounted ballots were found sitting in a warehouse.

In local elections that can be decided by relatively few votes, any mistake can be a big deal. The mishaps seem to be a sign that something bigger is amiss.

Current and former city clerks trace the problems back to LaVine’s decision to reassign Brad Buyse, the longtime campaign services manager, in January 2014. In hindsight, that was clearly a bad move; Buyse retired this year. Since the elections office is supposed to work closely with city clerks, it’s troubling that some clerks say their complaints have not been resolved.

In written responses, LaVine – appointed by supervisors as registrar in 2003 – acknowledged it was a “rough year” that “was not up to my standards.” But she claimed that city clerks also were at fault and that the number of errors was relatively small.

She and the county say that new procedures have been put in place to prevent similar mistakes, such as making sure that emails are sent to more than one person in the office and creating checklists to be confirmed by city election officials. Those safeguards are logical, but why they weren’t in effect long ago?

Phil Serna, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, says he will look into the concerns. That’s the bare minimum of what’s necessary.

If LaVine needs more help, supervisors should see what they can do. If there needs to be a leadership change, supervisors shouldn’t shy from that, either.

Whatever they decide, they must do it soon. Next year, there’s a presidential election that is sure to draw a big turnout and absolutely must go smoothly. Voters deserve no less.

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