Editorials

Sacramento County can’t afford more election mishaps

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

Before it’s too late, Sacramento County supervisors have to ask themselves: Are they absolutely sure that this year’s momentous elections will run smoothly under Registrar Jill LaVine?

Some city clerks haven’t been, and neither are we.

A new, nominally independent review doesn’t restore trust in the county elections office. Obtained by The Bee’s Brad Branan, the 74-page report warns that the elections office is beset by “significant communication, teamwork and morale issues” and an “undertow of discontent and dissatisfaction.” Meetings are full of “finger-pointing and gossip in place of useful discussion.”

That doesn’t sound like a workplace that’s geared up to perform well in this big election year with key races and issues on the June primary ballot and the already crowded presidential ballot in November. The elections office must do better than the 2014 election, when some egregious mistakes messed up the voting.

Clerks in Sacramento, Rancho Cordova and Galt who had to deal with the fallout complained. That led the county to order the $115,000 review, which supervisors plan to discuss March 23. LaVine plans to respond then, too.

The report recommends additional training and closer cooperation with city clerks and says the county should hire a third party to make sure the recommendations are carried out. Paul Lake, the chief deputy of countywide services, said the report identifies issues that need to be addressed, and he’s confident LaVine will do so.

We wish we could share that confidence, but based on her track record, there’s no guarantee. Brad Buyse, the county’s former campaign services manager, said the “real problem is the lack of leadership.”

We’ve raised concerns about how independent the review actually was since it was conducted by the Election Center, a Houston nonprofit with which LaVine has close ties. At least Ernest Hawkins, who preceded LaVine as county elections chief and recommended her to replace him, didn’t lead the review, as originally planned. He was still part of the audit team, however, and the county said he interviewed three city clerks and two supervisors.

So it’s no surprise the report gives LaVine something of a pass. That doesn’t mean supervisors have to do the same.

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