No black eye for Nevada County voting process
November 15, 2012
America got a big black eye on Election Day, last Tuesday. In a number of states, long lines, interminable waiting to vote, ballot snafus and machine breakdowns marred the vote. Florida's vote, heavily contested, wasn't counted until it didn't matter. Arizona's count is bogged down.
This wasn't the case in Nevada County. The vote-tallying process, although challenged by a large, later-than-usual mail-in vote, was handled smoothly and efficiently.
I had the good fortune to spend election day with Gregory Diaz, who directs our county's voter registration and balloting process. We visited numerous polling places in Truckee, Grass Valley, Nevada City and points in between. Voters in states like Ohio, Florida, Arizona and even in parts of California would have been amazed if they'd tagged along with us.
There were short lines at some polling places, especially one on Dorchester Road in Truckee, where two precincts were crowded into a fairly small space. But voting there took just five or 10 minutes, and the atmosphere was upbeat and friendly. Poll workers fired questions at Diaz, got prompt answers and thanked him for visiting them.
What (Diaz) said that night that stuck with me was this: The registration and voting process must be non-partisan.
At other polling places, the mood was similar: smiling, welcoming poll workers; contented voters.
I'm sure there must have been some disgruntled people at some polls, but during four hours or so at a randomly selected half-dozen or so polling places, I didn't see any. When I spent another eight hours in what I call "Election Central" — Diaz's election offices in the Rood Center in Nevada City — things seemed hectic to me but not to the staff and volunteers working there. They raced around with their telephone headsets, talking directly to workers in the field and to each other, barking questions to their immediate supervisor, Gail Smith, assistant registrar of voters — and getting immediate answers.
Equipment problems were solved in real-time moments. Uncertainties voiced by poll workers were resolved immediately and the concerned workers given a telephonic pat on the back.
By Dec. 4, when all of the voter processing and tallying must be reported to the California Secretary of State, Nevada County can report something that seems rare after the turbulence reported in other states: a smooth, accurate election without rancor or disruption.
Why did this happen here and not elsewhere?
First, a disclaimer: I worked to help Greg Diaz two years ago in his successful campaign for the office he holds. I did so after meeting Greg at a dinner party with mutual friends at which I had time to discuss with him at length his philosophy of elections. What he said that night that stuck with me was this: The registration and voting process must be non-partisan. He told me that he was neither Republican nor Democrat but that his focus was on keeping the voting process non-partisan, efficient and effective.
From the reports I have read from the states where the voting process was flawed — especially Florida, Ohio and Arizona — the bureaucracy overseeing registration and voting in those states was decidedly political.
When Greg was running for office, I got word that the Democratic Central Committee was about to endorse him. I went to the group's next meeting and argued, perhaps too strenuously because I rankled a few members, that an endorsement would be a disservice to Greg and to the voting process in Nevada County. The office, I said, required comprehensive knowledge of state and federal law, intimate understanding of highly technical procedures and a crucial need to hew a straight and narrow path without regard to the views or interests of political parties. My view prevailed, fortunately.
In a few days, across the nation, the voting process will wind down. There will be lawsuits — some have already been filed in Florida — and there will be angry words exchanged over how the voting process was conducted.
But not here. I can't imagine how any sane person would want to sue here. Many people in Nevada County are upset and angry about the outcome of the election. But they can't be unhappy with the process here.
We should give credit for two things:
One, the non-partisan nature of the election process in our county.
And two, the professionalism and dedication of the elections staff, as well as of the hundreds of volunteers who participated.
Alfred G. Kildow lives in Nevada City.