Three candidates seek seat of Nevada County Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters | TheUnion.com

Three candidates seek seat of Nevada County Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters

Perhaps the toughest questions the three candidates for Nevada County Clerk-Recorder face in the June election are simply:

What, exactly, does a clerk-recorder do? And why should voters care who gets elected to the position?

All three candidates — incumbent Greg Diaz and challengers Mary Anne Davis and Elise Strickler — agree that the official who oversees the county's elections, and the recording of its documents, is vitally important.

They differ, of course, as to who is best qualified.

Davis and Strickler both point to what they see as disconnects in the office and say that a change is needed. Diaz, who has served in the position since being appointed in 2007, says his experience cannot be discounted.

MARY ANNE Davis

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Davis, currently the event manager/nonprofit manager with The Union, has spent 30 years in Nevada County in marketing, project management, event management, public relations and nonprofit service.

Now that her kids are grown, she said, she felt she had the time to serve her community — although, as she noted, she already serves as president of her Rotary club.

"I wanted to serve in a bigger way," Davis said. "I see this as a way to help the county."

Davis said running for clerk-recorder had not been on her radar until she was encouraged to read a Nevada County Grand Jury report critical of Diaz and the elections office.

"That caused me to think some change and a fresh perspective was needed," she said. "I was concerned about the amount of money being spent to fix problems, and I was concerned that the voter rolls were not being cross-checked with the felon lists — for four years."

The position of clerk-recorder appealed on another level as well.

"Ever since I was a little girl, my parents instilled in me how important it is to get out and vote," Davis said. "I find it very important for elections to be run with integrity; it's really critical."

In Davis' view, there is room for improvement in the clerk-recorder's office. And despite her lack of experience, she said she has the management chops to run the office successfully.

"Managing and leading — I've done that for 25 years," she said. "It's less about the specific details, and more about the management and leadership of the team. I'm familiar with the elections code; I've been studying it and I have been talking with clerk-recorders in other counties."

While Davis acknowledges a learning curve, she said she was thrown into managing The Union's home and garden show — and into producing a documentary film — with no prior experience.

"It doesn't scare me," she said. "I have good communication skills, and that has been a criticism of the elections office in the past."

And, she said, running a large-scale event has a lot of parallels with running an election.

"The same tactics totally apply," Davis said. "You have to plan months in advance, negotiate contracts, work with vendors, coordinate staffing — and it all has to come together at the same time."

Davis gave the decision to run a lot of serious thought, she said.

"At the time, no one was running against Diaz," she said. "I thought, certainly I can do this job. … I don't do things on a whim. This is a very well-thought-out, planned campaign. If I don't succeed, at least I know I did my best."

Davis said she has campaigned door to door, gone to Truckee, and spoken to a lot of groups.

"I've had to explain what this job is to a lot of people," she said. "(Then) the bulb goes on, and they understand how critical this is."

Greg Diaz

Diaz was appointed to the position of clerk-recorder in 2007. He won his first four-year term in 2010, beating challenger Barry Pruett, and ran unopposed in 2014.

Diaz's 11 years on the job have been marked with some controversy.

In 2008, an argument supporting a ballot measure was inadvertently put on the wrong page of a voter information pamphlet. At the time, Diaz said it was not the fault of his office. In 2010, Diaz, Nevada County and the elections office were sued by software firm AtPac for allegedly breaching a contract to provide recording software for the county. Nevada County eventually settled with AtPac, denying any wrongdoing.

The elections office was the subject of Nevada County Grand Jury reports in 2012, 2014 and 2017 that found inadequate poll worker training. Diaz disputed those findings, pointing to a positive review of the November 2016 election process by observers from the California Secretary of State's office. Polling place workers were found to be helpful and knowledgeable, and polling places were organized, according to the analysis.

"The Secretary of State sent their observers here, they attended classes and training — and their report was completely the opposite," Diaz said. "The members of the Grand Jury are not professional election administrators."

And, Diaz argued, even if poll worker training had some hiccups, "It's all about Game Day. … None of it matters except for Election Day performance. So OK, look at that. It was stellar, and has been stellar, all the years I've been here."

Diaz notes Nevada County being chosen as a pilot county for the implementation of the Voters Choice Act as a huge accomplishment — and as a reason he chose to run again, as a project he wants to see to completion.

"I am so excited about where our office is going," he said. "I want to run again because this is what I do and I do it exceeding well."

The majority of Nevada County voters already vote by mail, he said — 77.63 percent in November 2016, up from just 60 percent in 2007.

"The decision to go ahead with the Voters Choice Act was easy for me," Diaz said. "The other counties are set to go live in 2020. Because we're a pilot county, I felt strategically and logistically that if we started now (with the June election), with a smaller election, we will be that much ahead of the curve with the presidential election."

Among his accomplishments, Diaz noted he was asked to speak at the Future of California Elections conference in March, as a panelist for the opening plenary session "Opportunities and Challenges for Elections in 2018," and at the closing plenary session "Implementing the Voter's Choice Act in California's Diverse Communities."

That honor, along with the selection of Nevada County as a pilot for the Voters Choice Act, speaks volumes of his qualifications, he said.

"You can't come in and learn on the job – this is too important, it's too complex," Diaz added. "I have the experience, the training, the education and the performance."

Elise Strickler

Strickler, who currently works as an analyst in the Nevada County CEO office, spent several years working for Diaz in the elections office.

And it is that perspective that led her to run, she said.

"I got to be part of this very important part of our democracy," Strickler said. "It's not political; it's giving a voice to the people to vote the way their conscience dictates."

Being the clerk-recorder would be a good mesh of all her passions, she said — her "inner geek" and her desire to help people.

"I've been thinking about running for several years — it's a path I wanted to take," Strickler said. "I see that there are things that can be done better, or more smoothly. Specifically, communication, not just to the Board of Supervisors and internal offices, but also the community at large."

Strickler questioned the way the Voters Choice Act is being implemented as a major example of how communications should be improved.

She said many people still are not aware of the fact that there will not be polling places this year.

"There aren't as many locations available (to vote)," she said. "Going from 48 polling paces to seven Voting Centers, it's a huge decline, even though they will be open longer. We could have had more centers, to make people feel like they have a place to go. I would have liked to see — one in North San Juan. There's a drop box there, but no Voting Center."

In Strickler's view, more could have been done to educate the public beforehand, and she said follow-up will be vital.

"Any time you do a change, I believe you should over-communicate," she said. "That has been lacking for something this important."

Going forward, she said, the elections office should survey every voter it can.

"We have two elections this year to capture that (information)," Strickler said. "We're committed now, but we need to follow up to make sure this is the path that we want to continue down. … Our community needs to be part of this decision, as to whether they like this transition."

Strickler acknowledged that with any large undertaking, there are always hiccups.

"What is missing in this office is the management piece," she said.

Diaz, Strickler said, has been a little too hands-off and not as present as necessary.

"I want to make it easier to interact with the office on several levels," she said.

For one, Strickler wants to bring in some programming for candidates, to make filing for office an easier process. And she wants to make more statistics available, both with voter data and with documents on the recorder side.

"It should be all about transparency and making data accessible, making it easier for the public to interact with us," Strickler said.

"We are the behind the scenes of what keeps the county working," she said. "The people in this office should have high integrity, they know what the laws and regulations are. From birth to death, we're in your life."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

In their words

Mary Anne Davis

Q; What changes, if any, need to be made in the clerk-recorder’s office?

A: I think it would be helpful to do more cross-training of the staff, so that when someone walks in, anyone in the office can answer at least the most common questions. I also would like to look at having two recording times each day (instead of one) to better accommodate the real estate community.

Q; What makes you the best candidate for the job?

A: I have a strong and diverse background in management and leadership, which is a critical part of the position. I bring a businesswoman’s fresh perspective, along with a strong desire to serve our community.

Q; Should Nevada County have pushed the change to all vote-by-mail for the June election?

A: I would have done more outreach and surveying to see if this is really what the majority of our community wanted. I also may have opted to let a few other wealthier counties go first so we can learn from any mistakes. But since it is in place, I will absolutely support and uphold the laws set forth.

Greg Diaz

Q: What changes, if any, need to be made in the clerk-recorder’s office?

A: Under my leadership, we are upgrading our ten (10) year old recording system, which will enhance our indexing requirements and allow us to begin recording documents electronically. This will benefit both lenders and consumers. I also have provided substantial justification to add a full-time employee to our election staff to handle the ever-increasing workload, especially with our post-election audits, which is a valuable safeguard to protect the integrity of our elections.

Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?

A: Experience and training — that’s what this job requires.

Two decades ago, the revered clerk-recorder of Nevada County, Bruce Bolinger, retired. The department had run smoothly throughout his nearly two decades-long tenure.

Subsequent elections resulted in a succession of inexperienced, untrained persons leading the department. One served only one week. Within a few years, chaos ensued. Things got so bad by 2007 that the Board of Supervisors stepped in, the elected clerk-recorder stepped down, and the board asked me to come in and rescue the department on an emergency basis.

I accepted the challenge, restored order and for the past decade, under my leadership, the department has run smoothly, efficiently and without unsolved problems. In short, no drama. County voters agreed, electing me twice to head the office.

Clerk-recorder is a simplified description of this office and the extensive requirements that must be fulfilled. We spend most of the election cycle talking about our complex voting system but safeguarding personal and business records — while processing them expeditiously and safely — is also a big part of the job.

I began learning the complexities of the Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters duties and responsibilities nearly 28 years ago. Since that time, I have continually trained, taking courses and attending workshops to keep abreast of this ever-changing field. Just this spring I was asked to be a featured speaker — not once, but twice — at the statewide Future of California Voting conference. In the next election we will be one of just five counties fully utilizing the California Voters’ Choice Act to guarantee that our elections are open to all qualified citizens, will make voting easy to accomplish for every voter, and will assure that our elections are secure and efficient.

I also was elected President of the County Recorders’ Association of California in 2015 for a two-year term.

This endorsement by my peers validates what I — and the talented staff I have trained — have accomplished. Our carefully-planned and researched actions give us a seat at the table in the office of the Secretary of State for all future developments, not just for elections, but also for all other aspects of this important office.

I am grateful for the overwhelming support I have enjoyed from voters here in the county in the past. But my pledge is that I will continue to address the challenges of the ever-changing intricacies of this job. The regular audits of our office by state and county authorities, which we have always passed with flying colors, will continue to get A+ grades — and continuing value for county residents.

Q: Should Nevada County have pushed the change to all vote-by-mail for the June election?

A: Absolutely! Here are some of the reasons: 1. A high percentage, 78%, of Nevada County voters already vote by mail; 2. Because we are a rural county, in the past we had to set up and staff 49 separate polling stations, a costly, time-consuming operation; 3. Combining our number of those who vote by mail with the low number of voters who actually vote at polling stations make this a logical, money-saving step for our county. Under the new law, voters will have greater choices on how, when and where they vote. The purchase of new voting equipment, which will take place in time for the 2020 presidential elections, will save the County going forward at least one million dollars ($1,000,000). More importantly, this new model will increase election integrity, accessibility and voter turnout.

Elise Strickler

Q; What changes, if any, need to be made in the clerk-recorder’s office?

A: The Clerk-Recorder/Registrar Office needs to communicate more effectively. I want to make the offices easier to work with by offering programs such as how to complete the ballot measure process, what you should know about the elections office when you are a candidate, and how can the recorder’s office be helpful with research. My goal is to have the offices to be more accessible in terms of transparency and to make it easier to complete your business with the offices.

Q; What makes you the best candidate for the job?

A: I have the knowledge, education, and experience in the office and in government to run the office efficiently and to make the changes necessary to maintain the integrity and security of our county’s vital records and election processes. I am well versed in the laws, regulations, and processes of the office and am aware of what needs to be changed and updated to better meet the needs of our community.

Q; Should Nevada County have pushed the change to all vote-by-mail for the June election?

A: The decision to participate in the pilot program for all vote by mail with vote centers should have been pushed to the November election. This would have allowed more time for public outreach and input and more planning and preparation that have been missing from the current process.

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