Gary Smith: Election integrity |

Gary Smith: Election integrity

As a retired 66-year-old elections administrator I have watched our elections process and kept quiet until now. The latest actions by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, our state’s top election officer, compels me to speak out.

First, he gave out a bloated $35 million contract for a get-out-the-vote effort that has no funding authorization in the state budget and no increased spending authority. The California Controller’s Office has told him to cease. The controller only responded to his lack of authority to spend and ignoring contract biding rules, not his blatant political use of taxpayer dollars.

Secretary Padilla awarded the contract to SKD Knickerbocker, a Washington D.C. partisan political consulting firm that clearly states on its website that they are on “Team Biden.” Secretary Padilla was looking for a firm that could do targeted voter outreach in specific districts.

Targeted voter outreach wins elections and is used by candidates all the time. In 2004 California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley got caught doing the same thing and had to resign. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has sued to stop Secretary Padilla, not my favorite source, you can read the lawsuit at their website.

Second, on Sept. 29, Secretary Padilla issued Emergency Regulations Memorandum #20226 concerning signature verification on vote by mail ballots, ballot processing, and ballot counting. The timing of these last-minute regulations is suspect. Normally every year our California Legislature passes new election laws that county elections officials have time to analyze, develop, and test good procedures.

Space requirements force me to present only a few problems with the new regulations. Signatures verification standards on mail in ballots have been relaxed with a significant change being that ballot rejection can only happen if two different elections officials find beyond a reasonable doubt that the signature differs in multiple, significant, and obvious respects from all signatures in the voter’s registration record.

Beyond a reasonable doubt, is this a criminal trial? My mom is 95 and has re-registered many times in her county, do they have all of her old registrations scanned into their computer? Multiple ballots can now be stuffed into a single official return envelope as long as each voter signs somewhere on the official return envelope.

Now you don’t even need an official ballot anymore. You can use a sample ballot, letter or note cards and scrawl out your choices. These can be mailed individually in the return envelope or as mentioned above, stuff as many of them as will fit in one return envelope with the signatures. Memo #20226 can be read at the secretary of state website.

Make no mistake about it, these changes are about partisan advantage, not voter benefit. These time-consuming new regulations also provide more opportunity for fraud. Our 58-county registrar of voters has the tools to combat fraud, and will do a good job if that happens.

There are other new unfunded regulations this year to add even more time and complexity that will slow the process down. A presidential general election is the most time-consuming election compared to any other election. The coronavirus makes it even tougher.

Dec. 3 is last day for counties to certify results. Will counties have to take shortcuts elsewhere, maybe during provisional ballot processing or auditing precinct results, to meet that deadline? Our secretary of state should be making the election easier for county elections offices in these trying times, not harder. They should be striving for efficiency and accuracy, not partisan gain.

God forbid our secretary of state start issuing or counting ballots in the future. All the registrars of voters that I have met on the job, including ours, give it their all in a non-partisan effort. To see our state’s highest election officer behave like this is so troubling. He should be giving us confidence in elections, not creating doubt.

Process matters. It is about integrity no matter what side you want to win. Will Secretary Padilla suffer consequences or get appointed to the U.S. Senate if Kamala Harris becomes vice president? If our downward spiral in politics and elections continues, I am afraid when we will be joining Venezuela at the bottom.

Gary Smith lives in Grass Valley.

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