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Terry McAteer: California faces election nightmare

Terry McAteer | Other Voices

Since election day in November 2020, nine California county registrars of voters have resigned. This little known fact should send a red flag up every Californian’s flag pole.

One of those nine, Kammi Foote, resigned after 14 years as the elections registrar in Inyo County. Kammi is a very good friend of mine, and I can attest that she is a dedicated professional.

“I think, if anything, it’s just a sense of being worn down and tired,” Foote said about her decision to leave. “In 2020, we found ourselves working seven days a week, months on end, under tremendous pressure.”

Unfortunately, Kammi has faced personal threats from both sides of the aisle and been called a liar, which has tugged at her soul. County election officials didn’t sign up for personal threats or name calling. They signed up for the thankless job of managing our most sacred right as citizens: voting.

Kammi, like the other departing registrars, is very worried about the unjustified attack on voting rights that seems, for many angry individuals, to be focused on county election registrars. Kammi, thankfully for us, has taken a job with the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission because she, too, fears the impact of the current assault on voting rights.

The other factor leading to the exodus of county election officials in California over the past five months is the enormity of election issues every county election registrar will face this coming year. While the pandemic, the presidential election and the “big lie” brought on the Jan. 6 insurrection, the real test to our elections comes this year.

We all know that Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing a recall later this year, which will be an all mail-in ballot election. This unexpected event on the election calendar is just the tip of the iceberg facing those in the election business.

The biggest nightmare deals with getting the 2020 census results into effect before the June 2022 California Primary Election. Because of the pandemic and legal wrangling over census questions and reporting, the federal census data is way behind schedule. The states do not expect to receive final census data until September. Every state in the nation is fretting over the September date, but California is in a real bind.

Facing a June 2022 primary election, California by state law must open the filing period for elected offices this December. On the June 2022 ballot will be all statewide offices (governor, secretary of state, etc.), federal offices (Congress) along with many countywide/city offices (supervisor, registrar of voters, etc).

The problem is crystal clear. The federal census data arrives, according to the Census Bureau, on Sept. 30, and the election filing period begins in mid-December. Between Sept. 30 and Dec. 15, nearly all federal, state and local district boundaries must be redrawn to comply with census data. This means that all of California’s 80 state Assembly districts, 40 state Senate districts and 53 congressional districts must be redrawn so that they roughly have the same number of residents in each district.

This task falls to the 14-member, non-partisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which conducts an open process with much citizen input. As Communication Director for the Commission Fredy Ceja recently noted, “If we’re still looking at a December deadline for candidate filing, that’s not going to happen.”

The California Constitution declares that the new commission must complete its task by Aug. 15. That is not going to happen since the commission will not receive the data until Sept. 30, which has sent all election officials into a tizzy.

County election officials face a similar hurdle. They must assist in redrawing county supervisor districts, water districts, school district trustee boundaries, etc., while also having to conduct a recall election, prep for a June primary election and run for re-election themselves. It’s the perfect storm.

As Matt Rexroad, a political consultant to the redistricting commission, said, “Based on the current schedule, there’s no way they can do a June primary.”

Therefore, the pressure then builds on the Legislature to change the date of the primary election to late summer or early fall 2022. Stay tuned for more on this important topic and its implications as crunch time approaches.

In the meantime, when you see Nevada County Registrar of Voters Greg Diaz in the weeks and months to come, be nice to him and buy him a cup of coffee. He needs it as he continues to burn the midnight oil at the Registrar’s Office. Also, I suggest, you say “thanks” — it’s our civic duty.

Terry McAteer lives in Nevada County.

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