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Crossing our fingers for a smooth vote

The Union editorial board

The last general election, on Nov. 5, 2002, was not a presidential election. The highest office on the ballot was California governor, but the hottest races in Nevada County were for the Board of Supervisor seats from Districts 3 and 4.

Voters were glued to the radio, public access television or the county’s election Web site, waiting for the results.

They had a long wait. At 11 p.m., not even half the precincts had been counted; by midnight, after most people had gone to bed, it was at 72 percent. The word that Robin Sutherland had defeated Izzy Martin by more than 1,000 votes in District 4 came after 12:30 a.m., and the District 3 race was so close that it took several weeks and a recount for us to be sure Drew Bedwell had beaten Bruce Conklin by 19 votes.

All of which goes to say that the apparent problems taking place at the clerk-recorder’s office this election season cause us to worry about the scenario in 2004.

For starters, former Clerk-Recorder Lorraine Jewett-Burdick said in 2002 that the count was delayed because there were two ballot sheets to run through the automated counter for each voter – the same as this year’s ballot, with 16 state ballot measures. And not only are there two hot supervisor elections again this year, but a presidential and U.S. senator race, too, meaning that a higher voter turnout is likely.

The county Clerk-Recorder, Kathleen Smith, is brand new, appointed after Jewett-Burdick unexpectedly resigned in mid-term. Not only is this Smith’s first Nevada County election, but it’s apparently her first as an elections clerk (her resume includes stints in county and city clerk positions in Placer County).

Problems in the elections office first cropped up earlier this month when several thousand absentee ballots were sent out with a costly mistake. Then, a week later, four of the office’s employees who were most experienced at elections were gone – one fired and three others walking out in sympathy.

Smith isn’t talking much other than to say that she’s back up to full staff and it’s “business as usual.”

Maybe so. Certainly, former Clerk-Recorder Bruce Bollinger was sympathetic, saying that department heads often have to make tough decisions to keep things running smoothly. But you can’t blame us for worrying.

We hope the powers that be at the county are checking to see if help is needed – and that Smith is not too proud to ask for it. We wouldn’t be surprised if Bollinger would lend his advice if asked.

There already are warnings that another presidential election could be decided by the courts, or that Florida may be hit again with a voting fiasco. Let’s ensure there is a smooth – and timely – election tally here in Nevada County this year.


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