Elections clerk gloats as we await final results | TheUnion.com

Elections clerk gloats as we await final results

A few weeks prior to Election Day, we strongly suggested it was a good time to replace our county elections clerk Kathleen Smith.

We felt she was both incompetent and arrogant, a bad combination for a public servant charged with ensuring that elections go smoothly.

Unfortunately, Smith bested her opponent Greg Diaz by 1,000 or so votes, not really impressive for an incumbent running against a virtual unknown who did very little campaigning, especially when you consider that maybe 65 percent of our registered voters stayed home on Election Day (22,696 of Nevada County’s 63,575 registered voters voted). That’s not exactly what you’d call a “mandate.”

Following her election, Smith was so tickled with herself that she just had to “chirp” a bit to her colleagues, sending out this e-mail:

“I must admit that I am feeling a little like the cat who ate the canary,” Smith wrote in her June 8 e-mail, “having survived a vicious mud-slinging campaign sponsored by the local print media in Nevada County, the Grass Valley Union.”

Maybe she could have spent the morning after Election Day … you know … counting votes.

Besides, I had a cat once that choked on a canary.

Smith went on to tell her pals (well … it really wasn’t a pal who forwarded me her e-mail) how she called the cops on one of my reporters. He had the audacity to ask for a provisional ballot. “The reporter who wrote it (the so-called “inflammatory” article) came into Elections Central (a public building) on Election Day (imagine that) demanding to vote provisionally (demanding to vote on Election Day! The nerve of him!) and tried to ‘rattle’ the staff (he asked a question). At one point he was interfering such that I called the Sheriff’s Office who removed him for violation of Election Code Section 18502.”

Smith, it seems, is also a judge, jury and executioner. But it’s nice to know she has a good grasp of election codes, which is somewhat surprising given the number of election screw-ups during her short tenure. A sampling of her efforts include:

Oct. 5, 2004: “Absentee ballots mailed out; many feature black-out error” – “We sincerely apologize for the error,” Smith said then. “It is a correction only absentee ballots will see.”

Oct. 8, 2004: “Election walkout: One fired, three quit at Nevada County Clerk’s office” – “Now that she (Smith) has a new crew in there, God help this county,” one former employee said.

Oct. 30, 2004: “Missing ballots plague some area residents.”

Nov. 10, 2004: “Supervisor calls election a ‘meltdown.'”

Nov. 9, 2005: “Some voters end up in wrong places” – Smith said she changed a number of polling places and that voters should have checked the back of their ballots.

April 8, 2006: “Deadline extended due to clerk-recorder error” – A postcard mailed to 3,700 potential voters on March 31 contained “half an error,” according to Smith.

April 20, 2006: “Eighty skipped on voting pamphlet.”

May 5, 2006: “Some could struggle to vote” – Nevada County’s inability to comply with the Help America Vote Act by the June 6 primary is expected to make it difficult to vote.

For the record, our reporter simply asked a good question. He didn’t raise his voice and was never asked by Smith’s “rattled” staff, or by Smith herself, to leave the office. In fact, Smith never even came out of her office to speak with our reporter, who, in addition to asking for a provisional ballot, also asked to know why the former assistant clerk no longer worked there.

Our newly elected elections chief then went on in her e-mail to slam her predecessor, Lorraine Jewett-Burdick, who resigned in mid-term to pursue other opportunities.

“In addition, my predecessor, who retired during the middle of her second term, called my office on election night after the polls closed demanding to know where the first election results were.” (Imagine a constituent asking an elections clerk for election results after the polls have closed.). “She (Jewett-Burdick) went on and on about how when she was in office, absentee results were posted at 8:05 p.m. yada, yada, yada.”

I suspect Lorraine didn’t exactly say “yada, yada yada.” She’s quite capable of expressing herself better than that. That’s apparently how our new elections chief speaks to taxpayers, voters or anyone else who crosses her. A nice man told me he and his wife were fired by Smith because they supported her opponent.

Are you beginning to see a pattern?

Any sign of arrogance?

“I am appalled that someone who did not want this job and quit before the end of her term has the audacity to criticize the way in which the job is being done now,” concluded our canary-eating elections chief, referring to her predecessor.


Perhaps Jewett-Burdick was just wondering why Placer County had initial results two minutes after the polls closed while it took Smith’s office nearly an hour. And Placer County had 40,000 or so more votes to count.

They say we get the government we deserve, and for the most part, they are correct. Unfortunately, in this case we are getting an elections chief who really isn’t very capable and is too arrogant to admit it. That is a dangerous combination for someone entrusted to ensure a fair and competent election process.

Good luck in November.


Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, jeffa@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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