By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
TULARE COUNTY – While 2018’s election was just three months ago, voters are already looking toward 2020, and so are election offices. In less than two years the Tulare County Elections Office will have significantly upgraded their election software and equipment.
Last week the Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the Secretary of State that will overhaul the elections office equipment. Effective last week, Feb. 1 though June of next year Tulare County will benefit from a $958,000 reimbursement fund that will replace the elections office’s: tabulation equipment, accessible equipment, election management system software and hardware, electronic poll books and ballot on demand printers.
Tulare County registrar of voters, Michelle Baldwin, said the entire cost will be almost $1.5 million in total, but will be helpful moving forward. Board chairman Kuyler Crocker said the improvement will give voters and the public what they have been expecting from the elections office all along.
“We’re making an investment of almost a million and a half dollars in election equipment to make sure we can produce results quicker and have more accurate data and do everything for the public that they expect,” Crocker said.
Elections in Tulare County were largely criticized for their role in long lines and wait times in the 2016 primary and general elections, when Rita A. Woodard was the Tulare County registrar of voters. Woodard said a perfect storm of last minute voter turn out to the polls, a longer than usual ballot, and changes in election law all led to extra-long lines at the polling sites and delayed results for local candidates and voters.
There was a record number of last minute voter registrations leading to a record number of registered voters in the county. According to the Elections Office, voter registration in the two months leading up to the election increased by nearly 14,000 from 20,738 in 2012 to 34,702 in 2016.
A massive influx of voters forced longer wait times at poll sites where some people left and went to another poll site with a shorter line. Volunteers scrambled to identify where those voters should vote and how to accommodate them if they didn’t want to go to their designated poll site by providing them with provisional ballots. Per Election Code 14310, “At all elections, a voter claiming to be properly registered, but whose qualification or entitlement to vote cannot be immediately established …shall be entitled to vote a provisional ballot.” Woodard said this typically includes any vote by mail voter who may have misplaced their ballot.
When provisional ballots ran out, volunteers turned to touch screen voting machines. Woodard said many voters were hesitant to use the machines due to reports of vote tampering, malfunctions and uncounted ballots on the East Coast.
The unforeseen activity, confusion and impatience on election night delayed results. Woodard explained that election night results cannot be posted until the last voter has finished voting at all polling sites in the county, under Election Code 15152.
In 2017, Michelle Baldwin was promoted from Deputy County Clerk to Registrar of Voter, after the Registrar of Voters position was placed under the authority of the Board of Supervisors instead of being an independently elected position. At last week’s Board meeting, District 2 Board Supervisor Pete Vander Poel praised Baldwin and the Elections Office for their work to modernize.
“I just want to compliment you guys on modernizing the department and taking it to this new century in technology and doing a lot to serve your constituents very well…the election’s department is more than just elections there is so much to what you do,” Vander Poel said.