Essential Politics: California’s elections official exodus

By John Myers,
Los Angeles Times,
April 12, 2021


If all politics is truly local, it should be huge news when someone like Kammi Footedecides enough is enough.

As the registrar of voters for Inyo County, Foote spent 14 years on democracy’s front lines in a job that is equal parts educator and administrator. California gives wide latitude to its 58 counties in how to run elections, and a corps of veteran registrars call the shots across the state.

But something has changed. Registrars with decades of experience are calling it quits, stymied by the ever-growing list of election mandates that come without the funding to make them a reality — made worse by the personal and professional threats made by voters amped up on partisan rage and destructive conspiracy theories.

Now, months before a likely recall election followed by the 2022 campaign season where political maps will be redrawn and voters will need help navigating the changes, California finds itself in the midst of an election officer exodus.

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Gail Pellerin, who retired as Santa Cruz County’s registrar of voters in December, said it’s the voters who keep elections officials going for so long.

“Many of us have left the profession after 2020 but our passion for voters’ rights is eternal,” she said. “The integrity of our elections is something we all will fight to defend, no matter what path our lives have taken.”

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said her organization is involved in a research study examining harassment of elections officials during the 2020 campaign season. She has also spent years advocating for California lawmakers to fully fund the election mandates they enact — many of which keep adding to the work done by registrars whose resources are stretched thin.

“I think we need to sound the alarm” with the registrars leaving, Alexander said. “I’m worried because it’s a thankless job and we really take the people who do it for granted.”

For starters, most California counties bundle the job of running elections with the duties of a clerk and recorder. Handling marriage and death certificates, property maps and business documents can make a focus on elections hard to muster. Difficult, too, is that some registrars aren’t elected but instead appointed — answering to county supervisors as much as voters.

“If small counties lose a registrar, that’s a huge loss,” Alexander said. “They don’t necessarily have a deep bench.”

Elections may be conducted in even-numbered years, but it’s the odd-numbered years where all of the behind-the-scenes work really gets done. But 2021 is complicating that process, as registrars scramble to verify some 2.1 million signatures submitted on petitions to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom while also doing a full check of signatures on ballot initiatives pertaining to sports betting and single-use plastic products.

And on the recall: What will it take for the state to provide the roughly $70 million or more it will cost for that election?

Foote, who pointed out that more than half of Inyo County’s election last November was paid for with federal coronavirus relief funds, said she hopes those who follow in her footsteps will get the resources they need to ensure voters — to counter the accusations and cool the anger — that elections are being run properly.

“Under this kind of scrutiny, it’s just going to be super important that elections are well resourced,” she said. (Full Story)