Nevada County, CA Supervisors Balk at Costs of New Voting Model

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The future of a new voting model in California’s Nevada County is in doubt after supervisors expressed doubts about the cost and other specifics – surprising the county’s election official, who thought he’d been keeping them in the loop. The Sierra Sun has more:

The future of an all vote-by-mail Nevada County is in limbo after the Board of Supervisors balked at some $300,000 in funding for the program on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

Greg Diaz, the county’s top elections official, formally requested the funds to implement the Voter’s Choice Act — a new system that will send a vote-by-mail ballot to every county voter. It also will remove voting precincts and replace them with a fewer number of voting centers, which would remain open longer and be accessible to anyone.

However, the proposal failed in a 3-to-2 vote against after some supervisors expressed concern and surprise over Diaz’s decision to wait until some five months before the June 5 election before formally presenting the new voting method.

“You know the procedure,” Supervisor Ed Scofield told Diaz. “You know the procedure well.”

Diaz argued he sent staff to each supervisor to explain the voting program months ago and has held a series of public meetings about the effort.

Supervisors Richard Anderson and Heidi Hall supported the measure. The program required a four-fifths vote to pass.

Diaz now intends to appear before the county’s budget subcommittee, which supervisors said would examine the proposal and try to reduce the cost — a task Diaz told the board he’d already performed.

No meeting has been scheduled.

“Right now, I need to absorb this meeting and put the options on the table,” Diaz said after the vote.

The vote caught Diaz by surprise because he believed he had been keeping supervisors informed about progress – but the board seemed to believe the changes hadn’t been fully presented and election staff were unprepared to answer their questions:

The change in how Nevada County votes has been in the works for months. On Tuesday California Secretary of State Alex Padilla appeared before supervisors and praised the new system, saying it would increase voter participation and lower costs.

“The voter can access any vote center in the county that’s convenient to them,” Padilla said.

Some supervisors questioned Diaz’s timing in bringing the funding request to them. Referring to his staff’s prior presentations, Diaz said they asked supervisors for any questions and concerns.

“We have had multiple meetings that have been publicly noticed in the paper,” Diaz said. “I’m not quite sure how to answer your concerns, supervisors, because we have been very transparent, very open.”

Supervisor Hank Weston said he remembered the presentation. However, staff didn’t know the precise cost of the program when he asked, and the county staff report released last week was the first time he saw the price.

Some of this is almost certainly related to the usual nervousness about changing an existing voting model:

Public opinion appeared mixed on the issue.

Helene Hall pointed to an existing 82-percent vote-by-mail figure, asking why money should be spent on a new program when the county already mostly votes by mail.

“I don’t think this is that critical,” she said.

Former Clerk-Recorder Bruce Bollinger said vote-by-mail has become more prevalent over the years. He called it inevitable and supports Diaz.

But ultimately, this is about money – and the two sides are clearly not on the same page:

Scofield asked for the initial budgeted cost for the 2018 election, and suggested a meeting of the budget subcommittee when Diaz said he didn’t have the numbers.

Scofield suggested the subcommittee meet with Diaz, examine the budget and determine where cuts can occur.

“We’ve been doing that,” Diaz said.

“No, you haven’t,” Scofield countered.

This dispute could be masking other concerns, like the ones that sank a similar proposal in Orange County last year. I’ll be watching to see if this vote halts progress toward the new voting model, or if it is a wake-up call for everyone concerned to focus on all aspects of the proposed switch. Stay tuned …

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