September 8, 2007 - County adopting paper ballots seen as ‘lucky'
Paper: Ventura County Star (CA)
Title: County adopting paper ballots seen as ‘lucky'
Date: September 8, 2007
Ask Assistant Registrar of Voters Gene Browning how Ventura County avoided joining the 21 counties that recently had their voting machines decertified by the state, and his first answer is: "We're just lucky."
But that's not entirely true, he admits.
Last year, Ventura County adopted a new system that uses paper ballots marked in pen and scanned mechanically.
Browning, who runs the county Elections Division, said there were good reasons to go with paper ballots instead of touch screens, including ease of use for both the voter and the poll worker.
The threat that Secretary of State Debra Bowen might disallow most of the touch-screen machines, which is what happened Aug. 3, wasn't one of the main reasons. But now, as Browning nears the end of his tenure as Ventura County's assistant registrar, it looks like the best one of all.
"Those counties that have touch screens are going to have a really drastic conversion" by the February presidential primary, Browning said. Some will have to spend millions of dollars to go back to paper ballots, he said.
Browning, 55, recently announced his retirement from the Ventura County Elections Division, effective Oct. 12.
Browning arrived in the Elections Division as a program administrator in 1996 after he retired from a career in the U.S. Navy. He was promoted to assistant registrar of voters in 2004.
In his 11 years working in elections, Browning has seen the public glare on the job brighten immensely. The turning point was the presidential election of 2000, when George W. Bush squeaked by Al Gore in Florida and the nation became obsessed with over-votes, under-votes and hanging chads.
After that contested election, came a series of controversies over electronic voting machines. Browning said he thinks the machines are secure and probably more accurate than any other method when used properly, but he's glad the county has stuck with paper ballots.
Paper ballots allow voters to understand how their votes are cast and counted, and that transparency is "the foundation of democracy," he said.
The county hasn't decided on Browning's replacement, said County Clerk-Recorder Phil Schmit, who oversees the Elections Division.
Jim Becker, the county's assistant clerk and recorder, will run the Elections Division for the local election in November. He might also be in charge during the February presidential primary, Schmit said.
"We've got a recruiting process we'll go through. We're not going to rush into anything," Schmit said. "Gene will be very tough to replace. He's done an absolutely wonderful job, considering that we've had elections every single year. It used to be a cycle of every other year."
The assistant registrar of voters oversees an office with a permanent staff of 14 and a budget of $3.4 million for the current year.
There are as many as 60 people working during the election season, along with about 1,400 volunteer poll workers, Browning said.
The position pays from $69,000 to $96,000 per year. Browning retired near the top of the salary range, Schmit said.
Author: Tony Biasotti
Copyright, 2007, Ventura County Star