May 3, 2012 - Crestline Ballots Wait Their Turn
Source: Mountain News
Title: Crestline Ballots Wait Their Turn
Date: May 3, 2012
By: Glenn Barr, Reporter
What looked at first like a major snafu with the processing of mail-in ballots for the Crest Forest Fire Protection District’s property tax-override measure proved instead on Tuesday to be just a case of management priorities at the county registrar of voters’ office.
Routine checks by staff members at the Crestline Courier-News and other Crestline residents on the status of their mail-in ballots on Measures J and K turned up information that the ballots had not been received.
Further, using the mail-in ballot tracking option on the registrar’s website also showed ballots had not been received.
Since the ballots in question had been mailed back to the county more than two weeks ago, visions of a bungled election with lost ballots sprang quickly to mind.
But a check with Michael Scarpello, the registrar of voters, showed that his personnel-depleted department is merely handling bigger election-related problems first.
“We’re not having any issues with ballots at all,” Scarpello said in a phone interview. “We’re installing a new piece of equipment for the June election. It’s a high-speed mail-ballot processor.”
Scarpello said the department workers who would normally be counting mailed-in ballots from Crestline voters have instead been working with a vendor, doing the complex work involved with programming and installing the $400,000 processor, manufactured by Pitney-Bowes.
“We’re letting them bunch up to process them all at one time,” Scarpello said of the ballots, adding that he expected the 1,894 mail-in ballots received as of Tuesday to be processed by 2 p.m. that same day.
As for staff members telling callers that ballots had yet to be received, Scarpello said his department is gearing up for the June 5 presidential primary and has hired new, temporary staff to handle phone inquiries.
“We have a knowledge base,” he said. “It’s on computer. That’s what they look at to answer every call.” New personnel may not have studied the computerized information carefully enough before passing along word that ballots had not arrived, he added.
Another problem his department faces, Scarpello said, is that in the past four years, owing to county budget cuts, his work force has been slashed from 49 people to 24.
“The things we would normally do, as far as passing information (on the status of ballots) take a back seat to mission-critical things,” he said. “What’s important is that your ballot is counted.” In the big picture, he said, “it’s a minor inconvenience not to know your ballot has been received.”
As for voters’ ability to track the status of their mailed ballots on the registrar’s website, Scarpello said that option is not normally used in minor elections, as a cost-saving measure. It is being used for Crestline balloting, however, but showed ballots as not being received by Tuesday because of staffing shortages.
As for the department’s new machine, Scarpello said it will streamline processing of mail-in ballots in future elections. It will scan voter signatures on ballot envelopes and then display them simultaneously on a screen with the signature on original voting registration forms, for quick and easy confirmation by a staff member.
“There will be way less physical handling,” he said.
Overall, Scarpello said, in this year’s elections, with redistricting and the voter-approved top-two primary, “there have been more changes in San Bernardino County than it has seen in the history of its elections, and the change is for the better.”
© Copyright 2012, Mountain News, Lake Arrowhead, California.