Put democratic process ahead of partisan politics
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
Last month the Orange County Board of Supervisors quietly voted to reject a new model for voting in our county elections that would have saved taxpayers millions of dollars and expanded access to voting.
They did this despite recommendations from Orange County’s Registrar of Voters, who leads what is known as one of the most professional, objective and transparent offices in the nation. They did it despite a 2017 Orange County Grand Jury report fully endorsing the security of the new model. And they did it without any discussion.
And in the more than a month that has followed, a few columns containing tortured intellectual gymnastics by partisan voices have appeared in these pages to justify rejecting the program despite evidence that it works and saves taxpayers money.
The proposed “Vote Center” election model would optimize the process for voting by mail, which increasingly is the way Orange County voters want to cast their ballots. Recent figures show that 60 percent of participating county residents vote permanent absentee and that percentage increases every year.
Instead of spending taxpayer money on costly polling locations that fewer and fewer voters are utilizing, the new model would involve sending ballots to all voters, who would then have several options for how to vote: Mail their ballots, drop them off at designated vote centers, or cast a vote at a vote center. And, the centers would be open for voting for 10 days, instead of just one, expanding voter access to the polls.
All told, the model would save the county an estimated $10 to $20 million.
It was a win/win — strengthen democracy by expanding access to voters, and strengthen our county by saving taxpayer resources.
But partisan insiders fearful they would lose an advantage during the 2018 election lobbied the supervisors to reject the model. And once the board fell in line, the spin started.
Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates conceded that voting centers “may be the way of the future.” But she said Orange County shouldn’t lead the way because of potential voter fraud. However, this year the Orange County Grand Jury published a thorough review of voting systems in the county and determined widespread fraud doesn’t exist here and wouldn’t occur in the new model.
A second article by longtime Register columnist Steven Greenhut opined that if any union leader supports the new way of voting, it must be bad. But he fails to acknowledge that the vote center model was recently adopted in Sacramento on a bipartisan vote. In fact, as one Register reader pointed out earlier this week, Greenhut’s current position is a flip flop from 2009, when he supported all vote-by-mail elections.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla questioned the supervisors’ motivations, as well.
“I am very concerned that your action was driven less by the interests of the people of Orange County and more by political considerations,” Padilla wrote in a letter to the board.
We support the vote center model because it expands democracy, saves money for taxpayers and represents the kind of innovative work that government workers can and should be doing to improve efficiency.
Transitioning to a new elections system may have made voting easier locally, but it would have complicated campaigning as usual for Republicans and Democrats alike, who would need to adjust their strategic playbooks to account for the new rules. For those who care about strengthening democracy across the political spectrum, the risks and rewards are the same for members of both major political parties.
But there are politicians and ideologues who believe their success rests on keeping voters away from the polls. For them, promoting their own self-interest is apparently worth sacrificing the integrity and effectiveness of the democratic process.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: July 28, 2017