The Napa County grand jury issued a new report this week calling for the county’s registrar of voters to be appointed — not elected — and for a new independent board that would have oversight of the elections process.

The grand jury also wants interim ballot counts to be released between Election Night and the final certified results, as the three-week wait to know the results of the 2012 elections led some residents and candidates to express frustration with Registrar of Voters John Tuteur.

The grand jury monitored the Elections Division’s performance last fall. Its report criticizes aspects of how the division handled citizen complaints, how precincts with polling places were switched to vote-by-mail without public input, and how some residents were delayed in receiving ballot pamphlet.

It found no problems with the accuracy of the polling machines, the handling and counting of ballots, or security measures for maintaining and storing ballots, according to the report.

The report reserved its harshest criticism for Tuteur being an elected official overseeing the Elections Division, and states that it prevents the creation of an independent oversight board. The grand jury asserted that it was the sole independent oversight of county elections.

“The operation of a smooth, responsive election process is essential to a well-functioning democracy,” the report states. “It is almost inconceivable that an office with these most important and challenging responsibilities is not subject to periodic audit and oversight by an independent citizens board charged with that particular responsibility.”

Tuteur holds the registrar of voters position in addition to his duties as assessor, recorder and county clerk.

In an interview Thursday, Tuteur thanked the grand jury, and said its findings prove his office performed well on its biggest test — providing an accurate, secure ballot-counting process.

“On the overall, the report was very positive on the performance of the elections department,” Tuteur said. “That’s what I care most about.”

He issued a preliminary response to the report Wednesday, saying some of the grand jury’s points needed clarification.

He said that to his knowledge Napa County has never had an appointed registrar of voters since its founding in 1850, and 42 of California’s 58 counties elect their registrars of voters.

The grand jury report found that the Elections Division lacks a formal archive for citizen complaints, but Tuteur said he maintains one of phone calls, emails and other correspondence, and replies to each complaint.

On the issue of setting up an independent elections board, he said that’s up for the Board of Supervisors to decide, but doesn’t think California law allows such a board to be anything more than an advisory committee.

Some California counties have these committees, which are typically devoted to ensuring people with special needs are properly served in the elections process, such as people with disabilities or language barriers.

Tuteur said a task force recommended setting up one in Napa County in 2004, but he reviewed that request with county staff and didn’t feel it was warranted because of the county’s small population size.

“We felt we didn’t have voters in populations large enough,” Tuteur said.

No county has an independent committee with oversight or decision-making authority, he said.

Following long lines at polling places in the 2006 mid-term elections, Tuteur said he decided to begin converting polling place precincts, where California law permitted, to vote-by-mail. He said vote-by-mail provides residents an easy, secure means of filling out their ballots.

“That’s what it’s been all about,” Tuteur said. “I didn’t want a big mess on Nov. 2, 2008.”

He said of the 25,000 residents converted to vote-by-mail, he heard from approximately 400 people, and responded to each of them with his reasons for the switch.

“I heard from 400,” Tuteur said. “If you make all decisions based on whose wheel is squeaking the loudest, you never get anywhere.”

Even with an independent advisory board and the Board of Supervisors appointing the registrar of voters, one person would still have the authority to make the decision converting polling places to vote-by-mail, Tuteur said.

“There’s always got to be a person that’s got to do that,” Tuteur said. “I took action. Any good manager is going to have to make the best decisions they can.”

The grand jury report comes as the Board of Supervisors is preparing to make Tuteur’s job duties the subject of a study session in October. Tuteur is up for re-election in 2014, and will run for re-election, he has said.

The board addressed the issue during a meeting in May, with some supervisors expressing desires to see changes implemented in the elections process, although not to the extent of those recommended by the grand jury.

Supervisor Bill Dodd wanted to see the ballot counting expedited, while Supervisor Diane Dillon expressed interest in seeing the registrar of voters become an appointed position.

Supervisor Keith Caldwell cautioned against creating a new department and management position, given the costs the county would incur. Supervisor Mark Luce said having the Board of Supervisors appoint the elections chief would lead to public concern that it was improperly influencing the elections process.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said the grand jury report aligns with his view of how to reform elections in Napa County, although he wouldn’t want to see it result in the creation of a stand-alone department. Wagenknecht pressed for the county and the Board of Supervisors to review Tuteur’s position when he took over as chairman of the board in January.

“When it comes back up, I’ll cite the information in the grand jury report,” Wagenknecht said. “I think they got most of it right with this one. They were able to look at it pretty thoroughly.”

(13) comments

Jim S

Tuteur: "doesn’t think California law allows such a board to be anything more than an advisory committee."

Wrong. San Francisco County has an elections commission: It selects and oversees the Director of Elections.

"The City Charter authorizes the Elections Commission to supervise the City's Department of Elections. The Commission sets general policies for the Department: it also selects and supervises the Director of the Department of Elections. "
http://www.sfgov2.org/index.aspx?page=319

PassTheLove

Thank you, Kevin. We are a community and we need to care. Solipsistic, stop wasting your time reading others' comments if you are going to be mean about it. Old Time Napkin, we stand united.

publiusa

Who really cares what the Grand Jury says? It is a toothless relic of the past. In my experience no public agency has complied with and Grand Jury recommendations and they just scoff at them...like John Tuteur will...because he can...because his is an elected official and gets re-elected every 4 years.
Publishing Grand Jury reports is a waste of ink and paper like publishing the fact that American Canyon has bottleneck traffic...nuttin's gonna happen.

napablogger
napablogger

pub, you are right

napanight

Good to see the Grand Jury has been looking into this issue also. Now if the BOS would stop playing chicken and actually follow through removing Elections from Mr. Tuteur's duties, that will greatly benefit the citizens of Napa County. Elections dept. should be managed by an appointed position (someone solely trained and dedicated entirely to the full elections process) and not consolidated with some other department with no idea where to start.

Unfortunately, Mr. Tuteur believes he can pull off whatever he thinks best. If the truth were known, the real goal behind converting voter precincts into vote by mail ballots might have been so he could claim to be the first in California to do so. There are specific election code laws to be followed on most all procedures of the elections process and it would be interesting to see if any of those were overlooked when eliminating precincts.

NapaMark15

My apparently signature didn't match on my mail in ballot from what they had on file .. so my votes didn't even count. Awesome.

glenroy
glenroy

Voting is not by any means the only problem with Tuteur's inability to manage competently, the Grand Jury should be investing the intentional over assessing property improvements without even contacting the owner and or giving them any notice. The first they know of it is a massive supplement tax bill with 20% per year interest; with what can only be described as a fraudulent cover letter explaining to the owner not to do anything until it’s final….but the fact is 30 days after that letter is received by the owner it becomes final at which point is “not” appealable… they leave that out on purpose. This is worse than those fly by night companies who promise to reduce your property taxes and do nothing in exchange for the fee because this is suppose be a nonbiased nonpartisan office when it is grossly both.
The local state franchise office has been inundated with justified appeals….and the stack grows daily.

NAPAsince1976

Thank you Grand Jury for your recommendations. Please be aware that Tuteur has essentially scoffed at the past Grand Jury recommendations and only implemented them when his back was to the wall with more public criticisms. Those criticisms starting when he absorbed the office from the previous well-run Recorder- Elections official. Honestly, all you have to do is look at past history to realized that Tuteur has made extreme errors that have effected the validity and public trust in the election process in Napa County. His latest of excessive vote reporting time is entirely his own making; bouncing citizens to mail-in voting and then not providing a means to timely register their votes. Shame on Tuteur ! He accepts no blame. Board Of Supervisors, you have your marching orders; remove the Elections office from the Assessor-Recorder; establish a independent office!

Old Time Napkin

Pass The Love I agree with you 100%. Mr. Tuteur took it upon himself to take away the precinct voting and the residents had no say in this move. Kevin, good questions that Mr Tuteur probably cannot answer.

PassTheLove

That would me the 401th person. I went in to the Election Office on Election Day to complain about having to vote by mail. Staff did not ask for my name or if I would like to officially register a complaint. I do not like voting by mail. I was not asked if I liked voting at a precinct or vote by mail prior to that choice being taken away. When I came to the US 23 years ago, I embraced the American tradition of voting at a precinct. I loved the idea of going in with my daughter and teaching her the importance of standing in line and casting a vote. Voting by mail takes away the nostalgia. Also voting by mail did not prove to have election results any quicker. Please bring back voting at precincts, especially the one at the Bel Aire Park Elementary School for people living on Wise, Lassen, and Unwin Streets.

Solipsistic
Solipsistic

This is getting ridiculous. No one cares about your nostalgia for precinct voting. Why are you wasting people's time by complaining about this non-issue?

kevin
kevin

I care...

kevin
kevin

John, we have lots of questions!

We are not allowed to ask to see drivers licenses when registering voters, how do you verify the identity of the new voter to know he/she is a citizen?

How many voter registration forms end up being rejected?

How many people have been prosecuted for lying on their registration?

About 6% of my Napa mailing get returned by the post office as no longer being at that address. How many mail in ballots came back undeliverable in the last election?

Have those voters been removed from the voter rolls? (About 75% of Napa County is now vote by mail).

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