If Napa County residents disapprove of Registrar of Voters John Tuteur’s job performance, it’s up to them to do something about it.
That was the message from the Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, as the board voiced no interest in making Tuteur’s position an appointed one, rather than elected by a majority vote from residents.
Tuteur has come under criticism this year from citizens dissatisfied with the weeks-long wait it took to get results from the election last year. The only results released after Election Night on Nov. 6 were the final certified results, issued three weeks later.
In response, Tuteur analyzed his office’s work flow and determined it would be possible to issue one interim count, about 8 to 10 days before the final vote is certified. That tally would include 90 to 95 percent of the votes cast, he said.
The Elections Division will do that with the June 2014 primary, and again in the November general election, he said. He surveyed 11 other counties in California that count ballots the same way Napa does, and all 11 offered interim counts.
But he said he didn’t want to do additional interim counts, as he feared it would jeopardize the accuracy of the counting process and would lead to long hours for the elections staff and volunteers.
“We feel we can do an interim result without jeopardizing the accuracy,” Tuteur said. “We’re a small county — I’m not going to work 24 hours a day.”
American Canyon City Councilwoman Joan Bennett, speaking as a citizen, told the supervisors and Tuteur that one count wasn’t good enough for residents and candidates frustrated with waiting to know who won the elections.
“I’ve been through eight elections in this county, and it’s really hard, John, when you cannot get results,” Bennett said. “I think one time is not enough. It’s been very, very frustrating.”
The majority of speakers at Tuesday’s meeting preferred keeping the registrar of voters an elected position, but two people voiced support for making it appointed by the Board of Supervisors, which was what the Napa County grand jury advocated for in a report this year.
Diane Dame Shepp said she believes appointing the position could ensure competent registrars hold office.
“We are blessed with John Tuteur,” Shepp said. “Perhaps we’re not going to have someone who’s as capable (replace him).”
Shepp, the president of the Napa County chapter of the California Grand Jurors’ Association, said she advocates for another aspect of the grand jury report, which called for establishing an independent oversight committee that would supervise the performance of the elections division. She said she was speaking as a Napa resident, not on behalf of her organization.
American Canyon City Councilwoman Belia Ramos Bennett also touted that committee as a place for citizen complaints about the elections process to be heard.
Ramos Bennett said the Department of Justice made inquiries earlier this year about how the Elections Division handled dual-language voting. Tuteur confirmed that it did, and his staff provided all the materials it had produced for dual-language voters. The DOJ hasn’t made any further inquires, he said.
“You have no oversight body,” Bennett said. “You need to have another layer. We need to have a body that can hear complaints.”
Tuteur responded that California law permits independent advisory bodies only, and some counties have those for specific purposes, such as dual-language voters or voters with disabilities.
Supervisor Keith Caldwell said he heard the public’s preference for an elected registrar, and hopes that residents use that as a means for addressing grievances they have with the elections process. Tuteur has an opponent, in Napa banker Brian Kelly, in next year’s election.
“If you’re not happy with that, things will change,” Caldwell said.
Supervisor Bill Dodd agreed, and said changes will have to come through an election. He also clarified that he was remaining neutral in the race, disputing a news release from Kelly last week that said Dodd had endorsed his candidacy.
“I do intend to stay neutral in this race,” Dodd said. “Let the people decide, instead of us.”
But he also urged Tuteur to do everything possible to increase the speed of counting ballots, even if that meant a budget increase.
“Really start thinking outside the box,” Dodd said. “What can we do to increase the efficiency?”