By Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times
By taking a tough stance on questions about electronic voting, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has gained a national profile — and made some enemies among local election officials along the way.
On the most public level, Shelley is at odds with many local election officials over his decision to ban electronic voting systems in four counties and require extensive modifications in 10 others, a decision that many said would force them to return to paper ballots for the November election.
Four of the 14 counties affected — Riverside, Kern, Plumas and San Bernardino — responded by filing a federal lawsuit. A hearing on that suit is set for July 2 in Los Angeles.
But many registrars say the problem is broader than that. They say Shelley makes little effort to consult them on key issues, including how to spend millions of dollars the state received from Washington to improve voting systems. And some registrars, accustomed to being treated as colleagues by the secretary of state, say they are offended by his personal style.
"We reel from one directive to the next. We're not being consulted or involved in a process that requires teamwork to be successful," said L.A. County Registrar of Voters Conny B. McCormack. "I don't understand this. There's no part of this that makes any sense to me."
He said he regularly has sought suggestions from local registrars and hopes to resolve the dispute about the future of electronic voting outside the courtroom.
"It was disappointing many of the lawsuits were filed prior to us having an opportunity to work things out. It was something of a rush to judgment," Shelley said. "My job is not to please everybody. My job is to see that we have an election that is free from doubt."
Toward that end, Shelley on Monday granted Merced County the right to use its electronic voting machines in November after officials there met his requirements. It is the first county to regain certification. He said other counties, including Orange and Santa Clara, are also close to winning his approval.
Shelley supporters say the registrars who are unhappy are not used to a statewide elections chief who stands up to them.
"I think they're all in a state of shock," said Yolo County Registrar of Voters Freddie Oakley. "They never expected to have to submit to authority in the way they're asked to now."
Shelley said his motivation is not politics but serving voters. Requiring a paper backup of all votes cast on electronic machines will add to voter confidence and provide an additional means of conducting recounts should the outcome of a race be questioned, he said.
"My fundamental responsibility is to the voters. The voters have grave concerns about the integrity of the systems…. They want to know the equipment is reliable."
Shelley has been lauded by voter rights groups, who see his pursuit of a paper backup for all electronic voting as essential.
"It's not that Kevin Shelley is not listening to the registrars. It seems to me they're upset he isn't only listening to them," said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation.
"I think that some of the registrars that are opposing his reforms are in denial about the grave threat we face with our voting systems right now…. It's like the sausage factory: A lot of people don't want to look at the process; they just want the finished product."