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County responds to Civil Grand Jury’s voting machines concerns

“Wow, things have lightened up considerably,” said Supervisor Lori Simpson as Deputy County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr prepared to respond to the Plumas County Civil Grand Jury’s concerns about the new voting system.

Simpson, like other supervisors, has grown used to a much longer list of recommendations members of the grand jury believe they need to address.

This year (2018-19), members of the grand jury said they accepted an invitation from Kathy Williams, Plumas County Clerk-Recorder, who also oversees the elections process.

Members, in their response to activities, said they attended the Nov. 6, 2018, process for voting by mail. And ultimately decided an official investigation was warranted.

“The investigation included a review of manuals and written documentation, observation of each of the steps in the process, review of the elections code, and interview of selected elections division full time and part time employees,” they said in the report.

They found “no apparent irregularities in connection” with the election process they observed last year. “It observed that the Elections Division works diligently and effectively, and that its personnel are well-trained and knowledgeable as to the numerous requirements of the Elections Code governing the conduct of elections within the county,” the grand jury said in its report.

What did concern those looking into the process is that elections staff has to operate dated equipment, below-mandated staff, and without a well organized set of written procedures.

Since elections were handled by mail the process was simplified, the report stated.

Stuhr responded to recommendation R2 before supervisors on Tuesday, July 9.

“The Civil Grand Jury recommends the Election Division seek, the county administrator consider recommending, and the Board of Supervisor deliberate and consider approving, the funding for the purchase and installation of new voting system equipment and software in order to comply with AP 19:020.”

County counsel’s response is that the recommendation hasn’t been implemented, but it will be in the future. “The Board of Supervisors is aware of the need and requirement to update our current voting systems,” Stuhr pointed out in a letter to Judge Douglas Prouty, the presiding judge over the grand jury.

“It is estimated this process should be completed prior to the end of the current calendar year,” she said.

Considering past responses to the grand jury, Simpson said they have insisted on specific dates. She added that threats of indictment were given if the exact date wasn’t provided.

Stuhr explained that the state has an estimated deadline on this recommendation for elections. There is a contracting process that needs to happen and that takes about five months. Stuhr thought the upgrading should be done before that. She said it should be in place and operational by next March, in time for any elections.

Simpson persisted with a specific deadline and Stuhr agreed to put Dec. 31 on the document.

Simpson relaxed and said she didn’t want supervisors turned in to the district attorney for not being specific about a date.

County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick pointed out that the grand jury also asked for a response to two other items.

A second recommendation stated: “The Civil Grand Jury recommends that the Plumas County Elections establish a written departmental policy and procedures manual, or at a minimum develop a fully integrated table of contents or index to facilitate efficient usage of the various procedures. Such manual should include procedures confirming that the quantitative limit set out in Elections Code 3005 is satisfied in connection with each election. It is also recommended that the elections division firm with county counsel or appropriate counsel compliance with Elections Code section 3005.”

Hydrick said that he has been working with Williams’ office to correct the issue.

And the third thing the grand jury wanted to know was why a position in the clerk’s office remained unfilled. This issue was not addressed during the meeting.

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