New Registrar Faces Challenge
Tulett promises to bring accountability to troubled office.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Linda Tulett, Monterey County’s new registrar of voters, began work on Monday, May 21, arriving in a troubled office facing an important election. Her predecessor, Tony Anchundo, is in jail for misusing county-issued credit cards. And in two weeks, voters will decide between two controversial 20-year growth plans.
Tulett comes to Monterey County from San Francisco, where she worked (scandal-free) as deputy director of elections since 2004. Before that, she spent eight years in San Mateo County’s Elections Department.
Speaking on her first day on the job, she says she hasn’t heard many voter concerns—yet. “But what I’m guessing is that voters here have the same concerns I was dealing with up in San Francisco—ballot integrity, ballot security.” And already, she understands the importance of the June election, where voters will be asked to chose a General Plan to govern future growth in the unincorporated county.
“I’ve been living in this county for a week and a half now and I’m seeing a zillion signs,” she says. “I’ve seen a lot of information in the news.”
On May 21, the day Tulett began working in Monterey County, supporters of Measure A, the Community General Plan Initiative, attacked “false and misleading information” about the supervisor-approved GPU 4 on the County’s Web site.
The following day, local taxpayer advocates held a press conference at the registrar’s office to announce that Measure A contains a “special tax” on single family homeownership in Monterey County and, therefore, requires a two-thirds vote. Slow-growth supporters responded Tuesday by issuing a press release of their own, saying that GPU 4 would cost taxpayers billions of dollars in “hidden mandates for roads, water and public safety.”
Tulett sees the controversy, and the millions of dollars spent to influence the vote. But she says neither the money nor the heat will pressure the department staff.
“The hot-topic nature of the election and the integrity of the election don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other,” she says. “The integrity of the election has to do with the folks conducting the election. The issues on the ballot are made hot or cold by voters.
“My job as a registrar is to really ensure that the voter information is correct and timely and that we complete everything we are required to do, under the law. My concern will come on election night when I see the results come out.”
And, depending on how close those results are, the losing side demanding a recount is likely.
Tulett is confident that the department’s recent troubles have left no taint.
“Once people get to know me, they’re going to realize that I’m a different person than the former registrar was,” she says. “If you come here and see the operations of the staff, you’ll see the activities of the former registrar did not reflect on the staff.
“I’m very into keeping the lines of information open to people, and being prepared. I don’t know very much about Tony’s day-to-day activities, but I know they didn’t reflect on the staff. I certainly know I’m not credit-card crazy.”
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The process itself began before Tulett’s arrival. On May 7, under the leadership of then-acting Registrar Claudio Valenzuela, election officials mailed out more than 75,000 absentee ballots. More than half of all voters in the county receive absentee ballots. And as of early this week, about 20 percent, or 15,000 ballots, had been returned to the department. Almost 50 percent of those came from Peninsula voters.
Every morning, department staff pick up a new batch of returned absentee ballots from the post office, Valenzuela says. Staff then sorts and scans the unopened envelopes before moving them into the tabulation room—a secured area with cameras and a locked door that scans officials’ badges upon entry. A machine that looks like a copier with a computer screen and keyboard perched on top of it removes the ballots from the envelopes, makes sure they are clean, counts and sorts them, recording the results on the department’s server. “If these were real ballots,” says Valenzuela, who is using with sample ones, “the ballots that go in here,” he motions to a cardboard box, “are counted.”
“Ones that come out here,” he says, pointing to a stack under the machine, “are counted but have write-in votes.” The machine spits a third group of ballots into a metal chute. “With these, the machine detected a problem,” Valenzuela says. “They voted for two candidates, or the ballot is damaged.” The damaged ballots are duplicated and recounted by a panel of workers. “We have the original and the duplicate so it can be audited later,” Valenzuela says. “Everything we do is open to the public. This is everybody’s process.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION about the June 5 election, visit montereycountyelections.us