Election personnel questioned by citizens.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
As Carmel heads into a hard-fought mayoral and city council contest April 13, the city is test-driving a new voting system. Instead of depending on the county, Carmel’s top election official, City Clerk Heidi Burch, will direct the election with help from a private firm based in Anaheim, Martin and Chapman.
Supporters of mayoral challenger Adam Moniz and council candidate Jason Burnett have expressed concerns about Burch’s role because of her apparent stake in the mayoral and City Council incumbents’ re-election.
Burch has been named in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the city as one of the female employees favored by City Administrator Rich Guillen, allegedly because of their personal relationship. Nearly a year after on-leave Human Resources Manager Jane Miller made the allegations, Guillen remains on the job, and the city’s current administration appears to be defending him.
City officials said late last year that Martin and Chapman could run the election for $23,000, roughly half the more than $40,000 county quote. The fee, however, doesn’t include the costs of training volunteer poll workers, postage, and the use of county equipment. It is unclear what those costs will be.
There was no competitive bidding for the election contract. Burch has said that she called other city clerks, who gave the company rave reviews.
Cities polled by the Weekly also said the company did good work, with the exception of Long Beach, where City Clerk Larry Herrera says the company overcharged and bungled vote counting in 2006, likely because it wasn’t equipped for running elections in a city of 500,000 people.
In the past, county election officials handled vote-by-mail ballots, cast by the majority of Carmel voters. This year, Burch places them in a locked plastic tub after photocopying the signatures on the envelopes, and verifies the Xeroxed signatures at the Monterey County Elections Department in Salinas.
City Hall staffer Molly Laughlin reports that 876 vote-by-mail ballots have come in at the Weekly’s deadline.
“We’re following county procedure,” she says. “We run a daily report of how many [ballots] are received.”
“We have a team of people watching closely because it’s new,” says Burnett of the election process, adding that his campaign receives a list of everyone who’s voted by mail. If anyone wants to ensure that their vote has been processed, he says, they can check with his or any of the campaigns.
Carmel Resident Association member Dick Flowers has already accompanied Burch on a ballot verification trip to Salinas and says he’s favorably impressed with the process.
Mayoral candidate Adam Moniz has proposed that absentee ballots at City Hall be counted openly on election night to ensure greater transparency.
“I wish there had been a more impartial person overseeing the election, such as City Attorney Don Freeman,” Moniz says.