10:10 PM PDT on Thursday, July 8, 2010

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

A probe released Thursday into Riverside County’s June 8 primary calls for $650,000 in additional equipment to speed future vote counting and better communication between elections officials and the public.

Supervisors ordered the examination June 15 amid revelations that 12,563 mail-in ballots missed the legal deadline due to a mix-up with the U.S. Postal Service and criticism that Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore took too long to count the more than 240,000 votes cast in the election.

Some elected officials and civic leaders called for Dunmore’s resignation in the days after the last month’s election. Dunmore on Thursday could not be reached for comment.

“The aftermath of the June primary election in Riverside County includes questions, criticism and a lawsuit filed over thousands of ballots that arrived late and, by law, could not be counted,” states the report overseen by county CEO Bill Luna.

“Numerous factors contributed to the concerns. Some were within the Registrar of Voters’ control and some were not but each compounded the next and created, cumulatively, greater controversy.”

Supervisors will discuss the report at their regular meeting Tuesday.

“His recommendations are sound,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Marion Ashley said Thursday. “There is plenty of blame to go around, for sure. I am more interested in seeing what we can do to make this work and get a system that is faster, accurate and transparent.”

Dunmore’s office didn’t finish counting the votes cast at the polls on Election Day until nearly 6:45 a.m. the day after the election.

Although the registrar’s website reported 100 percent of precincts reporting, elections officials still had more than 100,000 mail-in and provisional ballots to count. Those were tallied by early June 13.

In addition, there were 12,563 vote-by-mail ballots held at a Postal Service facility in Moreno Valley on Election Day. Those ballots weren’t received by elections officials until June 9, past the legal deadline to count them.

A judge will hear arguments this morning on whether those ballots should be counted.

According to the election examination:

Poor communication “caused or exacerbated misunderstandings” about the number of ballots that elections officials had left to count after Election Day. The 100 percent of precincts reporting figure refers only to votes cast in person.

The report recommends an election night blog to keep voters informed and a clear explanation of the number of ballots left to count.

Better communication with the U.S. Postal Service could have allowed the 12,563 ballots to arrive on time. The registrar is under no legal obligation to visit post offices on Election Day to check for ballots.

Elections officials have long gone to a main distribution facility in Redlands but not the Moreno Valley site.

Still, formal procedures for handling mail on Election Day are needed, the report concluded. Dunmore already is working on a written agreement with the Postal Service, according to the report.

The registrar’s budget for fiscal 2009-2010 was $3.8 million less than the year before.

To save money during the June election, Dunmore scaled back the number of temporary employees and did not use cars to ferry ballots from distant precincts, the report found. Not using the cars saved $15,000 but delayed the ballots’ arrival for counting in Riverside.

The report recommends the registrar take a “less fiscally conservative approach.”

In addition, the report found the county had only six vote-counting machines, less than some nearby counties.

It recommends purchasing at least two more along with a machine that speeds the opening of mail-in ballots and a mail-sorting machine to separate ballots by precinct.

The cost for the equipment is about $650,000.

The report did not make any recommendations on whether Dunmore should remain as the registrar.

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