10:50 PM PST on Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County’s top executive fired Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore on Tuesday amid fierce criticism over how she handled last week’s election.

The county announced the dismissal in a statement after a lengthy Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday in which Dunmore faced tough questioning over why she did not more quickly release election results.

“I appreciate Ms. Dunmore’s service, but it is time for new leadership,” County Executive Officer Bill Luna, who ordered the dismissal, said in a statement.

Barbara Dunmore said voting that ran long would have made early release of results illegal

Dunmore reported to Luna, and supervisors could not take any action themselves. But during a closed session on Luna’s job performance, he told supervisors he would take action, county officials said.

Dunmore had been the top election official since 2004 and before that served 14 years in county administration, the last two as a deputy county executive officer.

But she had been under fire for months since a slow vote count in June led to calls for her resignation. Last week, results also were delayed.

Supervisor John Benoit called Dunmore’s dismissal the right decision.

“We have tried to give her a lot of latitude,” Benoit said by telephone. “The biggest single issue I have always had has been communication.”

On Tuesday, Dunmore defended her actions and pointed to her office’s success in counting a record number of vote-by-mail ballots before the election and a proven record of accuracy.

This election, she said, was the most successful since the county returned to paper ballots in 2008.

After her dismissal, Dunmore did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Dunmore had some defenders during Tuesday’s meeting.

Supervisor Bob Buster said others share the blame for communications lapses, including more than three hours on election night when the registrar’s website was not updated.

“Your taking the fall here for the blackout period on the website is not quite correct,” Buster said. “There was an explanation for everything that occurred.”

Retired assistant registrar Doug Kinzle told supervisors it would be a “gross miscarriage of justice” to dismiss Dunmore, who he said should be free from political pressures.

‘Lost Confidence’

At issue were Dunmore’s assurances that the results from about 200,000 vote-by-mail ballots processed before Election Day would be posted on the registrar’s website at 8:15 p.m. Nov. 2.

Because voters were still in the registrar’s lobby casting ballots until 8:35 p.m., those results weren’t posted until about 9 p.m.

In addition, a computer problem that caused the number of precincts counted to not properly show up on election reports slowed the posting of the first three rounds of results.

The recent criticism comes after county officials took great pains — including leasing two additional counting machines — to avoid a repeat of the June 8 primary election.

On Tuesday, some supervisors said another election with a slow vote count was unacceptable.

“I have lost confidence in your ability to oversee the registrar’s office,” Supervisor Jeff Stone said. “Frankly, I can’t defend you anymore.”

Board Chairman Marion Ashley questioned why other counties can so quickly release results after polls close at 8 p.m.

Ashley said the public saw results from all over the country except for a “black hole” in Riverside County.

“We have to communicate and get some results out faster,” he said. “I don’t see why we can’t do that.”

Testy exchange

Some supervisors began expressing their displeasure on election night within minutes of the first delay.

Ashley wrote an e-mail to his colleagues at 8:53 p.m. lamenting the lack of results.

“I cannot believe this happening?” he wrote. “I am catching hell from our Representatives. The whole world is out but us.”

Benoit replied three minutes later.

“This is bad,” he wrote. “I’m losing a lot of bets.”

On Tuesday, Ashley pressed Dunmore on why the first results could not have come sooner.

State law prohibits election results from being released until after the polls close and that every effort must be made to accommodate voters finishing after 8 p.m.

He said other large counties likely still have people voting after 8 p.m. yet are able to post the initial results from vote-by-mail ballots. The supervisor’s comments led to a testy exchange.

“With all due respect, what you are suggesting is that we not follow the law,” Dunmore replied.

“Are you saying that everyone else broke the law?” Ashley questioned.

“If you run a red light and I run a red light, it does not make it right,” Dunmore replied.

In addition to the initial delay, Dunmore has faced criticism for not communicating with the public on when the next round of results would be posted.

Throughout Election Day, the registrar’s website provided regular updates. But from 9:20 p.m. to 12:50 a.m., the site did not include any information on when officials would release the next results.

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