08:56 PM PDT on Friday, September 3, 2010

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County is taking steps to avoid a repeat of the June 8 election, which was plagued by a slow vote count and late-arriving ballots from the U.S. Postal Service.

County CEO Bill Luna said this week that the county has a tentative agreement in place with the Postal Service to ensure ballots arrive in the hands of elections officials by the close of polls on Nov. 2.

The agreement between Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore and the local Postal Service manager is now under review by the service’s legal department, Luna told supervisors Tuesday.

“We hope for a prompt conclusion there,” he said.

During the June 8 election, 12,563 vote-by-mail ballots arrived and were sorted at a Postal Service facility in Moreno Valley but did not make it into the hands of elections officials until June 9. The legal deadline for votes to be counted was 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Postal Service officials had expected the registrar’s office to pick up the ballots, but elections personnel had never retrieved mail from the Moreno Valley site before. A judge eventually ruled the ballots were to be counted.

In addition to the late ballots, elections officials, in a quest to save money during tough budget times, did not use as many teams to transport ballots from collection sites across the county to the registrar’s office in Riverside.

Luna said two transport teams will be at every collection site to ferry ballots to Riverside on Nov. 2.

In July, supervisors voted to purchase $650,000 in equipment to help speed the vote count. Two additional ballot counting machines — for a total of eight — will be in place for November, Luna said.

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