Imagine if Mayor Robert Garcia, city councilmembers and city staff had to wait 25 days to find out if their sales tax increase proposal had been approved by voters? They might have been a bit anxious and upset, don’t ya think? You know they would have been on the phone asking, “Why the heck is it taking so long to count the ballots?” But they had no worries about the tax proposal because the outcome was never in doubt from the first reporting of absentee ballots.
The decision on another important vote on the same June 7 ballot, however, wasn’t so clear cut and did take 25 days to certify a winner: the runoff for the 2nd District City Council seat.
City officials from the top on down should be embarrassed at how the ballots for the city council race were handled, especially for a city which touts itself as being tech friendly and one that always wants to maintain local control.
Think about these items:
• Despite having two measures associated with the proposed Long Beach sales tax increase on the ballot, and the 2nd District runoff, the city chose to have the Los Angeles County Registrar handle all the ballots and the counting.
• We were unable to find a city council agenda item following the April 12 primary recommending the city use the county, nor a report explaining why they did so. In past elections when the county was used, options were presented showing a cost savings or some other reason.
• On Election Day, the county reported it had processed 1,438,909 ballots countywide. By the final day of counting on July 1, the number processed grew to 2,026,068. The disparity in those figures boggles the mind.
• On June 26, the Registrar’s office located another 40,000 ballots that had to be processed, which included ballots cast by Long Beach 2nd District residents.
• On Election Day, June 7, there were 6,980 votes processed and counted for the 2nd District City Council race. By July 1, the total had grown to 11,090. The race remained close the entire time, ending with a separation of 322 votes between eventual winner Jeannine Pearce and opponent Eric Gray. That means that 37% of all ballots cast for the district race were not counted on Election Day. Unheard of.
• On June 21, despite a close race and just 225 votes separating the two candidates and with more votes to count, candidate Pearce posted a picture on her Facebook page showing the “Long Beach City Council Briefing Binder” that someone at city hall gave her. The picture came down soon after the Business Journal posted a story about it. Why would that occur? Who made the decision to give her the binder?
• The Business Journal received many complaints from 2nd District residents about voting issues (see adjacent list for some of them). The issues should be reviewed and resolved prior to the next city election.
The city, from the mayor on down, needs to correct the flaws in our local election system – including keeping the vote counting local. There is zero excuse for the way this past election was handled. That’s why local control is vital. That starts with the city clerk, who is hired by the city council.
That person is Maria de la Luz Garcia, who was hired last July from a field of more than 30 candidates. We understand she even beat out the person being groomed for the position by the former city clerk, Larry Herrera-Cabrera, who was highly regarded. “This is the best staff the clerk’s office has ever had,” he told the Press-Telegram in a January 2015 interview.
In a press release announcing her appointment, Mayor Garcia said: “Maria Garcia is an outstanding choice for City Clerk, and the council and I have full confidence that she will provide strong and inclusive leadership at the Clerk’s office. Her extensive experience in election oversight, voter outreach, and the use of technology is a perfect fit for Long Beach.”
What he did not say is that she had experience in running an election. Because it appears she does not.
When Herrera-Cabrera was hired in 2002, he brought with him years of experience to the office, most of it with Santa Barbara County. He was assistant county clerk and recorder for the county and in charge of – again, in charge of – elections. He had a solid background of “clerking,” which residents would expect for one of the largest cities in the state and country.
We hope the City Clerk Garcia is the right person for the job, and she certainly deserves every opportunity to prove it. However, Long Beach should not serve as an election training ground. Experience matters. It is the responsibility of the mayor and city council who selected the city clerk to ensure the voters she, indeed, is the right person.
We call on the city council’s election committee to conduct a public debriefing of the June 7 election to review mistakes and complaints, and other items related to the election. After all, the right to vote is one of the most cherished rights people have. It should not be hindered by inexperience, poor staffing, cost, bad decisions, lack of communication or anything else.
Which right appears most often in the text of the U.S. Constitution? It’s the right to vote.