The Riggs Report: California’s election overload

Secretary of state predicts ‘major surge in voter turnout’

As Secretary of State Alex Padilla noted in a recent letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, all eyes will be on California on June 7 and Nov. 8.

With the state poised to play a pivotal role in this year’s presidential contest, the fast-approaching primary will be playing out on a global stage.

Padilla wants to ensure that county election officials aren’t swamped by a tsunami of voter interest and wants to avoid the embarrassing scenario that unfolded during Arizona’s presidential preference vote in March.

In Maricopa County, Election Day turned into a debacle, with a shortage of polling places and ballot materials that resulted in long lines and voter anger.

Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell admitted to a serious miscalculation on how many voters would show up in person at polling places instead of using mail ballots. Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan is also on record as saying she failed to anticipate the record crowds.

None of this is lost on Padilla, who issued a memo on March 30 to California’s 58 county clerks urging them to “plan accordingly to ensure your county has an ample number of ballots, including any required multilingual ballots and other voting materials, available at your office and at the polls on Election Day.”

Padilla remarked, in that subsequent letter to Brown, that more than 600,000 California residents had used his office’s online registration portal to register to vote or to update their registration. He said data leads his office to believe a “surge in voter participation” is coming.

There’s another complication besides expected heavy turnout.

Campaign teams will begin turning in voter petitions in the next few weeks to try and qualify their initiatives for the November ballot. Four measures are already on that ballot and four others are already qualified.

According to Padilla’s office, 13 measures are still in circulation—that means a crush of work awaits the counties, which must verify the signatures, first by a sample check, and if necessary, a full count.

“Depending on how many measures go to a full signature count, counties could be required to verify as many as 9.4 million signatures,” Padilla’s letter said.

Given those challenges and expected higher printing costs for longer, more complex voter information guides, the secretary of state is asking the Legislature for an extra $32 million.

If approved, counties would use the money to beef up staff to handle the extra workload and to pay those higher printing bills.

It’s a boom year for voting in California. Election officials are bracing for an intensive effort to avoid an Arizona-style bust.