The June race for the county’s chief elections officer and assessor-county clerk-recorder looks pretty familiar.
The same two people are campaigning in 2014 as four years ago although this time former county supervisor Mark Church is the incumbent and challenger John Mooney is actually on the ballot rather than running as a write-in candidate.
Both men, albeit with very different backgrounds, contend they are best suited to helm the office with four distinct components.
Church, 62, has a law degree and served several years as a Millbrae councilman and mayor and nearly three terms on the Board of Supervisors before resigning after his election four years ago to his current office.
Mooney, 79, of Redwood City, has never held public office. He opted against being on the ballot in 2010 because of the nearly $4,000 cost of a statement but this year decided to cut the check. He’s running because he has been involved in elections as a dual inspector of two precincts in East Palo Alto for some time and believes it would be “very easy” to do a better job than Church, he said.
One of Mooney’s main priorities is cleaning up the voting rolls to weed out the deceased, those who moved and any others unqualified to cast a ballot. Sparked in part by a belief President Barack Obama is not qualified to be president because of questions about his citizenship, Mooney said if elected he will be more diligent about verifying the authenticity of voters and push for laws requiring voters to show identification.
But Church said the rolls are updated several times a week based on notice by the Secretary of State’s Office and local death and moving alerts.
Church and Mooney, in varying degrees, feel changes in voting could help with fraud and cost. Church points to the special supervisorial election to fill his seat when he was first elected to his current office. The all-mail ballots had results in by 8:05 p.m. and cost a fraction of a regularly held election, he said.
Mooney calls all electronic voting “a very, very good idea” but “using the Internet is a bad idea” because of potential hacking and identity theft. He doesn’t think there are ways to speed up the returns because elections have become “more complex especially with all the languages.”
The diversity of cultures, languages and values also make improved communications between the office and the public challenging, Mooney said. For instance, he said, in the Mexican culture the color red signifies gangs while in Chinese culture it stands for luck, he added.
Church said his office can always strive to make the often complex information from his office more accessible but that much, particularly in regards to property assessments, isn’t easy to simplify.
Making the office more tech savvy on an ongoing basis is a goal of both men but Mooney said it can be “walking a tightrope” to balance those who want to see more information online and those who still prefer doing business in person or on paper.
Both men also called last year’s post-Election Day discovery of provisional ballots unacceptable.
An internal investigation shows that oversight by workers led to them being overlooked and not counted and has led to changes such as a revised voting center guide and checklist, Church said.
“Basically this is human error that happened,” Church said. “I don’t want something like this happening on my watch.”
Church also recently changed how the Elections Office verifies the qualifications of potential candidates. After the questioning of one controller candidate of an opponent’s legal qualifications to run headed into court for final judgment, Church said he made the decision to require candidates to submit documentation such as degrees or Bar admittance. For “gray areas” like controller which can be satisfied by time as a senior fiscal manager — which is not defined further by the code — candidates can submit whatever they feel relevant like former employer declarations or job descriptions. Church said the matter can still be challenged in court but the change might head off that route.
When asked how he might change the qualification process, Mooney returned to his primary platform concerning Obama’s citizenship.
Mooney’s background includes time in the Air Force, flying planes and working as a flight instructor. He also earned degrees in mathematics, finance and business and taught at the College of Notre Dame. He sees himself like a coach, encouraging workers to do their best and providing an equitable environment.
With his election four years ago, Church followed in the footsteps of his father, Marvin Church, who also served as Millbrae councilman and the county’s clerk-recorder and registrar of voters from 1967 to 1987.
Church said he adjusted to his new role pretty well but found one big difference in making decisions as an elected department head versus an elected supervisor.
“Most notably I don’t need two other votes,” he quipped.
Church said he reorganized the office to put similar or related functions closer together and improve productivity. If re-elected, Church said his priorities are overseeing implementation of a multi-million dollar new assessor system, installing a new phone system at both the Tower Road and Redwood City locations and preserving the county’s’ historical records.
The office has responsibility for documents dating back to the county’s incorporation and nothing has been done to protect them for the future, he said. Church envisions a public/private endeavor over several years that includes scanning each document and also treating the physical papers with a process that will keep them safe for the next 500 years.
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