How San Mateo County’s next chief elections officer and assessor-county clerk-recorder will weather changes to the election system, an uptick in property tax assessments and upgrades to aging technology systems may determine which of the two candidates vying for the spot will prevail in the June 5 primary election.
For the third time, Redwood City resident John Mooney is challenging incumbent Mark Church for the seat, which went to Church in 2010 and 2014 by a wide margin. With hopes to serve in the office for a third term, Church pegged a slate of state laws recently passed and affecting the way local jurisdictions conduct elections as one of the biggest challenges the office faces today.
With the passage of Senate Bill 450 — which set forth a new model for voting in replacing traditional polling places with vote centers offering expanded services and ensuring each registered voter receives a vote-by-mail ballot — and Senate Bill 415, a state law passed in 2015 aimed at increasing voter turnout by aligning city elections with state and federal elections in even years, Church said his elections staff has been working through the increased number of candidates expected to step forward and changes to the design of future ballots.
“This will all result in additional complexities in the administration of the election as well as additional costs,” he said, adding that overall he feels the office has been meeting the challenge and planning for the changes. “I think we are well-prepared as the full impact of these laws is finally realized.”
Church said the office has been a state leader in ushering in changes expected to lower costs and increase the number of voters participating in elections, noting the county’s pioneering effort to pilot an all-mail election in 2015.
Having observed the counting of ballots at previous elections held in the county, Mooney said he hasn’t been satisfied with the way elections have been run in the county. With concerns ballots are collected from those who aren’t citizens or have died, Mooney said he would work toward greater accuracy on the rolls of registered county voters.
Mooney alleged he observed amendments to the papers Church filed to submit his bid for the election after the filing deadline, and suspected a double standard may be in place at the office. Church said he made no changes to the papers he filed before the deadline, and said the Elections Office applies the election laws fairly and equally to all candidates who step forward. He said a state law requires the office to accepted signed voter registration applications asking voters to indicate whether they are United States citizens under penalty of perjury.
“How it’s done is not necessarily bad,” said Mooney. “It’s the fact that we have two systems, one for the in-group and another one for the out-group.”
With a property assessment roll reaching a record-high $206 billion in assessed value for the 2017-18 fiscal year, Church acknowledged the increased complexity of the valuations the office must calculate for new generation of corporate complexes like the Facebook campus, which may include a variety of uses on one site. More than 220,000 parcels and 15,000 businesses are included in the roll, said Church, who said a new, cloud-based server for the assessor’s property assessment system would allow the office to keep pace with the increased workflow.
As a landlord in the county, Mooney said he has become an advocate for individual property rights and hoped to ensure cities and counties don’t exceed their rights.
“I look up what the law said and I try and follow the law,” he said.
Church acknowledged the county’s limited housing inventory and growing number of jobs has taken a toll on the more than 120 employees he oversees, and said he’s offered flexible scheduling and explored the possibility of a satellite office in Daly City near a Bay Area Rapid Transit station to ease the commute for those commuting from across the Bay. With the increased workload and training needed to keep pace with upcoming changes to the elections system, Church said he’s committed to ensuring his staff have the technology and the tools to help them navigate the changes as they have in the past.
“We have accomplished a great deal in services and programs that will be of benefit to the public,” he said. “My goal is to ensure that [staff] continue to be provided the tools and training that are necessary to do the job.”
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