News23ABC In-Depth


Kern County community concerned about how elections are done in the county

“Letting the people decide."
Posted: 4:23 PM, Mar 15, 2022
Updated: 2022-03-15 20:10:17-04
Voting (FILE)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Community members have been raising concerns surrounding the way elections are handled in the county.

Some of those members spoke to the Board of Supervisors requesting to make a change to an important role in the election process.

Under California law, counties are allowed to combine certain positions. Back in 1995, the Kern County Board of Supervisors combined the auditor-controller and county clerk position, which is still the case now. This means the auditor-controller county clerk registrar of voter responsibilities are all under this elected position.

But now there is a community push to reverse that and have different people for those jobs.

“Letting the people decide if they’d like to see the register of voters sliced off from the other three positions.”

In speaking to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Bakersfield Resident Trey Maxwell and others expressed concern over the auditor-controller county clerk registrar of voter position.

In this position, aside from managing the accounting and financial aspect of the county and tasks from the county clerk side, the person elected to this position is also the registrar of voters, responsible for overlooking elections.

The current person in that position, Mary Bedard weighed in: “I think that is sort of almost a philosophical thing. Should elections and the registrar of voter’s position be appointed by the board of supervisors position and ultimately, they would have direct oversight of the elections office or should it be part of a separate election office which is what we have now.”

In some counties, each office is independent and the clerk and registrar may either be elected or appointed by the board of supervisors.

Aside from the elections themselves, now the position overseeing the elections is being questioned. That is the auditor-controller county clerk position which also includes the registrar of voters. The qualifications include being a certified public accountant, having a college degree in accounting or equivalent, and served five years in a senior fiscal management position in the county among others.

"People who might want to run to be county clerk and registrar voters," said Bedard, "if they are not an accountant, they cannot. So that may be part of the reason for some of the people’s interest in separating out the two. Or in other people, they would like it to be an appointed office appointed by the board of supervisors."

Community residents who spoke up about wanting to see something like this were told that it was too late since candidate filing has closed for this upcoming election and the next available chance is in 2026.

Bedard said it will then be up to the board of supervisors.

“They have several options; they could basically do what they did back in the 1990s. [It] would be to separate it out if they want to do that again or they could go to the legislature and try to get Kern added to the list of counties where the board can appoint a separate registrar of voters.”

Bedard said they are always open to people coming in to observe and learn about all the checks and balances in place.

As the county continues the push to find poll workers with a new election season around the corner, some local residents raised concerns in the board of supervisors meeting Tuesday over where some of the poll workers were from. Some of the concerns expressed were about having poll workers from the latest election who were not registered voters or were not from outside of Kern County.

"By state law at this point, yes even if you are not a citizen, as long as you are a legal resident in the country, you can be a poll worker," explained Bedard. "We have never used non-registered voters other than students but that is the law."

In regards to the issue of poll workers being county residents, Bedard said the law doesn’t say you have to be registered in Kern County to be a poll worker in the county.

In terms of election irregularities during the recall that were also brought up, Bedard said they did everything by the book.

"There really is not an issue with election integrity in Kern County. We follow the law. If people don’t like the law in California, they can try to get it changed, but we will always follow the law."

23ABC In-Depth

So you may be wondering how the process works to legally contest or sue to change an election's results. 23ABC took an in-depth look at some information from the website Ballotpedia.

Who Can File an Election-related Lawsuit?

If a dispute arises during an election, the usual means of resolving it is through the courts. In order for the court to rule on an election-related lawsuit, the person or group filing the lawsuit, known as a plaintiff, must have standing. The Legal Information Institute defines standing as the "capacity of a party to bring suit in court." If the court determines a plaintiff does not have standing, it will dismiss the lawsuit.

Government officials, voters, candidates, campaigns, and satellite groups have all had standing to file various election-related lawsuits. In order to have standing, they must show that some action or policy affected or will affect them negatively and that there is a way to remedy that negative effect.

At the state level, each state determines what standing means in their respective courts. Similar to federal courts, a plaintiff typically has standing if there has been or will be some negative effect due to a policy and if there is a remedy available.

If a dispute arises during an election, the usual means of resolving it is through the courts. In order for the court to rule on an election-related lawsuit, the person or group filing the lawsuit must have standing.

Federal courts use a test to determine whether the person has standing, including that the person will suffer some sort of negative effect. An example of a negative effect is that a clerk has violated election law. In addition, there must be a connection between that negative effect and the lawsuit before the court, and it must be likely that the negative effect will be remedied if the court sides with the plaintiff.