Ready, set …

Butte County’s registrar gives her take on Tuesday’s balloting

Ask Candace Grubbs how she’s doing, and the answer doubles for what she’s doing: “Running like crazy.”

Butte County’s clerk-recorder/registrar is overseeing her second election in four months, which is just the prelude to the huge one in November.

Her staff already has processed more than 14,500 mail-in ballots, and while that may seem to be a lot, that might be just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands and thousands more await the June 3 procrastinators.

Meanwhile, she’s been shuttling back and forth to Sacramento seeking money for the first ‘08 election, February’s presidential primary. The state has offered reimbursement at “55 cents on the dollar,” Grubbs said, so she’s gone back to deliver a message: “You called this election—you’ve gotta pay!”

If there’s a silver lining, at least she’s not fund-fighting before the presidential election: “I think it’s going to be pretty quiet at the polls” Tuesday.

“My concern now is the number of absentee ballots we are or aren’t getting,” Grubbs said in a phone interview last Friday (May 23). “I’m hoping people pull ’em off the kitchen counter. We try to process them ahead of time, because we don’t have time on election night.”

That’s because California registrars once again must use paper ballots in the polls, which take longer to tabulate and certify than electronic results (more on this later).

Plus, with early mail-ins, there’s the chance to let voters correct procedural mistakes that otherwise would invalidate their ballots. “People are creative, especially American people,” Grubbs said. “We’re busy; we don’t read directions.”

For instance:

“You don’t sign your ballot. It’s secret. If you sign your ballot, it’s not secret!”

Sign the envelope, please.

In such cases, the elections office sends out letters, plus notes the status in its new online tracking system for mailed-in ballots (check

“I will stand on the fact that my job is to see every vote counts that we can legally count,” Grubbs said. That leads to her source of continuing frustration: Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s restrictions on electronic voting. As was the case in February, each precinct will have just one machine, ostensibly for disabled citizens.


“We don’t discriminate in this county,” Grubbs declared. “We’re not going to ask if you’re disabled.”

Poll volunteers simply ask if voters prefer paper or electronic—a procedure Grubbs said earned praise from the secretary of state’s office in February, when 24 percent of Butte County voters cast their ballots by touch-screen (including 198 on one machine alone in Durham).

Grubbs understands voters’ fears, which is why her office conducts informational sessions with voting-system specialists. She also understands the benefits of technology.

“Touch-screens won’t allow you to overvote, and at the end a screen tells you if you missed a race,” she explained. “They aren’t hooked into anything; the only ones who program ’em are us [registrar staff]… We need to get the state moving along [in understanding] that we’re a society that is busy and likes instant results.”

Toward that end, Butte County is joining Tulare County in filing an “amicus brief” supporting San Diego County’s appeal of Bowen’s policies.

“This is just a speed-bump to progress,” Grubbs said, adding that she and other registrars “pray for wide margins, and I hope other states do well, so some of this fear subsides.”