ROV Dismisses GOP & Democrat Concerns BallotMobile Will Facilitate Election Fraud

More than three years after accusations of a rigged voting process created a nationwide social turbulence that has yet to subside, San Bernardino County’s chief election official is flirting with a mobile voting system ostensibly aimed at increasing voter turnout but which is fueling charges of ballot stuffing in California’s largest geographical subdivision.
Some 70 years ago, San Bernardino County began operating a bookmobile, a library on wheels that perambulated throughout the county’s 20,105 square miles to bring literature and literacy basically to schoolchildren at schools without extensive libraries, but which served adults as well who were without reliable transportation.
That concept has now been recontexted to the function of voting.
The BallotMobile is the first major public program being carried out by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Office under San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Stephenie Shea since she succeeded Michael Jimenez in that post.
Some confusion attended the purpose and function of the vehicle.
In recent years, voting by mail has become all the rage. With questions about the integrity of the vote in the 2000 presidential election, 18 states in which Republicans held the upper hand passed limits on mail-in voting well prior to the 2022 election, ones that required more exacting identification of voters as well as reducing the timeframe during which mail ballots can be requested or cast. There has been intermittent talk among some Republicans of eliminating mail-in voting entirely, although more recently Republicans in some areas have embraced it as a means toward a strategy of getting fellow and sister Republicans to vote.
In that atmosphere, word among some voters in San Bernardino County was that the push that is on to increase voting in San Bernardino County included the BallotMobile, which would serve as a mobile polling place. Instead of Mohamed having to go to the mountain, the mountain would be brought to Mohamed: A voter, it was said, in the months and weeks before the day of the election, could call the Registrar of Voters office in the morning, and that afternoon, the BallotMobile would come to his or her doorstep so that a vote could be cast.
That has provoked a good bit of pushback. Depending on whom you spoke with, the idea of the BallotMobile was, on occasion, is seen as a way of either the Democrats or the Republicans unfairly fixing election outcomes in the county.
Such concerns were an outgrowth of a misunderstanding of the purpose and function of the BallotMobile as well as a multitude of faux pas that have dogged the electoral system in San Bernardino County over the years.
In the odd-year election held in November 2001, a programming error with the computer used to scan and record the votes on the punch card ballots then in use resulted in the county initially declaring as winners 13 candidates who were ultimately later determined to have lost in that year’s election. An election office worker was initially being blamed for that miscue, but ultimately, the then-registrar, Ingrid Gonzales, was let go by the board of supervisors, amid calls for ending the county’s use of paper ballots.
The board eventually settled on hiring as Gonzales’s replacement Scott Konopasek, who had held an election office post in Washington State.
In 2003, Konopasek was faced with a mandate, articulated by both the State of California and then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, that San Bernardino County upgrade its voting system. Shelley said any of three systems available on the market at that time, touchscreen systems manufactured by Maximus and Hart Intercivic, Sequoia Voting Systems and Diebold Voting Systems, would meet his requirements. After carrying out their own analysis, Konopasek and the county’s assistant registrar of voters, Steve Trout, recommended that the county purchase, at what ultimately turned out to be a cost of $13.9 million, a touchscreen voting system manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems. The county had committed to using that system in the 2004 Primary, which was held that year in California in March. Prior to that election, however, Shelley withdrew his certification of electronic voting machines throughout the state because, he said, they had uncertified software upgrades which could be vulnerable to tampering. Konopasek confidently went ahead with using the newly-purchased machines in that year’s elections, asserting they had been previously certified. The county backed Konopasek, going to court to get a ruling that the county could use the Sequoia machines. Nevertheless, less than a month after the November 2004 election, Konopasek and Trout, as Konopasek’s right-hand man, were sacked by the board of supervisors.
Subsequently, Konopasek, who has now gone on to become the assistant registrar of voters in Contra Costa County, said that ballot stuffing and other forms of election fraud were taking place in San Bernardino County.
Konopasek was replaced on a temporary basis by Donna Manning, a top tier assistant in the registrar’s office. Manning, perhaps wary of what had happened to the two previous registrars, balked at moving into the role of the full-fledged registrar. In 2007, Kari Verjil, who had been the registrar of voters in Riverside County, came to San Bernardino County to serve as registrar of voters. She was in place four years. Sensing displeasure from the board over her suggestion that the Sequoia system could be augmented with software patches to eliminate its vulnerability and transition the county to a digitized voting system, Verjil elected to return to Riverside County in 2011 rather than raise further hackles with the board of supervisors and risk getting fired.
In April 2011, Michael Scarpello, who had been the director of elections for the City and County of Denver in Colorado as well as the elections manager in Douglas County, Nebraska prior to that, was brought in to replace Verjil.
Like Verjil, Scarpello recognized that the State of California was not likely to long tolerate the county’s use of the simpler methodology for voting the county had adopted, which involved oversized cardboard ballots which voters mark with a black ink pen. Scarpello, remarking that the California Secretary of State eventually recertified the Sequoia system conditional upon the incorporation of software patches intended to enhance its security and protect it from cyber-attacks and hacking, had suggested that the county explore such a solution. The board, however, was unwilling to make the $2 million investment to bring that about, and had consented to the Sequoia touch screen machines in San Bernardino County being utilized only in the context of having one at each polling place for use by handicapped individuals.
Scarpello made do with what the board of supervisors provided him, but was vocal in the back channels of the county administrative building in asking for more resources to conduct the county elections. He achieved efficiency in running the county’s political contests, but some county registrar of voters employees considered him a stern taskmaster.
In the run-up to the 2018 election, sometime after the Republican-majority board of supervisors learned of Scarpello’s Democratic Party affiliation, he was forced to depart as registrar.
Scarpello was replaced with Bob Page, who remained in place for more than three years, but abruptly left the county to take up the top election official job in Orange County in February 2022. Page was replaced by Michael Jimenez, a close associate of then-San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Leonard Hernandez. Jimenez is no longer serving in the capacity of registrar, having been supplanted by Stephenie Shea.
Myriad factors impact the perception of what Shea is doing with the BallotMobile, with which she is making her mark in the registrar of voters post.
One perception is that the Republicans have been fixing election outcomes in the county for more than a dozen years now. After decades of being represented by New Deal Democrats, San Bernardino County residents saw the dawning of a new day with the 1966 election when Ronald Reagan was elected governor and Jerry Pettis, a Republican, became the primary congressman representing San Bernardino County. From that point forward, San Bernardino County has remained as a bastion of Republicanism. The GOP’s dominance of the county has persisted despite the consideration that in 2009 the number of registered Democrats in the county eclipsed the number of registered Republicans. There are Democrats that maintain this is because the Republicans are cheating. According to them, the Republican-dominated board of supervisors has influenced the process by controlling the registrar of voters office, which loads the dice in favor of Republican candidates at the federal, state and local levels. That is untrue, Republicans contend. They have simply outhustled the Democrats in San Bernardino County, they point out, proving more efficient at inducing Republicans to actually vote by being more efficient in terms of raising money and then using that resource wisely to conduct advertising and media campaigns on behalf of Republicans and ensure that Republican ideas and ideals are promoted.
In this way, Democrats see the BallotMobile as the latest tool in the Republican arsenal to stuff the ballot box. Republicans don’t perceive it that way, claiming the Democrats will use the BallotMobile to get around the electoral guardrails intended to prevent voters from voting more than once.
In actuality, it turns out, the BallotMobile is not intended to be a vehicle bring the ballot box to voters, per se, but an informative tool to promote voter registration.
According to Shea, the BallotMobile will go into San Bernardino County’s various communities to educate residents about the voting process and how to get registered to vote. Shea said, “The BallotMobile will stop in all 24 San Bernardino County cities, plus additional unincorporated county communities, to share voter education resources with voters in their respective area. The BallotMobile route commences on Friday, January 5, 2024, in the City of Needles and culminates on the Presidential Primary Election on March 5, 2024, at the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters’ headquarters, where a special gold ballot will be ceremonially cast. The two-month journey will play an important role in educating the county’s 1.17 million registered voters about new and important information regarding the election. BallotMobile resources include informing voters on the earlier 2024 Presidential Primary Election date, how to register to vote, how to check personalized voter information, the four ways to vote in San Bernardino County, and primary election-specific topics such as crossover voting.”
Shea said, “The election is coming up and we want to ensure that every eligible voter in our county understands how to register to vote and cast their ballot. San Bernardino County is the largest county by size in the contiguous United States. The BallotMobile will help us travel to even the farthest corners of our county to share this important information.”
According to a promotional flier put out by the registrar of voters office, “The BallotMobile will deliver a two- to three-hour pop-up experience at local events and well-known locations throughout the county. Residents will receive voter education materials, resources, and giveaways, and can take advantage of an Instagram-worthy backdrop for photo opportunities.”
The BallotMobile is not, at least at this time, a traveling voting booth, as many county residents had come to mistakenly believe.
“For the 2024 Presidential Primary Election, we’re excited to visit all 24 cities and unincorporated communities in the county, meet with community members and give them the tools they need to be an informed voter,” Shea said. “The BallotMobile will go a long way in ensuring that every voter’s voice can be heard on Election Day.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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