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How Riverside County hopes to restore faith in elections

How Riverside County hopes to restore faith in elections

Riverside County is not Arizona or Wisconsin.

But like those swing states, the county has faced questions about its recent elections, with at least some local voters questioning, if not losing faith, in the democratic process.

In hopes of restoring that faith, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 29, unanimously voted to create an election advisory committee of citizens who will act as a sounding board for voters’ frustrations and a springboard for ideas to improve elections.

What the committee will not do is alter how people vote or how elections are run. County government is largely powerless to change election laws made at the state and federal levels.

  • Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said a new election advisory committee can make suggestions for improving future elections, but can’t rewrite election law. (Courtesy of Riverside County)

  • Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel said she’s concerned that people locally and nationwide have lost faith in the integrity of elections. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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“We can however, with the help of citizens, improve the process and help voters have access to their ballots and understand how it all works and make recommendations,” said Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, who proposed the committee two years ago.

The 2020 election’s aftermath led to conspiracy theories, later debunked, that votes were changed, taken away or fabricated to steal the presidency from Donald Trump. Courts have repeatedly rejected lawsuits alleging election malfeasance, and multiple audits and recounts found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that tipped the scales in President Joe Biden’s favor.

Election falsehoods fueled the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot, and Trump and many in the Republican Party continue to baselessly argue that the 2020 election was rigged, making it a litmus test for GOP candidates and giving rise to a wave of voting restrictions in Republican-controlled state legislatures.

Riverside County, which has roughly 1.3 million registered voters, wasn’t subject to the level or volume of fraud accusations as battleground states. But supervisors still heard from voters in 2020 who complained about getting multiple ballots in the mail and ballots mailed to dead relatives or old addresses.

Ballots were mailed to every California voter in 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a practice that will continue going forward. Rebecca Spencer, the county’s registrar of voters, said in 2020 that voters might have received more than one ballot if they changed their registration around the time ballots were mailed.

Safeguards prevent voters from casting multiple ballots, she said. A district attorney investigation of instances in which voters appeared to vote twice in 2016 led to criminal charges against just one voter.

A Riverside County civil grand jury investigation of the 2020 election found no evidence of fraud. But local election problems persist. In March 2021, supervisors certified special election results in Eastvale and Cathedral City even though 11,000 ballots were mailed too late to voters.

The panel will have a chair appointed by the Board of Supervisors chairperson and confirmed by the full board. One representative each from the county GOP and Democratic Party, a designee from the third party that got the most votes in the last presidential election, and members of the League of Women Voters Riverside and a nonpartisan Latino organization also are on the committee.

Those groups will choose who represents them on the committee, with members receiving two-year terms and serving no more than two consecutive terms. The panel will meet publicly at least five times during a statewide election year and deliver a report on its recommendations and public feedback after every statewide election.

The committee’s structure concerned Chad Schnitger, the county Republican Party’s election integrity chairman, who told supervisors that while he applauds the committee’s concept, the party “may not participate.”

“The addition of independent groups that may have members registered to one of the major parties could result in a board makeup that brings doubt to the fairness of the entire committee,” he said. “I have a hard enough time as an individual … convincing conservative voters that Riverside County’s process can be trusted without sitting on a board that could very easily lean in one political direction.”

Even if the committee leans one way politically, “it doesn’t matter,” said Jeffries, a former GOP assembly member. “It’s not going to rewrite election law.”

Supervisor Karen Spiegel also stressed the limits of the committee’s role. She used Tuesday’s vote to share her views on elections and voting, expressing support for voter ID and lamenting the length of time — typically weeks — to count votes.

“Our goal is to make sure that the election process is open, accurate and legal and transparent,” said Spiegel, a Republican who is unopposed in the June 7 election. “And it concerns me that over time … that there are so many — not just here but across the nation — that have lost faith in our election process.”


Press Enterprise