July 20, 2004 > What Does the City Clerk's Office Do? What Responsibility Does This Office Have During Elections?
What Does the City Clerk's Office Do? What Responsibility Does This Office Have During Elections?
Candidates for elected public office are now busy preparing to ask voters to approve their bid for office in the November election. There is much to be done prior to a vote by the people and City Clerk's offices are busy ensuring a smooth election. TCV visited with Lynn Macy, Assistant City Manager and City Clerk for the City of Fremont and Renee Elliott, Senior Deputy City Clerk of Fremont to find out what city clerks do within city government and how they facilitate elections.
TCV: What are the broad responsibilities of the City Clerk's office?
Macy: This is a common office in all cities that I am familiar with. The core services of the City Clerk's office are to support the legislative process, which means, primarily, the workings of the city council - in most cities the city council agenda.
The second function is elections. Some cities administer their own elections but in Fremont, we contract with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. We are in charge of the process but the registrar of voters handles printing ballots, setting up precinct polling places and counting ballots.
We also provide records management to ensure the safekeeping and organization of the city's official records. There are laws and internal policies that govern destruction and retention of records. Certain records have to be kept forever, other records have to be kept for a period of time - the usual rule is at least two years. We want to be sure that the public has access to records that they need, and we maintain official records for our own internal purposes.
TCV: Do other cities in Alameda County use the registrar's services?
Elliot: Yes. The voting process is consolidated with all the other cities in the county by the Registrar of Voters.
Macy: But we are responsible for Fremont's elections. They count the votes and we certify the election.
Elliot: The registrar has 28 days, according to the elections code, to certify the election based on the canvas results. He then disseminates that information to the election officials in all of the cities and they, in turn, take it to their city councils and certify it.
TCV: Is this what happens in all cities?
Macy: Some cities may do both tasks; policy, administration as well as the physical part of the election
Elliot: The cities in Los Angeles County do that, because the county is too big to provide consolidated services.
TCV: There has been some controversy about the electronic voting. Have we had any problems in this area with it?
Macy: I'm not prepared, technically, to speak to the myriad of issues regarding electronic voting. As you can imagine, it's extremely complex, and it's still under review. We feel very confident that the Registrar of Voters, Brad Clark, is one of the premiere registrars in terms of knowledge and sophistication. He is the person we rely on to keep up-to-date. He has told all of the clerks in Alameda County that his is confident about Diebold which is one of the less controversial systems and that they will readily comply with whatever requirements are found necessary.
Our local experience has been extremely positive. That doesn't mean that we haven't had glitches. Any time you have electronic technology, that's going to happen. But it also happens, as we found out in the National election with counting of paper ballots. Overall, we feel very confident about the electronic voting system.
TCV: Is data transmitted directly from the voting machine?
Macy: The individual's voting data is downloaded from a machine to a card. Once you enter that card into the voting machine, you've entered that data.
Elliot: We use a link to the Registrar of Voters database to make sure that you are registered and information is up-to-date. Information about you is "burned" onto this card that a voter takes to the voting machine. When the card is plugged in, the machine knows that you are registered and which ballot to bring up. Your vote is collected within the machine; the card tells the machine which ballot to bring up.
Macy: We have offered early voting here at Fremont City Hall because our residents have had such a positive reaction to the electronic voting. It's accessible to people for a long period of time and they can just come to city hall and vote before the day of the election. The public [in Fremont] has had virtually no problem with electronic voting. It even has the ability to serve disabled people, who are blind or physically disabled. It's a sophisticated system.
TCV: Do absentee ballots go directly to the registrar? Are they counted?
Elliot: They all go to the registrar.
Macy: All ballots, including absentee, whether they're mailed in or brought in physically are counted. Anything received prior to the close of the polls is counted. People need to understand that this means that they cannot mail their absentee ballot on the day of the election. It has to have been received by the registrar no later than the close of the polls. If you've mailed in your absentee ballot and they've received it, it's counted. If, on Election Day, you realize that you haven't mailed it in, physically take it in or it will not be counted. All absentee ballots that are submitted in the proper timeframe are counted.
TCV: If I mail my ballot and for some reason it doesn't get to the registrar on time, but it's not my fault, is it still a valid ballot? Would it count in a recount?
Macy: In order to make sure that as many ballots are counted as possible, there is an agreement between the Registrar of Voters and the postal service that there will be more than one delivery on Election Day. This helps to ensure that as many ballots as possible are received and counted.
TCV: When can newly elected officials take office?
Macy: Not until the vote is canvassed and the election is certified.
TCV: What is the process for candidates for office? For those who have never run for office, what type of support can they expect?
Macy: In Fremont, we provide a lot of service to prospective candidates and candidates. We do that because we think to the extent that we are informative and proactive with candidates in terms of providing information and not waiting for them to have to think about the correct information to ask us, it levels the playing field for those that are seasoned in terms of running for office and newcomers. As city clerks, our responsibility is to make sure that elections are open and fair not only to the voter but to the people who are interested in being the candidates.
Another reason is to encourage participation in the democratic process. We do not, in any way, want to put up roadblocks. It's a complicated process so it can be imposing to the uninitiated. We want it to be as transparent and informative as possible. The other principle that we hold in our office, and really by law, is that we can provide information and be informative to candidates but we don't provide advice.
We don't, obviously, provide any political or legal advice to candidates. Sometimes, candidates think that we might provide that service but it wouldn't be appropriate to do that. In essence, we treat all candidates, as much as possible, exactly the same. This not only relates to candidates but to members of the public who are interested in initiatives and other ballot measures.
Elliot: For individuals running for office, we try to get as much information as possible out to the public prior to the nomination period. We will start getting a lot of calls with frequently asked questions - How do I run for office? What do I need to do? We put information out on our website (which we did several months ago) and field any phone calls that come in. We prepare our Candidate Handbook, which is kind of a trademark of this city. As Lynn said, this really levels the playing field. The nomination packet is critical, and that's what we walk them through piece by piece explaining what is absolutely required - to get their nomination papers circulated, how that's done, and what we're going to be looking for when they come back with this packet.
We talk to candidates about our relationship with the press and that we share information at the end of every day. Also, we keep a public information counter copy (front counter of city hall) of things that we think that are important to the public during the election, such as staff reports related to this election or related to the measure that is going on the ballot, a roster of the candidates and their political campaign filings. We try to have as much information out there for people and make it accessible.
We meet with every candidate individually. We handle that on a walk-in basis as well as by appointment. We spend however long it takes with each candidate to resolve all of their questions. We go through the [candidate's] binder and the nomination packet.
Macy: The information service is available all the way up through the election. The other office that does provide candidate service is the city attorney's office. Depending on their question, his office is not to give them individual legal advice but they will help guide them through the legal requirements. They may need to retain their own legal council for certain issues, but that office also provides that service. Again, coming back to this, our role in that it is neutral, we have to be really pretty strict about that so we will provide information that is neutral. We won't offer an opinion. That's only fair to all the candidates involved.
Something offered in the City of Fremont that I'm not sure is offered in other cities is a group meeting for candidates for office. This is held by our City Manager and City Attorney to explain various aspects of sitting on the council, such as the Brown Act and how our city council functions. This is done so people understand what serving on this city council is all about.
TCV: If I'm interested in a ballot initiative, can I just call your office?
Macy: The public can just pick up the phone and call us. We will try to be as helpful as possible in terms of getting them the correct election code information and steering them to the correct part of the California State Code. It spells out the steps that people need to take to go through the initiative process. We will certainly tell them the major deadlines so that they have a sense of how quickly they need to get their campaign started. People would be surprised about how early you have to do that. November seems a long way away, but frankly, much of the election is set in place the first part of August because the ballots have to be printed and typeset and there are various processes that go on with arguments and rebuttals. People need to start very early, thinking about that.
Beyond that, we recommend that one of the best things they can do is do a lot of homework or retain the services of an attorney who specializes in election laws because the deadlines are so prescriptive and it's a complex process. The requirements of petitions are very specific so, again, we're there to facilitate whatever the public is interested in. We want to be informative so that they know, generally, what they're going to be challenged with. We don't offer advice. Our job is to remain a neutral party.
TCV: Is there city oversight of polling places?
Macy: There is physical oversight, but we contract for that with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. They have election officials that troubleshoot. If a polling place has a problem they can call in and the official will come out and troubleshoot the problem. Our offices are open with other services provided. Anyone can call the city to get information through eight o'clock on Election Day about the location and availability of their polling place. If people can't find it or they don't know which one it is, we offer that service here, too.
TCV: Who should people call if there is a problem with their polling location?
Macy: The answer depends on the issue. If it is a logistical problem, they can call us or they can call the Registrar of Voters. If it's just simply someone saying that the garage door isn't open to their polling place, or that it's not where they thought it was then the Registrar of Voters would handle that. In the event that someone felt that the election was being conducted improperly, I would encourage them to call our office because ultimately, we're responsible for the elections in Fremont, and they're welcome to call our office. And they should call.
Elliot: An excellent website for information is www.smartvoter.org website. That's so helpful that even cities use it as a resource. It's really up to date.
Macy: If people want to follow election results, that's a good website to follow, and then you have our website (www.ci.fremont.ca.us) and look under the city clerk's office.
TCV: Speaking of website management, was your department responsible for the video streaming of city council meetings that is now available through the internet?
Macy: Another department that I manage is the Information Systems Department. This was a combined effort. Another core function of the clerk's office is to make sure that the legislative process is open and fair. In this day and age, we are moving towards tools such as the website; video streaming was the next logical step. We think that this will be a great new service for people. We have live broadcast of our council meetings, and subsequent reruns on cable television. With the video streaming the public can go online at anytime. They can go on live and watch the council meeting or they can call up a previous meeting at any time. They can also search through council meetings to find the item that they are interested in without listening to the entire session.
It's an efficient tool internally as well, because our employees, regardless of where they're located, can watch the council meetings live and they don't have to have cable television access. Plus, they can come into the workplace the next day and review what happened at the council meeting without viewing a videotape. What was really amazing is that we did it with a few hundred dollars.
Lynn Macy (510) 284-4005
Renee Elliott (510) 284-4064
Rick Caldeira (510) 284-4063
Frances Miller-Rogers 510-790-7266
City Clerk (510) 675-5348
Other Voting Information:
Alameda County Registrar of Voters
General Information (510) 663-8683
Voter Registration (510) 272-6973
Absentee Voting (510) 272-6973