A new leader will take the helm of the county clerk-recorder’s office for the first time in nearly two decades — succeeding longtime officeholder Julie Rodewald who will retire at the end of her term on Jan. 5.
Three candidates are vying for the elected position: Caltrans business management district Chief Ann Danko, Assistant Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong and Deputy Clerk-Recorder Amanda King.
They are running in the June 3 primary and the top two vote getters will go to a runoff on Nov. 4.
While the county clerk-recorder seat has been one of the most low-key campaigns on the June ballot, the winner runs a department that directly touches the lives of nearly all county residents.
The office, in San Luis Obispo at the County Government Center, is responsible for running all elections in the county and maintaining voter registration records; filing vital records such as birth, death and marriage certificates; filing fictitious business name statements; and maintaining other official records such as property deeds.
The office also issues marriage licenses, performs wedding ceremonies and maintains the records of the Board of Supervisors.
There are 22 employees managed by the clerk-recorder. During elections, up to 20 temporary employees are brought in to help.
The annual operating budget for the office is $3.1 million, with up to $2.8 million of that reimbursed by cities, schools and special districts for the November general election. The position pays $135,657 plus benefits.
“A major part of the job is making sure everybody in the county has access to the vote and able to exercise their right to vote,” said Geoff Neill, senior legislative analyst at the California State Association of Counties.
“There are countless little ways of implementing elections where the registrar of voters has the choice in how to achieve those goals. It is all those little decisions adding up together that can make a difference in meeting the needs of the community.”
The last time the race was contested in San Luis Obispo County was when Rodewald was first elected in 1994 among a field of eight candidates.
All three candidates share a passion for elections and the process of running them.
“Free and safe elections are one of the most sacred things that a democracy can give their citizenry,” Danko said.
Gong, 48, who is now Rodewald’s second-in-command, said he has been fascinated by the process of running elections since his first stint as an elections manager in Stanislaus County more than a decade ago. “It is an awesome responsibility entrusted to a relatively small office,” Gong said.
Gong currently oversees administrative duties including the budget, supervising staff, special projects and the implementation of software.
King, 31, has worked in the clerk’s office since the day before the June 2006 primary election. She said she was inspired by the chance to serve the public in a non-partisan position. She is one of a number of deputy clerks working in the office.
“Elections offer all the excitement and honor of the democratic process without the party politics or bitterness, while recording duties, marriages, and vital records have the personal element of human connections,” King said.
King ‘s primary duties include her role as a document examiner and indexing official records. She is also involved in precinct work and training.
Since both Gong and King work in the office now, they will be removed from any duties involving the handling of ballots to avoid any perception of conflict of interest.
“It’s a good opportunity to get other people trained, anyway,” Rodewald said. She said she will take over duties involving vote counting so neither candidate will be involved.
“They’ve both been very professional about keeping the campaign out of the office,” Rodewald said about King and Gong.
None of the candidates support electronic voting.
“There are too many ways the systems can be hacked, and paper ballots are still the best,” said Danko, 57, who has assisted with 14 primary and general elections since 2002 as an inspector and precinct clerk.
She received a small stipend for her work. Because she is running for office, Danko will not be allowed to assist this year.
King agreed that paper ballots and machine ballot counters are the most effective for counting votes. Gong would like to increase efficiency with high-speed counters that would scan a full ballot and allow them to be viewed at the office.
“We hope to get these in the office in the near future,” said Gong. “We are waiting for testing and certification at the vendor and state level first.”
Increasing the use of technology to streamline work and make documents easily accessible to the public is also a priority of the candidates. King would like to increase the online availability of older vital records.
“I pushed for the availability of commonly recorded documents online, which has greatly increased the recordability of documents,” King said. “I would also like to implement an official records search-by-keyword.”
Gong said that making the office as efficient as possible while maintaining customer service is essential. However, as technology advances, it is important to protect the public from fraud, he said.
Danko said, “The integrity of all the records archived at the clerk-recorder’s office is very important; they need to be secure yet accessible.” Danko would also encourage high school and college aged youth to become active voters if she were elected, she said.
The Latino Outreach Council will host a candidate forum this week for the public to meet the candidates and ask them questions. The forum will be Wednesday at the county Board of Supervisors chambers, San Luis Obispo County Government Center, 1055 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. A social hour will be held from 5-6 p.m. and the forum will be 6-8 p.m.