The Board of Supervisors today approved establishing an Election Advisory Committee, composed of volunteers who will monitor Riverside County elections and solicit input from residents on what to improve in the interest of transparency and efficiency.
"There's a perception that this committee is going to make dramatic changes in the way that elections are held, but we don't have that authority," Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said ahead of the 5-0 vote. "We can, with the help of citizens, improve the process. But the committee will only make recommendations. It's a citizens' committee to help us with the process. It's a good start."
The committee concept has been in the works since August, when the board first affirmed the need for an independent commission to meet each year to scrutinize election practices and come up with proposals that might ensure the integrity of operations during primary and general elections.
Jeffries first broached the idea of a standing independent election integrity committee in May 2020. It didn't gain traction at the time, but he pressed the issue again last May, despite Registrar Rebecca Spencer's position that a committee wasn't needed since an observer panel was already available.
"What we have with the observer panel is a free-for-all," Jeffries said at the time. "It's whoever wants to show up and take over the room. We need structure ... The November (2020) election showed exactly why having that extra layer of public trust in the system can be important, as the entire electoral process was called into question across the country."
The new seven-member panel will include a chair, a designee from the Republican Party, a designee from the Democratic Party, a third-party designee hailing from whichever third party garnered the highest votes countywide in the most recent presidential election, a representative from the League of Women Voters, a representative from a local Hispanic nonpartisan community organization and an ex-officio rep from the county Executive Office.
Several residents addressed the board to contest the composition of the panel.
"This does not represent the voting makeup of citizens of Riverside County," Jeannie Rivenbark said. "You need two members of the Republican Party, two members from the Democratic Party and two minor party members."
She said the current single-person representation poses a risk of the committee being permanently tilted to the left.
"If you want meaningful reforms, get the best people you can get -- the most talented," Roy Bleckert told the board. "Don't use establishment types who are only looking out for their group's interests. That's how we end up with the problems we have."
When Jeffries advocated for an independent committee, he was joined by Supervisor Karen Spiegel, who acknowledged Tuesday that the panel concept as written wasn't perfect, but provided an opportunity to ensure elections are "kept transparent."
"Regardless of whether you believe in mail-in ballots or voter identification, as I personally do, those are policies we cannot overturn," she said. "They're state and federal rules. This was a means for Supervisor Jeffries and I to try to find a way to improve oversight."
In an election year, such as the current one, the committee will be required to convene a minimum of five meetings, both ahead of and following the primary and general elections. In non-election years, the panel will only need to meet twice.
All meetings will be accessible via Zoom to encourage wide public participation.
The committee will report findings and concerns to the board, the Ad- Hoc Committee on Elections, the Executive Office and the Office of the Registrar of Voters.
Members will serve two-year terms and have the support of personnel from the Executive Office, Office of County Counsel and the registrar's office.
Announcements regarding how to apply for membership were expected to be released soon by either the Executive Office or the Office of the Registrar of Voters.