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Longtime RivCo employee appointed new Registrar of Voters

Art Tinoco
Riverside County
Art Tinoco

The man appointed interim chief of the Riverside County Registrar of Voters office is now in the position permanently, following a vote of confidence by the Board of Supervisors.

Art Tinoco was unanimously selected in a formal vote by the board Tuesday, during its final meeting of 2023.   

"After conducting a recruitment, it became clear that we could rely on Art to continue leading the department into the future,'' outgoing board Chair Kevin Jeffries said. "Art is a committed public servant who knows how to conduct complex elections, with up to dozens of contests and measures on a single ballot."  

Tinoco was placed in the role of interim registrar while a national recruitment campaign was conducted, beginning in early October. There was no word on the number of applicants for the position, or whether anyone was interviewed.

Like his predecessor, Rebecca Spencer, under whom he worked directly for eight years as assistant registrar, Tinoco is a career county employee, starting out as a temporary worker in October 2001 but quickly being added to full-time staff at the registrar's office five months later.

The career path bears similarities to Spencer's advancement in the county ranks.

Over the last 20 years, the registrar's office has had only one person at the helm who was not a longtime county employee -- Kari Verjil, who had been the registrar of voters for neighboring San Bernardino County. Verjil served for nearly three years in Riverside County, retiring in the winter of 2014.

The agency has been a recurring fixture of controversy, plagued by technical difficulties that have delayed the processing of results immediately after an election, delayed distributions of vote-by-mail ballot materials and questions about accurate counts.

The latter subject has been raised by voter integrity activists at multiple board meetings, especially since the November 2020 general election. It was in response to criticism and his own concerns that prompted Jeffries to push for establishment of an "independent" Election Advisory Committee, which was set up last year.  

The committee, composed of representatives from different political parties and non-partisan groups, is tasked with periodically providing recommendations to the county on ways of making elections more efficient and transparent.

Jeffries expressed optimism that Tinoco would move "the (registrar's office) toward more timely results, building enhanced community outreach and trust with the community.''

"Voting is fundamental to our democracy, and I am honored to do this work on behalf of all of our residents,'' Tinoco said. "I look forward to continuing the preparations for our 2024 presidential primary and general elections and ensuring all eligible citizens in Riverside County have access to register and cast their ballot."  

Tinoco's ex-boss, Spencer, resigned in the last week of September after county CEO Jeff Van Wagenen placed her on paid administrative leave in the wake of an unflattering audit of operations in the registrar's office.   

Former Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley conducted the four-month probe, uncovering a range of deficiencies on Spencer's watch, going back to mid-2014.

Kelley wrote that the "entire process of ballot material preparation, production and proofing ... should be modernized'' because "Riverside County is consistently the last in the state among medium- and large sized counties'' to distribute information ahead of statutory deadlines.   

The audit found communication breakdowns were a routine problem in the Office of the Registrar of Voters and that sound financial practices were an issue.

Kelley noted that Spencer had been exceedingly involved in minute details connected to all operations, failing to delegate many tasks.   

"She started with the ROV as a temporary employee during high school and moved through multiple positions over the years,'' he said. "This is both positive and negative, depending on the cycle of the operation.''   

Spencer received a "golden parachute"-type settlement agreement with the county, netting a $799,591 payout to avoid potential litigation related to her removal, even though she was an at-will agency head.

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Article Topic Follows: Your Vote

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