Editor’s note: This is part of a News-Press series on candidates in advance of the June 7 primary.
Experience matters, according to Joe Holland, who’s running for re-election as county clerk-recorder-assessor against challenger Elrawd MacLearn in the June 7 primary.
Mr. Holland has served in the position for Santa Barbara County since 2003. His work involves three primary roles: clerk/recorder, assessor and registrar of voters.
“I have the on-the-job experience over many years leading all three divisions of the department,” Mr. Holland told the News-Press, explaining why he’s better qualified than Mr. MacLearn.
“I am also an advanced certified appraiser and a licensed real estate broker, each with the state of California,” Mr. Holland said. “I have been a board member with the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials since 2005 and served as president of the Association from July 2018 to July 2020. I am a certified public finance officer (CPFO) with the nationally recognized Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA).
“Additionally, I have a master’s degree in economics and a bachelor’s degree in business economics – each from UCSB.”
Mr. Holland said he is proud that he has not used his position for political purposes and spoke to the major accomplishments of his office.
“For clerk/recorder, we implemented a new system that allows for the electronic recording of documents,” Mr. Holland said. “Similarly for assessor, we have improved our system so that most documents can now be filed electronically.
“For elections, the changes are almost too numerous to list,” he said. “Here is a partial list: Providing for Spanish as a second language in 2004, providing for ADA voting machines in 2006, conditional voter registration (same day) in 2016, providing for a safe and secure voting experience for the 2020 presidential election during a pandemic, electronic poll books in June 2022 and Voter Choice Act in November 2022.”
Mr. Holland spoke about what he has done to make elections safe, secure and transparent.
“Elections in Santa Barbara County are very safe and secure,” he said. “In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which provided funding for counties to purchase new voting equipment. Many counties purchased electronic voting machines.
“In Santa Barbara, I refused to give up our paper ballots,” Mr. Holland said. “Paper ballots allow for anyone challenging the election results to call for a manual recount. In fact, under California law, we routinely recount a random selection of precincts for each contest for every election.
“Additionally, we have disconnected our servers from the internet and have put in alarms, cameras and other physical security measures. Before, during and after every election the public, as well as the county Grand Jury, are invited in to watch the process. We often have many voters take us up on this opportunity.”
He also spoke to his plans to continue to keep elections secure and transparent.
“County Elections were designated as critical infrastructure in 2017,” Mr. Holland said. “We will continue to work with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security as well as County Information Technology to ensure that county elections are protected from any cyber security threats.”
Mr. Holland also addressed mail-in ballots. “Vote by mail ballots have proven to be very popular and have contributed to increased voter participation across all elections by making it easier to vote. Data shows that if you mail voters a ballot 29 days before election day, they are more likely to cast their ballot.
“For elections, we are looking to move to the Voters Choice Act model in November, which has been implemented in many counties throughout the state,” Mr. Holland said. “The VCA model will have vote centers in five locations across the county open 11 days before Election Day and will then increase to 24 vote centers open four days Friday through Election Day Tuesday. This model will make it easier for voters and lead to increased turnout.”
He addressed how he has improved voter turnout.
“The biggest change was mailing every voter a ballot,” Mr. Holland said. “Additionally, we implemented Conditional Voter Registration, which allows a voter to register prior to Election Day and even on Election Day. Previously there was a 15-day deadline to register before Election Day. Their ballot is not counted until it is verified that they have not voted anywhere else in the state.
“We are also implementing electronic poll books that will allow poll workers to instantly verify that a voter has not already voted before issuing a ballot,” said Mr. Holland.
He also addressed the issue of voter fraud. “From time to time we catch voters who try to vote twice by signing a family member’s or roommate’s mail ballot. We typically report them to the district attorney, and they are sent a letter reminding them that it is illegal to attempt to vote twice. We check the signature on every mail ballot before it is opened. If the signature does not match. the voter is sent a letter asking them to correct the mismatched signature.”
And he discussed the machines that count the scanned ballots.
“Before every election, for every contest, the machines are tested with test ballots in what is called a Logic and Accuracy test to be sure that the machines are working accurately. Additionally, pursuant to Election Code 15360, we manually hand count a randomly selected 1% of the precincts for every contest. We have not seen any errors/discrepancies when we complete this process.
“The public is welcome to come in and observe this required manual recount,” Mr. Holland said. “The machines only use paper ballots. Having only a hand count of the paper ballots would be extremely expensive and very time consuming. There have been no problems with the machines. They are extremely accurate.
“When we manually hand count a randomly selected 1% of the precincts for every contest, as required under Election Code 15360, we have not seen any errors/discrepancies,” Mr. Holland said.
The News-Press asked Mr. Holland how far society is from being able to vote on computers and smartphones and what the risks, cost effectiveness and security issues would be.
“In my opinion, we are nowhere near having internet voting,” Mr. Holland said.
“That is why I have always insisted on paper ballots, so that we can do a hand count if people/candidates question the results. We have done this many times.”
The News-Press also asked Mr. Holland about his approach to assessing property value
“We assess property at fair market value upon a change in ownership or new construction as required under Proposition 13,” he said. “Once a property is assessed, it cannot be raised beyond 2% per year, unless inflation is less than 2%, or unless there is additional new construction or another change in ownership. In a falling real estate market we reduce values to fair market value each year. Then as values come back up, they can be raised to what they would have been with the 2% limit on increases.”
Lastly, Mr. Holland addressed his goals if re-elected: “I enjoy providing improved public services. Over the years, we have made tremendous improvements across each three divisions of the department, clerk/recorder, assessor and county elections.
“My goals are to continue to improve these services and provide these services effectively and efficiently with integrity and transparency in a manner that is free of politics.”
Editor’s note: The News-Press previously published a story about Mr. MacLearn, Mr. Holland’s opponent, as part of the Election 2022 series. You can find all the articles published so far in this series at newspress.com. More articles in the series will run next week.