Looking Behind the Scenes: County elections department looks to go modern

By: Jim Ruffalo
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Impatiently racing through the notebook while wondering why it’s taking President Obama so long to turn around the economy ... Meanwhile, other things go slow and smooth, such as the Placer County Elections Department. No sooner had all the documents been promptly filed and recorded from November’s record 89.1 percent local turnout than elections honcho Jim McCauley decided to run for the fifth time. He’s been in charge of the County Clerk-Recorder-Registrar’s office since being appointed in 1993 and insists he’s ready for at least one more shift. “I absolutely love what I’m doing,” he said, adding that he especially enjoys the challenges each new election brings. However, he does admit to some weariness over the state’s lack of timeliness in paying its share of the election bills. “We recently received the $1.1 million owed to us for the special election (which brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to the gubernatorial helm) and are still owed about $300,000 for the absentee ballots from this past election,” he said in a voice so wistful one could hardly picture him awaiting each day’s mail delivery knowing this would be the one with the check. McCauley said he’ll be taking on an additional responsibility these days, having recently been appointed by state Attorney General Jerry Brown to a committee overseeing the implementation of a new electronic filing system. “This one covers the electronic filing for title companies and banks and will save everybody a lot of money,” McCauley said. “We’ve been pushing for this for a long time, but there was always the question of proper security. We’ve solved that problem and should have electronic filing in place (before this summer).” McCauley added that he’s of the opinion that Republican registration in the former GOP bastion of Placer County could continue shrinking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Democrats will reap the benefits. “I see the Decline to State and other independents picking up registration. More and more young people and first-time voters are opting out of their traditional party system,” he said, attributing that electoral exodus to frustration with the mainstream political parties. “In fact,” he added, “there are several proposals going through various legislative processes to open up the primary in California.” One of those proposals includes an emulation of the Louisiana primary. That so-called “instant runoff” says if no candidate achieves a 50-percent-plus-one vote margin in the primary, then the top two vote getters meet in a run-off. Only difference is, if the top two are of the same party, so be it. ... Realty world: Congrats to Meddler Rick Bluhm, just recently honored as the Realtor of the Year. The Association of Realtors’ shindig was conducted at Lincoln’s Sun City, and honors him for 31 years of not only great work in his profession, but also for his contributions to the community. Many times a Realtor’s top contribution to the community is selling his or her house and moving out of state, but that’s not the case here. As it is for so many of the Meddlers, a full week’s work does not just involve the 8-to-5 paying gig. Instead, it’s difficult to find a hard-working service club that doesn’t boast a Meddler or two as a member, and no volunteer or community gathering gets conducted without at least a handful or two of them present. Bluhm said the award was appreciated, but the accompanying accolades were politely brushed off as being unnecessary. He was adamant that the only reason he won the award is that he’s been a member for so long, then added what he felt was another reason: “Shows you what can happen when you finally sell a house these days,” he said. Actually, he sells quite a few houses, and most of the Meddlers feel the honor was a bit overdue. ... Skeptic system: If you thought the sewer issue was a big deal — and it certainly is — well just stick around for the latest governmental intrusion known as the mandatory septic system inspection. It’s been properly stymied for a while, but — and you should pardon the pun — appears to be coming to a head. There’ll be a more complete reporting on the issue coming post haste, but the bottom line (pun?) is that septic-system owners will have to fork over hundreds of dollars for mandatory inspections, and hundreds more for the eventually ordered pumping. Whoever thought septic systems would become revenue streams? Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. He can be reached at