Riverside County elections chief to retire
By MIKE KATAOKA, BETTYE WELLS MILLER and BRADLEY WEAVER / The Press-Enterprise
Riverside County's registrar of voters, who ushered in electronic voting, is retiring July 17 and moving to Pismo Beach.
Mischelle Townsend, 57, cited family reasons for ending nearly 30 years with Riverside County government, the past seven in charge of elections.
Although California's secretary of state has halted electronic voting in the state, because of problems with a different computerized system, Riverside County experienced 29 "flawless" elections with the new technology under Townsend's administration, said Roy Wilson, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.
Riverside County Registrar of Voters Mischelle Townsend reveals plans to retire in July.
"She took us from paper ballots and scanning machines to an electronic system with 4,200 individual voting machines," Wilson said by phone. "That's not easy to do, and she did it flawlessly."
Townsend said she and her husband bought their oceanfront home five years ago. Larry Townsend, former head of the Riverside County Department of Social Services, is retiring from his consultant's job June 30 and wants to be close to his father, who lives in Paso Robles and is about to undergo knee-replacement surgery.
"He wanted me to retire at the end of last year," she said.
"It's never an easy decision when you have such a passion for what you're doing," she said Monday. "Yet the family has to be your priority."
Townsend said she is proud to have headed a department that modernized voting with touch-screen technology and made it easier for handicapped people to cast their votes.
"That's why I was such a strong advocate of it," she said.
Sequoia Voting Systems first introduced touch-screen voting units in Riverside County during the 2000 presidential election. Officials at the Oakland-based firm applauded Townsend's support of electronic voting machines but said an employment agreement with her is not in the works.
"It's not like we wouldn't want to have her, but there's been no talk about bringing her to Sequoia," said spokesman Alfie Charles.
As for whether she would consider a job with Sequoia in the future, Townsend said, "Absolutely not."
What she is looking at is teaching part time at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and doing some writing and some consulting work with her husband.
Townsend came under scrutiny of the state's Fair Political Practices Commission this year for accepting travel expenses from Sequoia to discuss electronic voting, but commission officials found she had satisfied their reporting requirements.
She also asked county prosecutors to investigate allegations that Sequoia officials had improperly accessed computers during the March 2 election. District Attorney Grover Trask found no wrongdoing.
Political criticism "comes with the turf," Townsend said.
She said she plans to continue playing a key role in the federal lawsuit aimed at preserving Riverside County's electronic voting system. The next hearing is set for July 2 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Scott Konopasek called Townsend his longtime role model and mentor.
"She was a real pioneer who pushed for improvements in the voting process," Konopasek said. "It wasn't just touch-screen voting either. She did a remarkable job training poll workers and inspired confidence in Riverside County voters. It takes courage to leave at this time with these issues going on, and her loss will be keenly felt."
Townsend will retire after hosting a statewide conference of elections officials in Riverside next month. She will be available as a consultant for the upcoming election, "but that will be up to my successor and the board and the county executive officer," she said.
Wilson said an interim replacement will be within the next month. A permanent appointment could be made from within the department, he said.
Among her previous roles in county government, Townsend led the Local Agency Formation Commission and the General Services Agency.