"From his third-floor corner office in the San Mateo County Government Center, Warren Slocum gazes out at the copper and stained-glass dome of the historic county courthouse in downtown Redwood City.
"It may sound corny, but when I look at that courthouse, it puts me in touch with the roots of America," he says. "It's an architectural representation of something that has such meaning. It reminds me of my place in this country's history."
Somehow when Slocum talks about things like history and democracy, it doesn't sound at all corny. That's because the San Mateo County assessor/clerk/recorder/chief elections official, the elected official with what must be the world's longest office title, believes what he says. His love for democracy drove him to run for the office in 1986 and inspired his many innovations over the past 24 years.
Changing of the guard
Slocum, 62, recently announced that he won't run for re-election in June, one of three longtime county officials retiring this year. District Attorney Jim Fox and Tax Collector-Treasurer Lee Buffington also are stepping down after more than two decades in office.
Of the three, I have a feeling that Slocum, because of the many hats he wears, has had the largest impact on the lives of everyday folks, in the county and throughout California. As assessor, he helped school districts and cities, which rely heavily on property taxes, predict revenues by creating software that tracks property as it changes hands and is reassessed, updating each jurisdiction's assessed valuation.
When he unveiled the system for finance managers, they gave him a standing ovation.
As clerk-recorder, Slocum came up with the Wedding Cam, which lets couples married in the clerk's chapel webcast their ceremony to friends and relatives around the world.
"It was such a simple thing, really," he said. "It didn't cost practically anything, and people appreciate it so much."
Election night star
It is as elections czar, however, that he has had the greatest impact. He has been a leader in voting technology and runs the most efficient election-night operation around. Long after his final results are posted, workers in Santa Clara County are still waiting for ballots to count.
Slocum majored in American history at San Diego State University and hoped one day to manage a history museum. But he got a job in the county clerk's office in 1979 and never left. In 1986, he won the clerk-recorder job. He added assessor to his title when the offices were consolidated in 1993. His wife, Maria Diaz-Slocum, is on the Redwood City school board.
In 2006, Slocum considered a run for secretary of state but decided he didn't have the resources for a statewide campaign. Instead, he vowed to continue election reform from the local level. He has pioneered the use of optical scanners for counting ballots and conducted the state's first Internet voting demonstration project. He continues to lobby the Legislature to allow counties to run special elections by mail, which he says is a lot more economical.
Throughout his career, Slocum's goal has been to make elections more accurate and transparent. When counties converted to electronic voting after the 2000 hanging-chad fiasco, he pushed for paper records of all votes cast. He is being sued for refusing petition signatures transmitted by iPhone, saying he can't assure they are valid.
"Voting is the foundation of democracy, and people have to have faith that the vote is secure and secret," he said. "If they have doubts about whether their vote will be counted, and counted correctly, it undermines the whole system."
Corny? Yeah, a little. But true."