County’s new Registrar of Voters begins community outreach
The monthly luncheon of the Merced County Republican Women Federated on Monday was jam-packed with longtime members and curious guests inside the Elks Club in Merced.
Perhaps the meeting was so well-attended because the group’s special guest speaker was Mel Levey.
Levey is the county’s new Registrar of Voters — the official who leads the Elections Department and this region’s election process for all federal, state and local offices and measures, among many other critical services for residents.
He was appointed in January by members of the Board of Supervisors who decided to move in a new direction after the gubernatorial election in November was blemished by a local controversy regarding errors on ballots that were sent to voters in newly redrawn districts.
The hire also comes just one year before what’s looking like another Presidential Election whopper combined with the always-critical local races and measures.
“We have a lot of trust to rebuild in the community,” Levey told the gathering. “And it’s not just the community. There’s a lot of trust to rebuild within the county organization. My department now has to prove to the public, to the county, and to ourselves that we can do this job, and do it the right way.”
He added, “My charge is that we are going to be responsible for our actions. We are undertaking some extensive retraining. So for the two countywide elections next year — the Presidential Primary in March and the General in November — we are going to be trained, we are going to set up elections according to code and law, and we are going to execute on that accordingly.”
It’s likely that Levey — who turns 38 next week — has more election experience than any other incoming Merced County Registrar has had in more than 30 years.
He’s also a native Mercedian and part of a family with roots to this area dating back about 150 years. As a youngster, he attended Our Lady of Mercy School, and then Central Catholic High School in Modesto. As a young man, he was inspired to pursue a career in service after witnessing the tragic events of 9-11.
In 2003, Levey earned admittance to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Commissioned as an officer in the United States Army in 2007, he led American soldiers in combat across three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, earning numerous awards, including three Bronze Stars.
Interestingly, Levey’s duties during this period included strengthening local governance by assisting in security and other operations during Iraq’s 2010 National Elections.
In 2014, Levey left the Army, returned to Merced, and proceeded to run as a Republican candidate for the 16th Congressional District seat that represented this area, along areas of Madera and Fresno counties. He didn’t make it out of the Primary with a field of six candidates; however, he said he learned a lot while campaigning for education opportunities, sound water policy and veterans’ rights.
“I learned from my experience getting out into the local community, and meeting all sorts of folks, and understanding their issues.”
Later, Levey traveled back East and earned an MBA from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. He worked for the Bipartisan Policy Center, helping to draft a report on building a flexible personnel system for the modern U.S. military. In 2016, Mel began working with KippsDeSanto and Co., a Washington, D.C. area investment bank advising aerospace, defense, and government services companies on strategy, mergers, and acquisitions. After a few years, he took a senior role in a startup company that, among other things, helped secure small business loans for veterans. The experience led him to cofound his own startup in 2020. That company, Joint Homes, offers tailored housing to military service members who are able to build wealth while renting.
Facing the voters
Levey received a warm reception at Monday’s gathering, with some of those present surely knowing his name for another reason besides his extensive resume and background.
His mother, Barbara Levey, worked in Merced County government for more than 30 years, including eight years in the very same Registrar of Voters role.
Nevertheless, the younger Levey held his own as the GOP members began to fire off questions and concerns about the local election process.
One woman was concerned about the location of Voting Assistance Centers, saying she had a hard time finding the exact location of the one near her home during the last election, and then she added that the “assistance” was not very friendly. Another wanted to know about the ratio of Republicans and Democrats who serve as local poll workers, and how the pool of workers was actually being recruited.
There were concerns about perceived inconsistencies with the training of poll workers, the possibility of multiple Vote By Mail ballots being sent to one household, how mail-in ballots are actually verified, and how voters are being registered, particularly at the DMV and through government social service programs.
For his part, Levey said his department will be reevaluating locations for the county’s Voting Assistance Centers in a way to make them more visible and accessible. He’s making a budget request for a portion of Elections funding to go toward public outreach events in the community, and getting key information out through various marketing strategies. And he drove home the point that his permanent staff and election poll workers need to be well-trained to respond to issues and enforce the law.
He’s also promising more transparency at the Election Warehouse in Merced where all the ballots are counted. The observation area is going to be more accessible, he said, and the flow of the ballot counting will be more easily identified with placards. He said tours of the facility will be offered to community members.
“It’s important to see the process, see the workers doing their work, and see the measures that are in place,” he said.
Levey added that efforts will also continue to get out the vote in order to increase the 45 percent turnout among the counties 125,000 or so registered voters during the last gubernatorial election.
Another type of service
And on a completely different topic, Levey also explained to the audience that the Elections office located at the County Administration building also functions as a U.S. Passport facility. He said one of the things they were working on was increasing the level of walk-in services — as oppose to scheduled appointments — and the addition of camera equipment so that Passport photos can be taken in a one-step application process, instead of handing a form to a customer and directing them to a local store like Walgreens to obtain an image that will fit the requirement.
Levey summed up his presentation Monday by thanking the Merced County Republican Women Federated for the opportunity to speak to them, and offering them one an insight into his motivations as the new Registrar of Voters.
“For me,” Levey reflected. “Service to the community has been a central theme to my life — whether it was West Point, the Army, running for office, the startups I founded that had a public good at the heart of them, and now with the Registrar of Voters. I think public service is important. And I feel fortunate to be in a position where I can serve.”
The Merced County Republican Women Federated (MCRWF) meets the third Monday of each month at 11 a.m. Call 1 (510) 331-2554 for more information. When you call, please leave a message with your name and phone number and your call will be returned.