William Holsinger received his official ballot in the mail and sent it back to cast his vote, per his usual process as a permanent absentee voter for about the last 10 years.
Then another official ballot arrived in the mail the next day. Caught off guard by the irregularity, Holsinger, who is registered in San Mateo, called county election officials who told him that he could discard the duplicate.
“I wasn’t planning on voting twice,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure that my first one counted.”
Officials in a phone conversation were initially unable to offer that certainty though, said Holsinger. For his part, Jim Irizarry, the county’s assistant chief elections officer, suggested the second ballot is likely due to the complex nature of operating a countywide election.
“Voters receiving two ballots is a common occurrence due to the complex and fluid nature of voter registration,” he said in an email, suggesting a second ballot can be issued when a voter changes their status with the county. Altering party affiliations, addresses or other details in the county’s record are examples of the type of action which would prompt issuance of a second ballot.
Holsinger though said he had not changed his status with the county recently, making his second ballot all the more perplexing.
“I was a little puzzled,” he said.
To get clarification on whether the ballot was counted, Irizarry said the county offers a service which requires voters to share information such as their name, address and birthday.
“With this information, we can determine the number of ballots issued, when they were issued, what types of ballots were issued, if any ballots were voted or returned,” he said.
He added changes to the county record may not be immediately apparent to voters, as activity at the DMV for example may result in prompting a second ballot.
“Voters may not associate a second ballot with a DMV interaction made weeks ago, plus the time for the ballot to reach them,” Irizarry said.
He took time to note though that issuance of a second ballot would not invalidate the first. He said the voting system is designed to flag ballots in the case of potential redundancies, which then requires staffers to check the voter’s record, rather than automatically render it uncountable.
But so long as Holsinger only sent his first ballot, Irizarry confirmed his vote counted.
“If the voter … sent in his first ballot, and only that ballot, it would be counted despite the issuance of a second ballot,” he said.
Irizarry also tamped down concerns raised by those who were alarmed to see mock election results posted on the county elections office website in late October. Some felt the outcomes shown were real and may affect the behavior of those yet to vote.
Irizarry though said the mock results were not actual outcomes, and instead only a standard system testing mechanism commonly used by officials in advance of an election.
The issues raised follow a series of missteps county officials have endured during election season.
First, officials found the county Board of Education race was left off sample ballots, causing elections officials to postpone sending actual ballots one week from Oct. 9 to Oct. 15 while they addressed the error.
Elections officials incorrectly identified the race as a district election, resulting in only those living in District 1 along the coast receiving information about the candidates in their sample ballot. The Board of Education candidates are required to be residents of the district they represent, but members are elected by voters across the county.
Irizarry said the additional information originally intended for the sample material was included with the actual ballot in an addendum which required additional time to craft. Elections officials sent out ballots last month, and voters still received their material within the legal time requirements.
Later, officials found the sample material problems carried over to real ballots, and dozens of overseas voters were sent ballots also omitting the Board of Education race. Officials were forced to scramble and assure those voters were offered ballots including the race.
For Holsinger, he shared fears that his experience could be a byproduct of a potentially dysfunctional system.
“I believe that good process makes for appropriate results. Bad process never has good results. And the ends don’t justify the means,” he said.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105
This is a perfect example of why I support elected official Sabrina Brennan she cares. If you know of any other San Mateo County elected official who has publicly commented on this subject let me know.
San Mateo County election irregularities:
1.) Why were multiple ballots mailed to individual voters…?2.) On Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018, Race Tracker was published on the San Mateo County Elections website with “mock” results. Voters discovered the Race Tracker results online when they Google searched a candidates name. The word ”mock“ was in fine print giving voters the impression the results were from votes cast in the Nov 2018 election. The “mock” results did not appear to berandomized.
3.) The *countywide* Board of Education election was excluded from the Sample Ballot pamphlet everywhere except the Coastside. Delaying the arrival of ballots by a week or more.
4.) The sample ballot problem carried over to real ballots, and dozens of overseas voters were sent ballots also omitting the Board of Education race.
I just completed my official San Mateo County vote-by-mail ballot. In addition to a mistake involving a position on the County Board of Education (the correction of which I’ve been told necessitated delaying distribution of the ballots), the provided instructions are incorrect. Specifically, step 3 calls for the voter to “remove the strip to seal the envelope” … when in reality the envelope, or mine at least, is a traditional lick-to-seal one.
Granted, that’s not a big deal. But two mistakes involving a single ballot package? I can’t recall the last time there was any mistake on a ballot, and I’ve voted in every election for the more than 20 years I’ve lived here.
It may be unfair to give voice to this next concern. But it needs to be asked. What else went wrong? It’s the mistakes you don’t see which can cause the biggest problems.
The people of San Mateo County should insist on a thorough, top-to-bottom independent third-party audit of the Elections Office. Our hard-working county employees deserve not to work under a cloud, and county residents deserve a first-class election operation.
The letter writer is a member of the San Carlos City Council. The views and opinions expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of the city of San Carlos or its City Council.
By Michael G. Stogner