Sunday Commentary: Problems with Yolo Ballots More Widespread than Elections Office Lets On

By David M. Greenwald

On Friday, the Yolo County Elections Office acknowledged that they sent erroneous ballots to approximately 371 households and 581 registered voters countywide. The problem was that they had incorrect districts for those voters.

According to their release, “This error occurred due to a transitioning of data systems, where not all streets were correctly carried over into the appropriate precinct as expected.

“Within hours of confirming a potential error, the Yolo County Elections Office determined the number of impacted voters and households and is implementing a plan to correct the problem. This plan includes expediting to all impacted voters newly issued precinct ballots and voter information guides along with a letter describing the error,” the release stated.

In Davis, the problem was said to be limited to two apartment complexes—Covell Commons and the 8th & Wake Apartments.

The office also indicated, “Unique to Davis, 90% of the registered voters impacted live in the Covell Commons Condos and the 8th and Wake Apartment complex. Efforts are underway to directly contact the property management entities associated with these properties.”

But those problems might be just the tip of the iceberg. We received information from a number of people in South Davis that, while they had voting information for the at-large school board seat, they did not have information or a place to vote for Area 5—an open seat that has been vacated by incumbent Bob Poppenga.

One person wrote the Vanguard on Saturday night: “I have emailed the yolo county elections office, but I wanted everyone in DJUSD district 5 (south Davis plus Olive Drive) to please check their ballots. We are missing that block of candidates!”

But we have had similar reports from the neighborhood directly east of Drummond to the South of I-80 that should—according to the maps for the district—be in Area 5, as well as directly north of Montgomery Elementary which should also be in Area 5.

These problems come at a time when California has shifted to all-mail elections out of concern about the pandemic. But none of this should be new for Yolo County. Mail-in ballots are a huge feature of voting under normal conditions. A decade ago, nearly half of the voters voted by mail rather than at the polls.

The school district in 2011 held an all-mailed-ballot election for Measure A, and Measure C in 2012 was also an all-mailed-ballot election. The same occurred in 2013 with Measure I—the water referendum.

During those three elections, there were no hitches, glitches or complaints.

So why are we having problems now?

It probably has nothing to do with the fact that we have 100% mail-in ballots. In fact, the fact that we do might be exposing a problem that would be more problematic if we only found out about it when people went into the polls and voted.

The problem seems to be that the county’s software is not mapping borderline areas to the right district. The problem also seems to be much more widespread than the Elections Office is letting on.

The county needs to look into the operations of the Yolo Elections Office and the office needs to level with the voters about how big a problem this actually is.

Among our questions is why the problem happened in the first place and why no one checked all of the districts to make sure they were correct once they found initial problems.

This ties into ongoing concerns about the Elections Office, which in 2014 was merged with the County Assessor’s Office and essentially asked to perform three unique duties now—that of clerk-record, assessor and elections.

In 2016, Freddie Oakley, who ran the office from 2002 to 2016, announced her retirement with two years remaining. The county appointed Jesse Salinas to fill out the term and he ran and won on his own in 2018.

During election times, we hear frequent complaints about the length of time it takes to process and count the ballots. That was particularly notable this year as we awaited the results of several close elections, most notably Measure G, the school parcel tax that was trailing at the end of Election Night counting, but weeks later ended up passing with over 68 percent of the vote.

Does the office have enough resources during election times? Does it prioritize election activities? The merger was supposed to save the county money—has it? And at what cost?

Those are questions for later. Right now, the office needs to get this election right, especially as people are already casting their ballots—ballots that in some cases are missing the ability to vote on important offices.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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16 Comments

    1. Bill Marshall

      Foolish statement in the form of a question…

      Exact same problem would have occurred if we didn’t have ‘all mail-in voting’… if everyone had to go to their assigned polling place.  Fortunately, the all mail ballot exposed the problem well before Nov 3… with ‘all mail’, solutions are feasible… to make all right… wouldn’t have been possible absent the all mail (AV and VBM)… THAT would have been a problem with no feasible remedy!

      Suggest you put your Trump-et down, listen, read, and think… the core problem is the multiple permutations of the changes to district elections for CC and DJUSD, which by necessity (and imperfect coordination) meant that many more ballot types (based on districts, and the fact they are not the same, geographically) resulted… Yolo Co elections stubbed their toe, to be sure… but no limbs were broken, largely thanks to the problem being discovered by the “evil” all-mail ballot…

      Until this election, for local offices, there were two ballot types for the City… there are now more than 10… over 8 new ones, for the first time.  Someone sharp with Venn diagrams can come up with the precise #.   Had his only been discovered on Nov 3, true chaos…

      1. Don Shor

        Had his only been discovered on Nov 3, true chaos…

        Bingo. Imagine if a simple error like this occurred and was only observed by in-person voters at polling stations on election day. Mail ballots give time for corrected ballots to be mailed out, and sufficient public awareness to be raised about the issue. Voting by mail is safer in many ways.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Don… not just mailed out… the two VAC’s can also be part of the solution… a ‘belt and suspenders’ thing… the “sky is not falling”, despite claims by uber-partisans… those more interested in ‘claims’, than ‘facts’…

    2. Hiram Jackson

      There are as many things that can go wrong with in-person voting: wrong ballots, running out of ballots, poll staff not showing up, long lines, being directed to the wrong polling station, something going wrong with a person’s registration.

  1. Hiram Jackson

    Vanguard: ‘One person wrote the Vanguard on Saturday night: “I have emailed the yolo county elections office, but I wanted everyone in DJUSD district 5 (south Davis plus Olive Drive) to please check their ballots. We are missing that block of candidates!”
    ‘But we have had similar reports from the neighborhood directly east of Drummond to the South of I-80 that should—according to the maps for the district—be in Area 5, as well as directly north of Montgomery Elementary which should also be in Area 5.’

    I think at least one of these comments showed up on a local FB group site.  One source of potential confusion is that District 5 for the City council covers all of south Davis.  Area 5 for the school board covers only a portion of south Davis.  South Davis voters can verify their DJUSD school board trustee area here, and their City Council district here.

    1. Hiram Jackson

      For some reason the Vanguard comment algorithm is not permitting me more than one link per comment.  So try again: voters can verify their DJUSD school board trustee area here.

  2. Laurie Rollins

    I completely misread the DJUSD Trustee Area map.  The maps are too small to see the detail of the streets.  Thank goodness Hiram shared the real map with me.  By myself, I could not find the trustee area map on either the DJUSD site nor on the Yolo Elections site.  I’m not happy that District 4 is divided by the freeway and from the rest of south Davis.  I apologized for my unintentional error to the elections folks and to Cecilia.

     

  3. Sharla Cheney

    I heard today that Santa Monica’s lawsuit regarding District voting won on appeal.  I think we should change back to City-wide elections for City Council and School Board.

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      I certainly would not oppose such a move… the question boils down to further appeals, and certification of appellate decisions… Eric G might have some insights… I am not an attorney, but I know the difference between a ‘decision’, and a certified ‘decision’… one applies to a particular case, the other towards other, similar cases… I think they call it judicial precedence, but might not be the right term…

      1. Eric Gelber

        The Santa Monica appellate decision was “certified for publication,” meaning it can be cited or relied on by the parties or the court in other cases. The case is in a different appellate district, however. (Santa Monica is in the Second District, Davis is in the Third District.) So, while it’s binding on all trial courts, it’s not binding on appellate courts in other districts. Ultimately, the State Supreme Court might have to resolve any different interpretations of the law that might arise between appellate districts.

        1. Eric Gelber

          I would add that, even though the case is binding precedent on a local trial court (assuming there aren’t any other, conflicting, appellate cases), the outcome could be different, depending on the facts.

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