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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