Major "glitch" in Mendocino County

Date: November 9, 2006 9:24:51 PM PST


by Richard Johnson

Three days after the election, thousands of Mendocino County ballots remained uncounted. The public still has no accurate idea how it voted, and several races remain undecided. Three Ukiah City Council candidates are unable to claim triumph or admit defeat, and the sheriff race between Tom Allman and Kevin Broin may still be up in the air. County clerk Marsha Wharff is determined not to release more information until early December.

Court Gag Order in DA Race:

In addition, there is an indefinite court gag order on the results of the district attorney contest between Meredith Lintott and her deceased rival, the former incumbent Norman Vroman. This results from a suit brought by acting DA Keith Faulder who is suing for a special election in which he intends to run. This is intended to preserve the mind of the electorate clear of knowing how they voted in case they need to vote again without Vroman in the race. But it prevents us from ever knowing if he won reelection from the grave if Faulder’s suit is upheld.

Diebold Corruption:

The worst problem revealed by Wharff’s office appears to be that ballots previously counted need to be rescanned because a Diebold computer memory card containing mail ballot results from the first and second district failed to repeat results correctly after being connected to computers and had to be discarded on election night. As a result, unoffical summary results from all races had to be adjusted between election night and following Wednesday morning, lowering the number of votes reported cast in the Ukiah City council races by some 1,500 votes.

At 4:13am on November 8, the clerk reported that 15,330 votes had been cast in 198 of 208 precincts countywide. This amounts to a 32% turnout of some 47,825 registered voters. By 11:18am that morning, with all 208 precincts reporting, the total votes cast in the county was reported as 18613, or a 38.92% turnout. This was an increase during those 7 hours of some 3,300 new votes reported.

The total reported votes in Ukiah with all 36 precincts reporting fell from 5,097 to 3,563, however, a difference of 1,536 votes.

Around noon, Ms. Wharff shut down further counting and reporting, and went home to take a nap. This is the latest report voters have, and the last one Ms. Wharff is willing to give us until the canvass is complete, some four weeks from now.

Just before 6pm on Wednesday, Ms. Wharff issued the following statement to the press by fax.

“During the process of uploading the absentee votes election night, one of thc memory cards containing absentee votes reported earlier in the evening became corrupted. Since the data on the memory card could not be relied on, all ballots that had previously been run through on that memory card had to be re-run.

“Rather than hold up the final unofficial results for election night, it was decided to report results as they appeared on all of the memory cards except the corrupted one and ballots will be recounted during the canvass. The memory card in question contained votes for mail ballot precincts in the first and second supervisorial districts, including the city of Ukiah.”

The county clerk has 28 days after the election, or until December 5 to certify the official results of the election. In order to do that, she conducts a canvass which involves the following steps:

¤ Counting all absentee ballots left at the polls, those turned in to the county clerk’s office on election day, and those delivered by the post office on election day and any other ballots unable to be counted election night’

¤ Verifying the validity of all of the provisional ballots cast on election day,

¤ Reconciling all the ballot statements from each precinct to verify that all voted ballots have been accounted for;

¤ Manually recounting 1% of the ballots to verify that vote counting equipment has accurately counted the ballots. This step is to take place beginning Tuesday, November 14.

¤ Tallying of write-in votes.

Ms. Wharff has announced the mail ballots from the first and second district will be recounted during the official canvass. Until the official certification of the election on December 4, she is unwilling to issue another final unofficial summary.

Traditionally, candidates and the public have relied on the final unofficial summary to determine winners and losers in all but the closest races because those ballots uncounted on election night — the provisionals and the absentees delivered by voters in person — were unlikely to change the outcome.

This gave rise to the time honored tradition of well liquored watch parties hosted by candidates. Only ten years ago, the county courthouse was a popular gathering spot for political junkies intently watching as poll workers posted results on chalkboards set up in the hallways.

But today, thanks to county clerk Wharff, Diebold technology and the San Francisco court of appeals, we are confronted with a near total vacuum of information about the just concluded local election.

Ukiah City Council:
Newcomer self identified liberal Benj Thomas and incumbent councilman and Green registered voter John McCowen, each with arount 20 percent of the vote according to both reports appeared assured two of the three open seats on the city council. Their vote tallies each decreased by about 300 votes each between the two reports.
But while Phil Baldwin was about 20 votes ahead of Jeanne Metcalf and Michael Whetzel in the 4am report, he was tied with Whetzel for third place at 536 votes in the later report. His total decreased by 240 votes between the two reports. The final certified result could name either of these three as the third city councilperson elected last Tuesday.

City planning commissioner James Mulheren was a distant sixth place, stained with a scandal over his actual residence outside city limits. Mulheren, Whetzel and Metcalf also ran into flak for hiding campaign expenditures for several reporting periods, a tactic apparently recommended by their common campaign consultant Bob Mulrath of Santa Rosa. Part time political hack Joe Louis Wildman filed a criminal complaint with the DA over this, and Dotty Copelan filed an FPPC complaint, both of which were covered in the local press.

Thomas, McCowen and Baldwin adhered to voluntary spending limits in the city’s new campaign reform ordinance.

Sheriff Race:
The 4am report showed 14456 votes cast in the contest for county sheriff, with Tom Allman leading Kevin Broin by around 1,046 votes. The 11 am report showed an increase to 17475 votes cast in the contest, and Allman ahead by 1,248 votes. If there are a total of 6,000 uncounted and rescannable votes, and if Broin hypothetically would get 60% of them, he could conceivably overcome Allman’s last reported lead. But it is by no means likely.

Mail Ballots the Norm:
On Wednesday afternoon, no counting was going on in Wharff’s office. Some10 trays, holding about 350 unopened ballots each, were stacked on the back table waiting to be counted the next day, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Elections staff said they issued 6,071 absentee ballots to Ukiah voters and had counted 4,009 of them by Wednesday afternoon. A traditional press release stating the number of uncounted ballots was not issued by Thursday afternoon.
Countywide, some 70 percent of voters – 33,619 – were issued “absentee” or mail ballots this election in an attempt to consolidate precincts, reduce the number of polling places and avoid problems with new voting machines. All mail in voters in each supervisorial district are accorded a single precinct number.
In 2002, the previous mid term general election
there wer
e 46.721 registered voters in Mendocino County with 6,089 total absentee voters. The turnout was 55%.
On October 30, Wharff announced that some 9,000 voted absentee ballots had already arrived by mail. She was to have begun the optical scanning of those ballots the next day.

Some Calculations:
If total voter turnout countywide was 50%, then some 24,000 votes were cast in the November 7 election countywide. This means the 11am report is short by some 6,000 votes countywide. This could be the 1,500 second district mail ballots previously counted and then removed from the report, another 1,000 from the first district reported and then removed on election night, as well as another 3,500 absentee and provisional ballots not counted on election night. That last figure lines up with the ballots observed sitting out on desks Wednesday evening.


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