District 16 recount reveals that one county was plagued with thumb flubs and other voting errors – and it’s not the first time

By Grace Case,
The Mercury News,
May 6, 2024


In the end, it came down to 19 ballots in Santa Clara County that ultimately made the difference in the hotly contested Congressional District 16 race — ballots that were never counted the first time around due to simple human error.

While a change equal to just a fraction of a percent of votes is unlikely to shift the entire results of most elections, a once-in-a-generation perfect tie in this case exposed the gaffes and fumbles by one county in the tabulation process.

What followed the March primary was two months of counting and recounting more than 182,000 votes in the race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo — a stunning saga that finally came to a close on Wednesday afternoon, with Assemblymember Evan Low emerging victorious over Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian by a margin of just five votes.

The veteran politicos had previously tied for second behind former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo until a voter-requested recount — which cost the Super PAC funding it about $270,000 — decisively changed the outcome of the election.

In San Mateo County, the machine recount affirmed the original tally of 38,416 votes, according to Jim Irizarry, the county’s assistant chief elections officer. One additional vote counted for Low came from a batch of seven challenged ballots that previously had missing information about postmark dates.

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The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters has been plagued with a number of issues over the last decade-and-a-half. In 2017, they were the subject of a state audit, requested by none other than Low, that found from 2010 to 2016 the county had identified at least 26 errors in election materials. Meanwhile, election officials in Alameda County told auditors they had less than five errors in a seven-year period while San Bernardino County had one and Orange County election officials reported none.

The errors ranged from mapping issues that caused the ROV to provide some voters with voter information guides and ballots for districts they didn’t live in to omitting key information in election documents. In one case, the ROV in 2014 didn’t publish an argument against a ballot measure in the voter guide that was was sent out to more than 415,000 voters.

In another instance in 2018 that occurred after the audit, a voter was accidentally unregisteredwhen an employee was trying to resolve a duplication in registration records.

The audit forced Santa Clara County to ensure “procedures were strengthened, and our documentation was stronger,” Moreles said.

In recent years, as election integrity has been questioned, there’s been a movement sweeping across the nation to ditch the use of tabulation machines in elections and instead opt for counting ballots by hand.

But Kim Alexander, the president of nonpartisan election watchdog group California Voter Foundation, said that isn’t a solution. If the ballots in the Congressional District 16 were initially counted by hand, she thinks “the changes in the results would have been astronomical, because people do make mistakes.”

“I think some people might react and say, ‘we can’t trust technology’…but what came through to me was that we have imperfect human beings running elections who are going to make errors,” she said. “And we have to have voting systems that are resilient and can protect against risk.” (Full Story)