Box lids in bay cast new doubt on S.F. vote

By Renee Koury
Published November 27, 2001. Copyright, San Jose Mercury News.

SAN FRANCISCO -- In a bizarre twist to San Francisco's November election drama, Coast Guard patrols said Monday they fished the lids of eight ballot boxes out of the bay near the Golden Gate Bridge.

That whipped up new suspicions that someone dumped ballots into the bay to steal an election that would have put PG&E power lines into the hands of the public. Proponents pointed to the box tops as further reason to suspect that not all votes were counted. One public power measure lost by just a few hundred votes.

"This is absurd,'' said Supervisor Tom Ammiano, a municipal power proponent. "For all I know, public power is sitting at the bottom of the bay.''

But elections chief Tammy Haygood quickly asserted it was nothing so fishy. Her staff had simply been washing the red plastic lids on some absentee ballot boxes last week to remove precinct markings. They unwisely left them on Pier 29 to dry, and the box tops blew into the bay during Saturday's big storm, she said.

The ballots had already been removed and counted, she said.

Nonetheless the incident fueled a call for making sure each ballot was counted. Ammiano even wants a new tally of how people voted.

"Washing the boxes? Leaving them on the dock?'' Ammiano said. "Even if that's true, it still requires a suspension of belief. People have said whitewashing, but this is ridiculous.''

The power advocates had already been suspicious because the elections department had covertly diverted 20,000 absentee and provisional ballots out of City Hall on election night in case of a terrorist attack. They were instead processed at Pier 29 and Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

"We had expressed concerns before but this just confirms it,'' said Wade Crowfoot, legislative aide to Supervisor Aaron Peskin. "It's unbelievable. It's surreal.''

On patrol for possible terrorism Sunday and Monday, the Coast Guard instead found the box tops floating west of the Golden Gate Bridge and near Pier 39.

Copyright © San Jose Mercury News

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