Alameda County registrar messes up

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters mistakenly sent letters to 234,000 permanent absentee registered Republicans, Democrats and members of other parties advising them that they had failed to select a qualified political party for the Feb. 5 presidential primary election.

The county meant to send the letter to about 60,000 voters permanent absentee voters registered as “decline to state” but a staffer sent the wrong mailing list to the out-of-state printing company.

In this climate of suspicion about the integrity of voting equipment and systems, hundreds of voters have deluged the registrar’s office with angry phone calls and complaints.

But no voter has been stripped of his or her party registration, nor has there been any nefarious activities on the part of any county employee, said Alameda County spokesman Guy Ashley.

“It was a mistake that we regret and we are doing everything we can to clear up the confusion,” Ashley said.

Next week, the election department will send out a follow-up letter of explanation to those who received the letter in error and it will send the original letter to the correct list of “decline to state” voters.

Why did the letter go out in the first place?

It was intended to let “decline to state” voters know that they cannot vote in the presidential primary for the candidates of registered parties except for the Democrats and the American Independents. In contrast, the California Republican Party restricts voting in its primary to members of its party.

This means that a “decline to state” permanent absentee voter may request a nonpartisan, Democratic or American Independent ballot for the Feb. 5 presidential primary. He or she may not ask for a Republican ballot.

But the letter did not mention the GOP or spell out the Republican Party’s rules. It simply said, “We are sending you this notice because you did not choose a qualified party when you registered to vote.”

“People are confused and angry,” said Ryan Hatcher, executive director of the Alameda County Republican Party. “We don’t think there was any voter fraud here. It was an honest mistake. But people are vigilant these days about the voting system and a lot of Republicans think this is a move against them.”

The wording of the letter also bolsters critics of the GOP’s decision to exclude “decline to state” voters who say the party’s policy will push the growing numbers of independent voters into the arms of the Democratic Party.

Hatcher plans to meet with the county election staff this afternoon to discuss the wording in both the apology letter and the notice “decline to state” voters.

For a link to today’s story on the issue in the Oakland Tribune, click here.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen