Grand Jury weighs in on election glitches

The Alameda County Grand Jury’s 2007-2008 report, released today, made no recommendations in reaction to a pair of glitches experienced by the county’s Registrar of Voters in connection with the Feb. 5 presidential primary election.

The registrar’s office had intended to send a mailing to all permanent absentee nonpartisan voters — about 60,000 in all — explaining that if they wanted to vote in the presidential primary, they could vote in either the American Independent or Democratic parties but only if they requested a ballot in advance for one of these parties. Instead, the letter was prepared and mailed to all of the county’s approximately 234,000 permanent absentee voters, not just the nonpartisan voters. This caused considerable confusion among the approximately 174,000 absentee voters who had registered with a party; the registrar’s office had to send out a second, corrective letter acknowledging the mailing error.

The grand jury found the first mailing’s too-broad distribution was an employee’s error, and that the postage cost alone of each mailing was about $20,000. But the registrar already has implemented a new policy requiring that at least two employees approve any mailing before it’s sent to the printer, so the grand jury made no further recommendation.

The grand jury also investigated reports of ballot shortages at the presidential primary’s polling places, finding “there were eight polling places that were affected with a shortage totaling 15 ballots. No voters were turned away due to the shortage of ballots. Instead, sample and provisional ballots were used. Contrary to news reports, no court order was issued.”

I was blogging the drama that night, and what happened is that Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith checked with the state Administrative Office of the Courts in interpreting the Elections Code, and then advised County Counsel Richard Winnie to advise the registrar’s office to keep the polls open as late as 10 p.m. if anybody was still waiting in line past the usual 8 p.m. closing time due to the ballot shortages.

But did the grand jury recommend any action to ensure Alameda County polling places don’t run short of ballots in the future? No — no recommendations, no responses required.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Rosa

    Wow! The report sure makes great reading, especially pages 24-29 where expenses put on Oakland City credit cards are listed in detail. The payment of $71.33 for “Flowers for newly hired city department director, with a card that read “You Go Girl!” didn’t involve any girls that have since gone, did they?