Santa Clara County’s much-maligned election system is about to go under the microscope.
On Wednesday, the state’s Joint Committee on Legislative Audit unanimously approved Assemblyman Evan Low’s request to dig into the county Registrar of Voters (ROV). Low cited administrative mistakes and errors in the ROV that date back to June 2010.
“We need to ensure all voters have access to an open and accessible electoral process that is free from barriers,” Low said in a March 17 letter.
In his request, the assemblyman stated that the goal of the audit—expected to last five months—would be to assess mistakes in previous ballots to determine if the errors were isolated or part of a broader systemic failure. Low, whose district includes Campbell and other parts of West Valley, posed six questions in his request. He wants to know how effective communication has been when informing voters of mistakes, as well as what measures are being taken to prevent similar errors from occurring.
“An independent comprehensive audit of Santa Clara County will safeguard voters’ constitutional right to vote and ensure these voters are not disenfranchised due to administrative errors or practices that are not in compliance with current law,” Low said.
Low also sent a letter on March 17 to County Supervisor Dave Cortese, in which the assemblyman noted six election mishaps by the ROV:
- In October 2016, the county elections official sent residents in the Campbell Union High School District a county voter information guide containing the wrong ballot argument against Measure AA, a local bond.
Additionally, in November of last year, the elections county staff incorrectly counted 31 votes by mail (VBM) ballots that should have been disqualified because the signature on the VBM ballot envelope did not match the signature on file for the voter.
- In October 2014, the Registrar sent out 100,000 sample ballots that were missing entire sections of candidates from the Santa Clara Unified School District and the Gavilan Community College District.
In the same election, over 1,000 VBM ballots were printed and mailed missing the same candidate information.
- In April 2014, the Registrar mailed county voter information pamphlets missing the text of the opposition argument to Measure 8 to more than 400,000 voters in the City of San Jose.
- During the June 2010 Primary election for Santa Clara County, over two thousand VBM ballots were mailed to individuals who were not eligible to vote.
The county ROV is implementing a new voting process in accordance with the California Voters Choice Act (SB 450), which would allow people to vote at any polling place as well as give the county the option to move to all-mail balloting. Both options would be a fundamental shift in the way local elections are conducted.
“Given that Santa Clara County is one of the counties that will be permitted to implement this new way of conducting elections in 2018, it is imperative that voters have confidence in elections conducted by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters,” Low wrote in his letter to the audit committee.
ROV spokeswoman Anita Torres said that 70 percent of county voters already mail in their ballots, but the goal is to implement a new system by 2020—not next year.
In November 2014, Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey told San Jose Inside that the county would take a closer look at new technology to speed up vote tallying by 2017.
In other words, answers about the ROV’s operations should arrive this fall, but the county’s sluggish electoral process will continue for at least three more years.
Correction: A previous version of this story included an incorrectly transcribed quote. San Jose Inside regrets the error.