Sacramento County taxpayers on the hook for elections office mistakes

A pair of blunders by the Sacramento County elections office that omitted information from the sample ballot booklet sent to thousands of registered voters is costing taxpayers more than $68,000 and has the potential to affect voting in the Nov. 4 election.

The county failed to include the state Democratic Party’s list of endorsed candidates in the sample ballot, but did print the Republican and American Independent party endorsements. It also failed to print a candidate statement from Toni Colley-Perry, who is running for an open seat on the Sacramento City Council.

“This is a serious, serious thing,” said Colley-Perry, who paid the $400 fee to have her statement printed along with those of the other three candidates. “I’m flabbergasted, basically.”

Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine blamed the errors on a confusing mix of information coming in by mail, email, fax and telephone and said her office would work harder to ensure that such omissions do not occur again.

“Regardless of what happened, it didn’t get put in and we’re going to make it right,” LaVine said.

The omission of the Democratic Party’s endorsement list led LaVine to notify members of the county Board of Supervisors in an email Friday that she planned to send out “a post card to all registered voters with the Democratic endorsements.”

But that plan raised objections from Ted Wolter, chief of staff to Republican Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan, who said it would result in voters getting a mailer from the county that could unfairly benefit one party over the others.

“Regardless of which party it was, you’re sending a letter at taxpayer expense and it’s drawing attention to one party or campaign,” Wolter said Wednesday. “You need to be equitable.”

“Obviously, I think it’s not ideal to have to take a special step to resolve a conflict like this,” he added.

Now, the plan is for LaVine’s office to mail out a card to all of the county’s nearly 700,000 voters listing the endorsements issued by each of the three parties that submitted lists to be printed in the sample ballot. The cost: $58,000 for printing and $8,000 in postage.

The cards will be printed with the county seal and the words “Revised Party Endorsement Page Enclosed – Open Immediately,” and will be mailed by the weekend in hopes of having them arrive before voting begins Monday, LaVine said.

The registrar also plans to post a copy of the endorsement list at polling places, LaVine said.

Typically, voters take the sample ballot to polling places or use them at home to decide how to cast their ballots. Parties that wanted their list of endorsed candidates printed in the ballot had until Aug. 13 to submit the names to the registrar, and the Republicans and American Independents sent over an email and a hard copy before the deadline, LaVine said.

The Democratic Party faxed its list over on Aug. 11, then followed up with a phone call to confirm it had arrived, Democratic spokesman Tenoch Flores said.

Flores provided a fax confirmation showing its list was received by the county at 11:23 a.m. on Aug. 11, but the county subsequently said the list was never received and printed the ballot with the endorsements of the other two parties.

“The county made a mistake,” he said. “They are going to remedy that mistake by sending out an updated list that’s going to include all of the major party endorsements.”

He added that Sacramento was the only county in which the party had experienced such a problem.

But it’s not the only issue with the sample ballot.

Four candidates are vying to finish the term for the Meadowview-based District 8 seat on the Sacramento City Council. The office was left vacant after incumbent Bonnie Pannell resigned in June because of a neurological disorder.

Colley-Perry is competing against Larry Carr, Ronald Bell and Ted Ware for the post, but her effort may be hampered by the sample ballot’s exclusion of her statement, in which candidates typically state their credentials and reasons for running.

“The county blew it,” Colley-Perry said, adding that the registrar’s solution – mailing out all four candidate statements to 22,000 voters in the district – simply gives the other three candidates twice as much exposure to voters. “I don’t know if that’s a fair remedy.”

LaVine said the mailing will cost an additional $2,500 in taxpayer funds. She said Colley-Perry’s statement had been received but that a mix-up kept it from being printed.

“We received the information in an email, and it did not get put in the proper place,” LaVine said. “So, with information coming at us from all directions, we are working on some verification and check lists that we’ll put into place.”

One election expert said ballot problems do occur but that Sacramento’s problem was a new one.

“I’ve never heard of it before, but good grief, what are you going to do? You’ve got to correct the mistake,” said UC Davis political science professor Robert Huckfeldt. “I would think it really sort of compromises the whole process if you don’t.”