Thousands of San Mateo County voters received incorrect election ballots, including those in the San Mateo Union High and San Carlos Elementary school districts, said elections officials.
The printing error sent county elections workers scrambling to notify the 2,046 voters across four jurisdictions that the material they received for the spring primary election was incomplete or incorrect.
Chief Elections Officer Jim Irizarry said misprinted ballots were sent Thursday, Feb. 6, to voters in the San Mateo Union High School, San Carlos Elementary, La Honda-Pescadero Unified and Portola Valley Elementary school districts.
Since the mistake was discovered, Irizarry said each voter has been contacted either by letter, phone or email. Those who didn’t provide a phone number or email were sent a notice with their new ballot.
He said the blame lies with the county’s ballot printing vendor, which incorrectly interpreted information provided by his office.
“The ballot misprint occurred when our ballot printing vendor did not precisely follow our ... mapping instructions for the construction of the official ballot,” he said in an email. “The information provided by the Registration Elections Division to the vendor was 100% precise and accurate.”
He said 165 voters in San Carlos and one in the high school district received ballots with proposed school tax measures omitted, while 858 voters in the high school district and 101 in San Carlos erroneously received a ballot with the wrong measure.
The voters who received incorrect ballots live in split precincts, where a jurisdiction’s boundary divides a region. Voters in some such precincts received ballots with contests from a neighboring ward, said Irizarry.
Within two days, replacement ballots with an importance notice insert were sent. As a security measure, ballots including the error which have already been returned will be discarded once a replacement ballot is received. If a replacement ballot is not received, only contests in the voter’s precinct will be counted. Votes from those outside of the correct precinct will be discarded, he said.
Michelle Harmeier, superintendent of the San Carlos Elementary School District, confirmed education officials were notified Friday, Feb. 7, that voters received a bad ballot.
Noting the narrow margin of error faced by districts attempting to cross the supermajority threshold required for a tax to pass, Harmeier said it is essential voters are diligent to assure their ballot is correct.
“We want to make sure voters are aware of the error and look for their new ballot and return it before March 3rd,” she said in an email. She added the district’s last tax only passed by 110 votes, so the ballot problem could have been the death knell for the measure if not identified.
Measure N is a $334 parcel tax intended to bring in about $3 million annually for San Carlos district operations and improve the quality of local education. The measure is an $88 increase in the district’s current parcel tax, which is expiring soon.
The San Mateo Union High School District asked voters to support Measure L, a bond taxing $15.55 per $100,000 of assessed value projected to raise a projected $385 million for technology and safety projects.
This is the second time in recent history vital information was omitted from election materials sent to voters. In 2018, elections officials left off the San Mateo County Board of Education race from the fall sample ballot sent to thousands of voters.
Elections officials incorrectly identified the race as a district election, resulting in only those living in District 1 along the coast receiving information about the candidates in their sample ballot. The Board of Education shifted its election format requiring candidates to be residents of the district they represent, but members are elected by voters across the county.
Chalking the mistake up to a data entry oversight, election officials crafted an insert included with the official ballot highlighting the changes and offering information originally intended to be included with the sample. At the time, a complex system serving a vast network of voters was blamed by election officials who also acknowledged such an error was unprecedented.
Later in the same election, a San Mateo voter received two ballots in the mail — one after he already cast the first. Considering the mishap more standard, officials again blamed the difficulties associated with operating a multifaceted election system serving thousands of voters throughout the Peninsula.
Regarding the latest error, Irizarry detailed the size and scope of the March election.
“The March 3, 2020, Presidential Primary Election is the largest election ever held in the county’s history in regards to number of registered voters and ballot styles. There are over 10,920 different ballot images for all precincts in this election,” he said.
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