S.J. County has election night d?j? vu
Greg Kane Stockton Record Published Thursday, Nov 10, 2005
STOCKTON Final results from Tuesday's special election were delayed by at least a half-hour in San Joaquin County early Wednesday after a computer disk containing ballots from a Stockton precinct disappeared.
Because of the delay, the final tally wasn't posted until 1:32 a.m., making San Joaquin the seventh-slowest county in the state to report, according to the California Secretary of State's Office. It was at least the third consecutive election in which ballots were misplaced, and the county's results were posted slower than most.
In March 2004, ballots left in a county warehouse delayed the final count until 4:43 a.m., later than all but one California county. The county was also one of the last in the state to report results during the November 2004 presidential election.
Registrar of Voters Deborah Hench said Wednesday afternoon it's not common for ballots to be misplaced during the counting process. Each time it does happen, she said, the county adjusts its procedures to make sure the ballots are watched more closely the next time around.
"There's always room for improvement," Hench said. "We're human beings."
The lost disk, along with a second disk that couldn't be read by a computer, represented the only two of the county's 423 precincts not recorded by 1 a.m. Wednesday. Those disks contain the results of hundreds of paper ballots cast at a precinct. Elections officials early Wednesday sifted through stacks of the small black cards in search of the missing data but were eventually forced to re-scan the paper ballots into counting machines.
The final tally was posted at 1:32 a.m. The missing disk still hadn't been found by Wednesday afternoon, Hench said.
"It'll turn up," she said.
The ballots on the missing disk weren't the only votes to slip the county's watch on Tuesday. At 11:45 p.m., elections workers searched a large white Ryder truck parked outside the registrar's office for a ballot box that was briefly lost.
The shoebox-size container was found in one of many plastic tubs lining the truck's bed.
"We had to take a lot of stuff out" of the truck, said Richard Martinez, a county employee who found the misplaced box.
Two major elections are scheduled for next year, beginning with a June primary that will feature a slate of high-profile races. But it's not even clear whether those ballots will be cast using the same equipment that was used in three of the past four elections.
California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson has said he expects to decide by the end of the year whether to certify the Diebold TSx touchscreen machines that San Joaquin County used in the March 2004 primary. The county bought those machines but had to store them after the state revoked the machines' certification after the 2004 primary, citing reliability concerns.
If the machines are approved for use in June, Hench believes the likelihood of losing ballots would be reduced. The county has more than 1,600 touchscreen machines sitting in a Stockton warehouse awaiting certification.
"You don't have as much paperwork trying to track all those paper ballots," Hench said Wednesday. "It's easier."
Ballots began arriving at the registrar's office on North San Joaquin Street at around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, a half-hour after the polls closed. By 10 p.m., the area resembled a UPS mail room, with hundreds of cardboard ballot boxes shuttled between dozens of volunteers who sorted and scanned them, then locked the ballots away in a vault.
San Joaquin County's final tally was released later than most similar-size counties, according to the secretary of state. One exception was nearby Stanislaus County, which didn't have its final results ready until 6:57 a.m., the worst in the state.
Hench estimated at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday that fewer than 30 percent of the county's 271,000 registered voters would cast ballots in the special election. The final tally showed closer to 40 percent, however, with approximately 12,300 remaining absentee, provisional and damaged ballots still to be counted.
Statewide, 42.6 percent of registered voters participated in the special election, according to the secretary of state's office. San Joaquin County's 39.5 percent turnout was higher than 10 other counties in the state, including San Francisco and Stanislaus.
"You get one or two good precincts, and it makes a big difference," Hench said late Wednesday.