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Some in Ojai Valley receive wrong ballots
By Charles Levin, clevin@VenturaCountyStar.com
Ventura County Star, October 26, 2006

Chuck Bennett knows the meaning of getting out the vote even for a seemingly low-profile race like a local water board serving the Ojai Valley.

But when the Miramonte resident opened his absentee ballot last week, he couldn't find his name, or those of the two candidates challenging him for a seat on the Casitas Municipal Water District.
Because of a mix-up by the ballot printer, the race never appeared. Instead, the ballot showed the Ventura County Board of Supervisors' Fourth District race in Simi Valley.

"It doesn't get more screwed up than this," Bennett said Wednesday.

Bennett, 58, who is seeking a third term on the water board, said he has worked the neighborhood for votes but now worries it was all for naught.

Officials with the county Elections Division tracked down the error after getting two calls about the problem two weeks ago, Gene Browning, assistant registrar, said Wednesday.

Absentee ballots come as two cards and are numbered according to specific geographical areas. One of the two cards, however, contained information for races in Simi Valley, not the Ojai Valley, Browning said.

The mix-up also eliminated the Ojai Unified School District race from the ballot.

Apparently, an employee with Sequoia Voting Systems in Porterville, which prints the ballots, stuffed some envelopes with the wrong combination of cards, Browning said.

The area covers about four voting precincts, including Villanova Road, Orchard Drive and Loma Drive, Browning said.

Officials have estimated the problem is confined to an area with approximately 220 registered absentee voters, Browning said.

Browning seemed certain that the actual number is much lower.

As of Wednesday, elections officials had determined that 15 people had the wrong ballot, Browning said.

Sequoia officials took responsibility for the snafu and offered to send all potentially affected voters a letter about the problem, Browning said.

Officials have called all voters in the area who listed phone numbers with their registration. But the only way to reach the others is by mail, Browning said.

Voters should be getting the letters today. The missive urges voters to check their absentee ballots for the mistake and then call the county.

If the ballot has not been opened yet, the department can flag it down and send out a new one, Browning said.

Absentee voters must sign the envelope with the ballot. The signature on the envelope is matched against one on registration records, which allows officials to confirm it is from the correct voter, Browning said.

Officials discard envelopes before counting ballots to protect voter privacy, Browning said.

But if the ballot has been counted, nothing can be done, Browning said.

Bennett said he is worried that some residents will not scrutinize the ballots carefully and vote in a county supervisor race that pits businessman Peter Foy against political consultant Jim Dantona.

The county's new voting machines, however, are programmed to scan only ballots for races in those areas, Browning said.

If you think you have received an incorrect absentee ballot, call 654-2664 or 654-2735.


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