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Grand jury faults Santa Paula election glitch (CA)
Ventura County Star. April 28, 2009. By Tony Biasotti

November’s election went off mostly without a hitch, according to a Ventura County Grand Jury report released Monday, but the biggest hitch could have swung the outcome in a Santa Paula school board race.

On Nov. 4, the county’s civil grand jury sent 18 of its members to polling places around the county to monitor the administration of the presidential election. They found that “for the most part, the election was well run,” though there were “numerous minor issues and inconsistencies in the administration of different polling places,” the report states.

The only serious problem was at a polling place in Santa Paula, where grand jury members saw poll workers give some voters the wrong ballots, an error that “may have a had a material effect on the outcome” of the Santa Paula Elementary School District race, the grand jury said. Ofelia De La Torre wound up losing her seat on the board by a single vote.

The border of the Santa Paula Elementary School District ran through the precinct in question, so the polling place had two separate ballots. As many as 14 voters who should have voted in the school board election got a ballot that didn’t have that race, according to an investigation conducted after the election by the Ventura County Elections Division.

De La Torre claims the ballot snafu cost her the election, and the grand jury agreed that was possible.

“That election was flawed,” De La Torre said on Monday. “What they did there was wrong. ... They admitted their error and they admitted they were wrong, but they said there was nothing they could do about it.”

County Clerk-Recorder Phil Schmit, who has since retired, was aware of the problem but certified the results anyway. Schmit said it was an impossible mistake to correct — because ballots are secret, there’s no way to tell which votes might have been cast by people who should have gotten a different ballot.

To prevent it from happening again, the grand jury recommended that election workers get better training, and that the Elections Division no longer have polling places with more than one type of ballot. There were 17 polling places with more than one ballot in November, according to the grand jury report.

Acting Clerk-Recorder Jim Becker has already promised to eliminate multi-ballot polling places.

The grand jury also recommended that county officials look for ways to streamline the election process. For example, the report suggests pushing for a state law that would allow the county to run an election entirely with mail-in ballots. An all-mail election in November would have saved about $200,000 from the county’s actual cost of $2.2 million.

Original: http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2009/apr/28/grand-jury-critical-of-santa-paula-election/

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