Letter to the Supervisors on election irregularities


Posted by on Sun, December 19, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vice-President Carole Groom and
Members of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
455 County Center
Redwood City, CA 94063

Re: November 2010 Election Irregularities

Dear Vice-President Groom and Members of the Board,

Thanks for the opportunity to address you regarding my experience reporting a malfunctioning eSlate machine.

I was a candidate for San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner in the November 2, 2010, election. On Election Day a voter from San Carlos sent me an email. The text of the email is below:

From: Janice
Subject: For Sabina Brennan
Date: November 2, 2010 12:51:06 PM PDT
To: Sabrina

FYI: I just got home from voting. I live in San Carlos—-precinct # 3620.

I selected voting by machine. I voted for you and when I checked the final votes, the Harbor Comm. showed "unselected". I asked for assistance, and was told to remove your name and select it again. It still showed "unselected". My ballot states to "vote for no more than two. But the precinct "helper" said to vote for another one "just to see".

I did as i was asked, and it showed his name, but not yours. I finally vetoed the machine and used paper. I did report this to 1866-OURVOTE. They said that this is a serious error and it could happen to others w/o noticing. I noticed because I voted the entire ballot—the "unselected" stood out.

I will never vote by machine again. Good luck to you. Jan

I responded to the email by immediately phoning the Elections Office to report the problem. I was put on hold and the call was eventually disconnected. I called back three times before being connected with Elections Supervisor Narda Barrientos. I explained the problem and Narda said, "The voter made a mistake." Narda told me that voter confusion happens all the time and that it was not a problem with the machine. I asked her to contact the precinct and speak to the poll worker who witnessed the trouble with the machine. I asked her to call me back and let me know the status of the machine.

As a followup to the phone conversation I sent an email to the Election Office. At 2:34pm I received the following response, "Thank you Sabrina, both Lupe and Narda have received your email."

At 3:02pm I notified the president of the Coastside Democrat Club, Brigid O’Farrell, about the problem.  Less than an hour later Gail Work, Chair of the San Mateo County Democratic Party Elections Integrity Committee contacted me with David Tom’s cell phone number. I phoned David Tom, Director of Elections and requested that the malfunctioning machine be taken offline. 

Janice canceled her ballot at 12:35pm and the malfunctioning eSlate machine was not taken offline until 5:55pm, 5 hours and 20 minutes after the problem was first reported by Janice.  I have a difficult time understand why the malfunctioning eSlate machine remained in service so long after a significant problem was reported and verified by a San Carlos poll worker.

?Election day I drove to my polling place at the Pillar Ridge Community Center in Moss Beach. I got in line and waited about 30 minutes to vote on an eSlate machine. People who did not have time to wait requested paper ballots. Cid Young, Pillar Ridge poll worker reported that Pillar Ridge ran out of English paper ballots and long lines forced elections officials to keep the polling place open later than anticipated. Roy Salume, Half Moon Bay elections inspector reported that Cañada Cove retirement community ran out of English paper ballots and when he requested more only 10 were delivered. Ethan Frantz, East Palo Alto election official reported that City Hall ran out of paper ballots around 3:00pm. To mitigate the long lines East Palo Alto election officials requested additional voting machines, which did not arrive until 6:00pm.

After the November election I learned that the San Mateo County Elections Office participated in a vote-by-mail experiment.  Elections officials withheld information about the existence of a study and gave false information to the public when specifically asked about irregularities with vote-by-mail return envelopes.

A total of 237,834 votes were cast for Harbor Commissioner. I received 61,220 votes and needed 4,822 more votes to win one of two seats. I do not think the problem with the machine in San Carlos caused me to lose the election.

I’m speaking out because:

  • The process for responding to election irregularities needs to be overhauled in San Mateo County.
  • Response time to reported problems must be improved.
  • The public should be able to report election irregularities without difficulty.
  • Paper ballot shortages were reported 2008 and widespread problems were reported in the 2010 election. Election officials should not cut corners on paper ballots.
  • Long lines at the polls lead to voters leaving without voting and this undermines American democracy.

I would like the Board of Supervisors to hold the Elections Office accountable for providing faster response times to machine failures and require that paper ballot shortages be corrected before the 2012 election. The Supervisors should make funding elections a priority. Paper ballot shortages, slow response times to malfunctioning machines and long lines at the polls are unacceptable.

Sabrina Brennan

Comment 1
Tue, December 21, 2010 9:57am
Kevin Barron
All my comments

“Long lines at the polls lead to voters leaving without voting and this undermines American democracy.”

Maybe if 3/4 of the voters educated themselves on the candidates/initiatives BEFORE they saunter up to the ballot box, and not spend 40 minutes reading Prop XYZ for the first time on election day…

Comment 2
Tue, December 21, 2010 11:41am
Dan Blick
All my comments


You’ve just demonstrated why I have *never* voted on an electronic voting machine, and I never will.  I always, *always* request a paper ballot.

Why would anyone choose to use a voting system that
  - is so easily hacked
  - is useless if a recount is necessary
  - the code and inner workings are private and proprietary, not accountable to the County’s voters

As a citizen of San Mateo County, I have a right to make sure that my vote is counted.  That is *impossible* with the electronic systems.  This is also part of the reason why some people vote by absentee ballot.


There’s a great site on election integrity, with lots of information about how the system works, and where things can (and do) go wrong:

Comment 3
Wed, December 22, 2010 12:50pm
Kevin Barron
All my comments

Dan… the points you bring to bear have existed for hundreds of years in the “paper-based” format, as well. Besides, there is FAR more corruption outside of the ballot box in the election process.

P.S. - so very anti-environmental of you, too ;-)

Comment 4
Wed, December 22, 2010 8:07pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

There are certainly problems with paper ballots, but the issues that Dan raised are unique to electronic ballots. 

While paper ballots aren’t immune to fraud, electronic voting raises the prospect of undetectable and unauditable fraud becoming institutionalized.

We have no idea whether the system we use in SM County is secure. How is that possible?

Comment 5
Thu, December 23, 2010 9:29am
Kevin Barron
All my comments

>>but the issues that Dan raised are unique to electronic ballots. 

No Barry, actually they are not, and I don’t have the time to Google 137 instances across paper ballots, but I’d assume those with sense and recollection of electoral civics would know that already.

>>raises the prospect of undetectable and unauditable

Like the millions of paper ballots found from specific counties in the back of ______ and ____ and hidden in _____ and ______ weeks and months after elections.

Otherwise, unless we have a name of the election polling site “assistant” who can verify this… I’m chalking this up to salty grapes, and/or “user error”.

Come on Barry… not saying there isn’t corruption/fraud, but a ton of the rhetoric I see around electronic voting reeks of “black helicopter” blather. At least in electronic voting, there can be a better audit trial, vs dissappearance of ballots altogether.

The excuse for paper ballot shortages at the polls is lack of funding. Democracy doesn’t come cheap. If we want it, we’ll have to pay for it.

Comment 7
Thu, December 23, 2010 1:41pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

As you say, “Like the millions of paper ballots found from specific counties in the back of ______ and ____ and hidden in _____ and ______ weeks and months after elections.”

You’re right: paper ballots leave physical and other evidence, such as voters who were bribed and threatened. That’s how we know that LBJ stole his 1948 Senate election.

Electronic ballots have the potential to leave no such traces. I don’t object to electronic voting per se, but current systems have not been proven secure and reliable, and their manufacturers have resisted being audited. For some reason, that doesn’t reassure me.

Comment 8
Thu, December 23, 2010 6:29pm
Carl May
All my comments

Given the mismanagement, misallocation, and waste in various departments, why would anyone in San Mateo County believe the “lack of funding” line.

For just one recent example, ask yourself how much in county funds was spent helping the private developer on the Big Wave EIR and on helping the developer move the scam through hearings?

For another, how much staff time/department money has been wasted on planning and pushing unnecessarily overdeveloped and destructive segments of the California Coastal Trail on the midcoast?

You could buy sufficient paper ballots for those who want them from now to the end of the century with the money wasted on just a few of the screwups out of the dozens going on every year.

As for the damn electronic machines that send your vote off into the vapor, the backup I have observed comes with people standing there twirling the dials—a procedure much slower than the “connect-the-line” ballots we used to have.

Of course Narda Garcia Barrientos and now add the name Wright to her list of names has not had time to respond to your election question.  she is too busy having extra marital affairs and stealing peoples husbands.  Mine to be exact

I’m sorry your going through such a hard time. I hear she’s not working at the San Mateo County Elections Office any longer.