Letter to the Supervisors on election irregularities


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