Mail-in ballots 'smudge' snafu needs erasers

As much as 80 percent of county ballots are mail-in, according to county officials

Hundreds of thousands of Santa Clara County mail-in ballots must have an ink smudge hand erased before they can be counted, in a major mail-in ballot snafu. The glitch could affect up to 80 percent of the county vote, officials said this morning.

Vote-counting optical scanners initially rejected more than 100,000 Santa Clara County mail-in ballots, Supervisor Liz Kniss said today.

It is undetermined whether the snafu will delay the announcement of election results tonight. But by late Tuesday afternoon county officials were predicting some delays due to the problem and the length of the ballot.

The County Registrar's office discovered the problem last Wednesday, Oct. 27 when the machines were rejecting a larger number of ballots than usual, Kniss said. But county supervisors did not learn of the major mail-in-ballot snafu until Monday, Nov. 1, at noon, according to Kniss.

Registrar of Voters Jesse Durazo was in Mexico attending a funeral and could not be reached when the problem was discovered last week. Elaine Larson, assistant registrar, notified the county executive's office of the problem, Kniss said.

ProVoteSolutions, a Porterville, Calif. firm, printed the ballots. ProVote is the only North American Security Product Organization (NASPO)-certified election printer in the United States, according to the company website. NASPO is a nonprofit organization that certifies providers of documents who follow specific security protocols.

ProVote has been certified by the state of California for the last six years as an election printer for a number of ballot types. The company provides ballots for 15 California counties, Vice President Brian Lierman said.

Santa Clara County is the only county that appears to be affected by the smudged ballots, according to Lierman. ProVote would reimburse the county for costs to inspect and clean the ballots, he said.

The ballots are mailed out by ProVote, Lierman said. Kniss said no one at the registrar's office sees the ballot before it is mailed out. A company representative mailed a copy of the ballot to himself to check the mailing and accepted the ballot as being correct, she said.

The registrar's office could not be reached Tuesday morning about whether there would be any delays in the vote count.

Despite the glitch, Kniss said she is confident that the count is correct.

"I don't think the voters should have any lack of confidence," she said. But she was concerned because the supervisors were not told immediately of the problem. The supervisors are the governing board of the registrar, according to Kniss. "It's our problem and ours to fix, as far as I'm concerned," she said.

Kniss said she wants County Executive Jeff Smith to straighten out the problem and "make sure it never happens again."

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Like this comment
Posted by Bart
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 2, 2010 at 11:31 am

A fuller report can be found in the Pasadena Star News:

Web Link

Ballot counting in Santa Clara County has been in turmoil since last week, when the optical scanners reading hundreds of thousands of vote-by-mail ballots began spitting them out.

> Problem with mail ballots sees army of Santa Clara County
> employees scrubbing mail ballots with rubber erasers

> So with today's election looming, county workers, buttressed
> by volunteers and extra-help staff, have been racking up overtime
> since Wednesday, poring through every ballot and attacking
> smear marks with rubber erasers.

This certainly raises the question about chain-of-custody of these ballots. Having "volunteers" erasing marks and smudges from ballots makes one wonder if the marks in the little boxes that we call "votes" might be erased too?

This is another disaster for the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.

We so very much need on-line voting ..

Like this comment
Posted by rhody
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2010 at 12:30 pm

A picture of one of the smudges would help this article a LOT.

Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 2, 2010 at 12:59 pm

An absolute disaster; in the private sector, this problem would result -- quickly -- in a resignation or firing of personnel.

Some questions: where is the smudge?; how large is it?; if an eraser is able to remove it, how is a scanner able to 'see' it?; are the volunteers able to see the 'vote portion' of the ballots?; are the volunteers randomly audited?; are there checks and balances in place to ensure a volunteer does not 'erase' or smudge a vote?

Likely not a great day for democracy in our County.

ps what happened to the earlier comments made on the initial version of this article at

Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 2, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Thanks for the link to the article in the Pasadena paper; it's well done and informative.

With the exception of my first two questions above, my other inquiries remain; we all need to know so much more about this problem, the solution employed by the County, and the checks and balances in place to prevent mis-counting or elimination of certain votes.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 2, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Cities and the county should demand a recount immediately. There needs to be an immediate hands-on audit. This smells.

Like this comment
Posted by Absentee Voter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I just wonder who's tampering with my mail-in ballot now?

It's time we went back to voting by computer, at least they were counted by the end of the day, even if they didn't print out a receipt!!

If I can do my banking on line, why can't I vote on line? Here we are in the middle of silicon valley and no one has come up with a way to vote "on line" Steve Jobs to the rescue please!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Jesse
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 2, 2010 at 4:26 pm

If they got better scanners this wouldnt happen. Cut their budget until they get better!!

Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 2, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Unbelievable. So, were our mail-in ballots all counted? I guess we'll never know, will we?

And I agree with Liz Kniss--it is most peculiar that the Registrar of Voters would be out of town at election time. I realize things happen, but still. I guess the moral of the story is to vote in person.

P.S. Palo Alto Online, Oh, I've tried several times, but I guess my computer is not compatible with this new verification system. So probably neither my vote nor my opinion will get through.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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