San Mateo County elections officials are blaming a vendor for sending out incorrect ballots to some voters, including people in the La Honda-Pescadero School District.
On Feb. 6, officials became aware of a printing error and say they worked to notify 2,046 voters in four jurisdictions that the materials they received in the mail for the March 3 primary election was incomplete or incorrect.
‘The ballot misprint occurred when our ballot printing vendor did not precisely follow our extract mapping instructions for the construction of the official ballot,” San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Jim Irizarry said.
The misprinted ballots were sent to voters in La Honda-Pescadero Unified, San Carlos Elementary, San Mateo Union and Portola Valley Elementary school districts.
Irizarry said within two days of the mistake being discovered, replacement ballots were issued to all affected voters. Additionally, voters were contacted either by letter, phone or email informing them of the error.
“We called 1,219 voters and emailed 944 voters,” he said. “The other voters that did not provide telephone numbers or emails were sent a notice with their official ballot.”
Irizarry blamed the county’s out-of-state ballot printing vendor, which he said incorrectly interpreted information provided by the election office. Irizarry said the information provided by the Registration Elections Division to the vendor was precise and accurate. It was not clear whether county officials made an effort to check the ballots before they were sent to voters.
Some voters have already mailed their ballots. If an affected voter already returned an incorrect ballot, Irizarry said it will be discarded when the second, replacement ballot, is received. If the replacement ballot is never received, only those votes on contests within the voter’s precinct will be counted. If a voter voted in a contest outside of the correct precinct it will not counted.
“The voters affected reside in split precincts,” Irizarry said. “When a jurisdiction's boundary cuts through a precinct it can be split in two, either for one specific election only, or permanently. Voters in some split precincts received ballots with the contests intended for the precinct they were split from.”
On the ballot this year for La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District is Measure M, which seeks a new parcel tax to replace one that is expiring. If approved, it would allow an annual tax of $130 per parcel of property within the district for seven years starting this July. The measure requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
In 2005, 73 percent of voters first approved a parcel tax which got renewed again in 2012. The purpose of the tax is to improve access to technology in classroom, provide enrichment opportunities for students and professional development for teachers. People over the age of 65 can file for an exemption.
This is not the first time information was omitted from election materials in San Mateo County. In 2018, election officials failed to include the San Mateo County Board of Education race in the fall sample ballot sent to thousands of voters. In that case, the race was identified as a district election. As a result, only people living in District 1 along the coast received information about the candidates in their sample ballot. While the Board of Education changed its election format, requiring candidates to be residents of the districts they represent, members are elected by voters countywide.
“There is no acceptable level of error in an election, however errors do happen,” Irizarry said.
San Mateo County uses a vendor based in Seattle, which Irizarry said is one of the largest election vendors in the country.
“Elections are basically a function of people and technology and both have to work seamlessly together,” he said.
This year’s presidential primary is the largest election in the country’s history in terms of number of registered voters and ballot styles.