As we enter a historic election season, with enormous ramifications across the globe, this is not a good omen. Last week, San Mateo County elections officials copped to sending voters more than 2,000 incorrect ballots, initially at least, confusing citizens in four school districts.

Whether the problem is worse than that is an open question. We know of at least one family on the Midcoast — miles from where we were told the problems occurred — that also received incorrect ballots.

When asked, elections officials blamed an out-of-state vendor for misreading accurate information provided by the elections office. We at the Review know a thing or two about printing mistakes and miscommunication with printing vendors. We’ve certainly had our share. When a mistake occurs in our business, we own it. It isn’t the printer’s fault if we fail to proof the job.

Elections Officer Jim Irizarry notes that county workers are only human. Whenever people use technology, there is the potential for a mistake, he says. That’s true, of course. But this is so darn important, and the fix — checking the work before it goes out — is so darn simple.

Perhaps most ominous: There appears to have been no effort to confess the problem to the public at large. In recent days, the elections office has found the time to post press releases about voter outreach grants and the filing period for write-in candidates, but not, apparently, about a goof that threatens important tax measures in four Peninsula school districts. Credibility requires admitting your mistakes.

Recently, a local elections reform activist predicted that whoever loses the presidential election in November would claim the tally was rigged. Whether you want to blame a meddling “deep state,” Russian hackers, domestic terrorists or — as we saw in Iowa and now in San Mateo County — incompetent officials, there is sure to be reasonable doubt. We fear he is right about that.

A poll conducted by NPR, PBS Newshour and Marist just last month revealed the depth of concern around the upcoming election. More than 4 in 10 of those surveyed said they believed the United States was not prepared or not very prepared to conduct a secure presidential election. Only 62 percent of those surveyed would characterize American elections as “fair.” Numbers like that are an emergency and should be as important to the thousands of local elections officials across the country as the threat of fire or natural disaster.

There was a time when local elections were fairly straightforward. It was a matter of counting paper ballots. That is no longer the case in our fractured digital world. We need a more sophisticated effort to protect the most sacred aspect of our democracy. Simply sending a second ballot and pretending like there is nothing to see here is inadequate at this moment in time.

— Clay Lambert

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