Political Climate with Mark Simon: Why ballots showed up late in county mailboxes

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Why ballots showed up late in county mailboxes

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

Ballots finally are showing up in San Mateo County mailboxes, more than a week after they were supposed to be in the hands of voters.

The all-mail ballots are a grand experiment in democracy with a lot of things to recommend it, but the reason for the delay is mundane, problematic and potentially consequential.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that the elections officials, under the management of Mark Church, San Mateo County’s elections chief, left a race off the ballot. Specifically, it is the race for the San Mateo County Board of Education. The board members run for the seats from a district, but they’re elected countywide.

Apparently, someone thought the election was district-only, and didn’t include it in all the county ballots. A delay ensued while a separate page was prepared solely for the Board of Education, which explains why there’s a page in your ballot with a huge amount of blank space and only one item on it.

This is the second time in recent elections that something was omitted from the ballot, the other being a race for local judgeship.

Church was re-elected in June with token opposition to the post of Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, a job that puts him in charge, among other things, of all local elections. While it’s an independent office, he doesn’t have control over the size of his budget – that’s set by the Board of Supervisors.

The budget is relevant because Church has been known to assert that his office is under-funded and, therefore, understaffed.

Which could be an explanation, but it’s certainly no excuse. Particularly when San Mateo County is at the center of a huge experiment in all-mail balloting.

I’m a big fan of vote-by-mail. I like the idea of voters taking time to go over their ballots, rather than hurriedly whipping through it while standing at a voting station with other voters lined up behind.

I like to think it prompts more people to vote and that they will spend time culling through social media to inform themselves about the down-ballot races, such as city councils, school boards and city ballot measures.

Certainly, the all-mail balloting can be credited for an extraordinary voter turnout in the June statewide gubernatorial primary – 44.3 percent voter turnout compared to 27.5 percent in the 2014 June gubernatorial primary.

So, put me down as an enthusiastic supporter, assuming the people in charge of the elections do their jobs properly.

Mundane: Someone who knows what’s on the ballot should have checked it and re-checked it. Whatever Quality Assurance steps are in place weren’t good enough.

Problematic: If one of the benefits of all-mail balloting is the time voters have to go over the ballot and consider all the races, sending the ballots out more than a week late may meet some legal requirement, but it certainly doesn’t serve the larger purpose.

Consequential: Even though he has just been re-elected, there already is speculation in political circles about a challenge to Church in four years. The names making the rounds include state Senator Jerry Hill, who is termed out of office in 2020, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, whose legislative record includes substantial time and attention to election and campaign issues, including sponsorship of the bill that made it possible for the all-mail balloting, and Virginia Chang Kiraly, current member of the San Mateo County Harbor Commission and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

Full disclosure: Mullin and I co-host a public affairs show, The Game, on Peninsula TV. The mention of his name here was done without his knowledge and is not an attempt by him to float a trial balloon. The same can be said, by the way, about Hill and Kiraly – the trial balloon part, not the TV show part.

Shameless plug: Kevin and I will be co-hosting a live Election Night show on Pen TV from 8 p.m. until the last results are in and digested. It’s the only place devoted exclusively to the local races you’re following.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.