© 2024 KZYX
redwood forest background
Mendocino County Public Broadcasting
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Local News

Candidate discovers voters in Redwood Valley precinct got wrong ballots

A dark-haired man in a checkered shirt looks to his left with an attentive expression.
Adam Gaska at a student-organized candidate forum at Potter Valley High School.

Some voters are receiving a second round of erroneous ballots to replace the misprint that every voter in the county received earlier this month.

Adam Gaska is a first district supervisor candidate who lives on the boundary of the first and the fifth district west of Calpella. On Monday, he noticed an anonymous Facebook post by a voter who had gotten a ballot with no supervisors option on it. He did some cross-referencing and found out the anonymous voter lived on Lennix Drive, which happens to be the same street he lives on. His neighbor was also in Lennix precinct, though Gaska is in the neighboring precinct of Forsythe Creek. He called some more neighbors and concluded that all 62 voters in the Lennix precinct had received ballots for the fifth district.

But 55 of the Lennix precinct voters are supposed to be in the first district. According to Lief Farr, who made the maps during the redistricting of 2021, the committee that redrew the boundaries to accommodate population shifts used census blocks, rather than precincts, as was the previous custom. He added that the decision was based on legal advice and was common throughout the region at the time. But it meant that some precincts, like Lennix, were split between districts. Gaska is confident that by alerting the elections office, he secured some of his neighbors’ first district votes in the precinct, which could make a difference in a tight race.

The 2020 census placed the countywide population at just over 91,000. American Survey data, which is not as reliable as the census, places the first district adult population at 12,273. With voter registration at 53,000, it’s unlikely that everyone who’s eligible will participate.

Still, Peter McNamee has a high level of confidence in American elections. He’s civically engaged in Mendocino County and worked as a clerk and elections administrator in Yolo County in the 1970s.

“I do think that they are fair,” he said of modern elections. “I do think that overall they are high quality elections. I do respect the fact that they're very complex. They're difficult to do, and issues will arise and we need to have a demanding citizenry that makes sure that the people we ask to do this work have the capacity and ability to do it properly. You don’t fix that with an expose. You fix that by having an engaged citizenry.” He added that he hopes there will be “an ongoing discussion, not just about shortcomings at the local level, “but the larger picture of the context within which they're being forced to operate in. And specifically whether there are adequate controls at the state level for the vendors that have to do this work that the county is not equipped to do.” He called for transparency, and hopes that the electorate will engage with their state representatives and demand answers. “I would like to see the Secretary of State as the chief elections officer,” he concluded; and have “their staff be visible here in Mendocino County, answering the concerns that voters may have, if they do have concerns about the integrity of the elections.”

Supervisor Ted Williams, who’s running for state assembly, is calling on the state to step in, too. And he’s ready to fire the vendor responsible for the misprint. But he also lays responsibility at the county’s feet. He thinks it’s the state’s responsibility “to hold us to task. It's not to be punitive. Where a problem is found and we're off the chart in the wrong direction, it starts the conversation: What do we do to get into alignment with the best practices of areas that are successful? And I think the election is a great place to start.” He said he couldn’t point to the data to back the claim that local elections are an unfunded mandate where the state is asking a small county office to carry out state and federal mandates, though “I recognize that it's a possibility in general,” he conceded. “There may be more mandates than there are dollars in this county. But even so, the state gives us a list of 12 vendors that it approved and we use one of those vendors and we find out there isn't any quality assurance? That’s unfathomable.”

McNamee advises a cautious approach to a solution, saying the loss of control that comes with vote-by-mail elections is an unintended consequence of trying to eliminate the inequities of in-person elections. People used to miss work or the chance to vote by standing in line at polling places, often in working-class and non-white neighborhoods. He says elections administration continues to evolve, reflecting that, “Every time you make a mistake, the silver lining is what you learn from it.”

Candidate Gaska hopes the mistake “makes people pay more attention to what's happening and not just kind of glaze over…These things are really important, especially in a tight race. People like to say, well, my one vote doesn't matter, but it can. It definitely can.”

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.