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County failed to follow through on 2021 redistricting

People pose for a group portrait in a school library.
Candidates and high school students pose in the library at Potter Valley high school after a student-organized forum, where they urged young people to get involved in the political process.

Mendocino County acknowledged widespread voting irregularities in a brief press release yesterday, saying “the 2021 redistricting may not have been correctly imputed (sic) into the voter files.” The county is seeking guidance from the Secretary of State.

Katrina Bartolomie, Assessor Clerk Recorder Registrar of Voters, was unaware of the press release about an hour after it had gone out. She told this reporter she was aware that 55 voters in Lennix precinct, which straddles the first and fifth districts in Redwood Valley, had incorrectly received fifth district ballots. She did not yet know how many voters in in other precincts had also received incorrect ballots to replace the misprinted ballots that went out earlier this month. All voters in Mendocino county initially received Republican ballots for the first district, an error attributed to a subcontractor working for the ballot services vendor, Integrated Voting Systems. Bartolomie said she is planning to send out a third round of ballots and explanatory letters to the voters whose first set of replacements was also in error.

In a brief interview, CEO Darcie Antle said she was considering public outreach strategies like press releases, mailers, and possibly a hotline, once the county has gotten clarity from the state about the correct information to share with voters. She said that as of last night, the county was still trying to determine how many people have been impacted.

The county was redistricted in 2021, following the 2020 census.The redistricting committee, which was made up of supervisor-appointed volunteers and county employees, redrew district boundary lines by census blocks rather than voter precincts, which was the previous custom. That means that some precincts include voters from two supervisorial districts. First District supervisor candidate Adam Gaska discovered the error in Lennix precinct on Monday. Last night, he said he had found more.

“I happened to be just cruising through the master roles of registered voters in the county,” he said. “And I hit a precinct called Russian River in the fifth district, and thought, how is our precinct called Russian River when there is no Russian River in the fifth district?” He called his boss, whom he knew from the maps has been in the first district since 2021. He quickly determined that she had a fifth district ballot, reflecting her pre-redistricting voter status. He called the county elections office, then filed a complaint both with Protect the Vote, a project through the California Republican Party, and the Secretary of State.

But he wasn’t able to actually talk to anyone at the Secretary of State’s office. “They kept on trying to refer me back,” he recalled, telling him to talk to his elections office. “And I kept on telling them that they are the problem. I want you to intervene,” he said.

This reporter also spent much of the afternoon yesterday calling voters from the master rolls after cross-referencing them with the county maps, and found misplaced voters on Old River Road and Wooldridge Road in Hopland. As the day wore on, Gaska reported he had continued to find errors in East Russian, South Willow, North Hensley, North Sanel, and Norgard precincts, which also affects second district voters.

Gaska’s boss is Julie Golden, who is active in the Hopland Municipal Advisory Council. She reported that about 20 people attended last night’s MAC meeting to hear from county supervisors, who tried to reassure them that the correct ballots will be tracked with bar codes and they should not give up on trying to vote.

As a voter who received the wrong ballot, she said, “I'm really befuddled. I'm pretty discouraged right now…I would like more transparency…to assure us that these silly bar codes that Glenn (McGourty, First District Supervisor) alluded to today, really will tabulate one vote…especially in district one. Because there's four candidates that are really vying for votes and it's only fair that everyone that should be able to vote should be able to have the opportunity.”

All four of the first district candidates were at a forum in the library at the Potter Valley High School last night, fielding questions from students as well as adult members of the audience. Madeline Cline agreed with Golden, saying, “I would like to see additional oversight, whether that is state assistance or a lot of transparency coming out of the elections office.” Asked if she would be comfortable having an elections monitor from the state, she said, “Well, there's already conversations at the Secretary of State's office, making sure that we're following the appropriate protocols, and that's going to help us ensure that we get a better result.”

Trevor Mockel said it was an “understatement” to say that he was worried about the election with a lot of first district voters possibly not voting in the right district. “I am disappointed and saddened by what's happened,” he added; “and it really is frustrating to be a candidate. Now, in two weeks this is the second time this has happened. I just I can't believe the Mendocino county government is going through this, and we need to get solutions.” He said he thinks a state monitor would be “a good starting point.”

Carrie Shattuck said she is worried about first district voters not having the opportunity to vote for their next representative. “And also I'm concerned for the other districts as well,” she added. “At first I wasn't as concerned and now as time's going by, it doesn't seem that he intensity of the problem is there for Ms. Bartolomie.” She also thinks a state monitor is “a good place to start.”

Gaska is worried about the tight race and the prospect of a plummeting turnout too. And he posed a larger question: “What is this going to do to the confidence of the voters and their trust in the integrity of the process?”

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.