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Ballots and redistricting discussed

A woman with salt-and-pepper hair looks directly into the camera, smiling slightly.
Inland Mendocino Democratic Club poster announcing their guest speaker on March 14.
Mendocino County Assessor Clerk Recorder Registrar of Voters Katrina Bartolomie.

The numbers of voters affected by the ballot mishaps in the recent election are coming into focus, with 880 ballots returned from the Antoni Lane misprint and 177 who received ballots for the wrong district.

Assessor Clerk Recorder Registrar of Voters Katrina Bartolomie took questions at a meeting of the Inland Mendocino Democratic Club on March 14. She did not provide details about the future of the county’s relationship with Integrated Voting Systems, the ballot contractor whose subcontractor misprinted the first round of ballots. In early February, all registered voters in the county received Republican ballots for the Antoni Lane precinct in the first district.

While she said the State Department told her that re-doing the entire election is “a hard no,” she left open the possibility of re-running the first district supervisorial race, after a voter expressed alarm over the possibility that participation may have been hindered, and results skewed, by the confusion. “If that’s the case, it can be re-run,” Bartolomie said. “ I think it depends on the candidates and everything else. So there's a chance.”

At the last update on March 12, over 10,000 ballots remained to be counted. Madeline Cline had a solid lead over her three competitors in the first district supervisor race, with about 56% of the vote. But some uncertainty remains. When a voter asked if Bartolomie was worried about a challenge in the first district supervisorial race, she said, “It can always be challenged.”

Bartolomie said her office was working over the weekend on the provisional ballots, and then they would get to work remaking the misprinted ones. If voters did not use the replacement ballots that her office sent out after the misprint, she said the original, mistaken ballot can be somewhat “remade” onto a good one, “as much as we can,” she qualified; “So we wouldn’ be able to remake (the vote for) president.” However, she added, if a voter used the misprinted Republican ballot and wrote in Joe Biden, her office would ensure that that vote was counted on the remade ballot.

After replacement ballots were sent out, some voters learned they had not been reassigned to their new districts after the district boundaries were redrawn. Redistricting happens every ten years, after the census, to make sure that each district has as close to the same number of people as possible. Of the 177 voters who had not been shifted over to their new district, 54 of them voted in the last election. The majority of these were first district voters who voted in the fifth district supervisor race, where incumbent Ted Williams won a decisive victory over challenger John Redding.

Lief Farr, the county’s GIS, or Geographic Information Specialist, played a key role in creating the maps, though he was not involved in updating the voter rolls. Bartolomie acknowledged that this was due to an error in her office. Five thousand people shifted districts in 2021. In an interview at the end of February, Farr said that for the last census, the redistricting committee, a combination of county staff and citizen volunteers, used census blocks rather than precinct lines to shift people, because the census blocks are believed to provide a more precise population count. “A block is the smallest unit the Census Bureau tabulates statistics for,” he explained. “So that's the smallest unit we can move around, which is what you want because you don't want to move around any more than you have to.” Census blocks also use physical geographical markers like a road or a creek, that census workers can see out in the field. “That means they're going to be different boundaries than our voter precincts,” which are sometimes drawn along boundaries like school districts and property lines, Farr added. And there was some thinking about legal precautions, too. If the county’s redistricting is challenged in court, Farr said, “You can say this supervisorial district is made up of these blocks, and you can identify the blocks because they have an identifying code, and then anyone can check that and it's very hard for them to then say you did something wrong.”

The census was delayed in 2020, due to then-President Donald Trump’s last-minute attempt to include a question about citizenship on the questionnaire. Trump also ended the count early and wanted to change provisions for protecting respondents’ privacy. There was also a pandemic, and its attendant health and safety protocols. This, in turn, shortened the amount of time that the redistricting committee had to draw up the redistricting maps. “So we were under the gun, both the county and the committee, to get this done in a hurry,” Farr recalled. “A lot of that had to do with the census data coming out quite a bit later. It was supposed to come out in April after the census, pretty much right away, and it didn't happen.”

And there were some other data changes. Usually, the redistricting committees publish the total population data while creating the drafts of their potential new district lines. But in 2021, the Census Bureau wanted them to also include American Community Survey Data, with the numbers of people over 18 in each area. Farr says the error rate for that data, which is not generated by the census, is very high in populations under 100,000, like Mendocino County.

“So that added a little wrinkle into our job,” Farr noted. “But we still had a hard and fast deadline that we had to meet, which we met.”

The redistricting meetings were all public, and the resulting maps are publicly available. Voters can enter an address and see which district it’s in now, and if it changed since 2011, the last time the boundaries were redrawn.

Farr encourages the electorate to stay engaged. “It’s part of the responsibility of the public, I think, to stay informed about what’s going on,” he opined. “That information is out there, and it was certainly out there during the public 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.