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‘Everyone was able to vote.’ Stanislaus clerk denies problems with ballots

Some Stanislaus voters couldn’t cast ballots, poll watchers claim

Lisa Battista, a Modesto attorney describes filing a motion asking a judge to extend voting hours beyond their normal closing time of 8pm on election night in Stanislaus county because of a shortage of envelopes for provisional ballots.
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Lisa Battista, a Modesto attorney describes filing a motion asking a judge to extend voting hours beyond their normal closing time of 8pm on election night in Stanislaus county because of a shortage of envelopes for provisional ballots.

Discord between Stanislaus County’s election office and poll watchers continued a day after Tuesday’s midterm elections, with poll watchers continuing to claim some voters were not able to cast ballots, an allegation officials say is not true.

“Unfortunately voters were disenfranchised,” Modesto attorney Lisa Battista said Wednesday. “We are not going to get that back and have a fair election.”

Battista organized a group of about 50 poll watchers in Stanislaus County through the auspices of the California Democratic Party. She filed a petition Tuesday asking a judge to extend voting hours beyond their normal closing time of 8 p.m. A Stanislaus Superior Court judge denied the request at an emergency hearing.

Battista also said she faced hostility from county officials, which county officials said was not true.

Lee Lundrigan, county clerk and registrar, and other county officials reiterated Wednesday that voters were not denied the ability to cast ballots.

“We were doing the best with what they (the poll watchers) perceived as problems,” County Counsel John Doering said. “And we did address those problems in a timely fashion, with the touchstone that everyone was able to vote.”

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Tech team supervisor Tim McNabb, right, prepares ballots for counting at the Stanislaus County Clerk Recorders office in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

This comes as Republican incumbent Jeff Denham continues to hold a slight lead against Democratic challenger Josh Harder to represent Stanislaus County and southern San Joaquin County in Congress. There are thousands of ballots left to count.

There were long lines here and across the nation Tuesday, and preliminary estimates suggest huge voter turnout. The Bee has reported voter registration in Stanislaus County increased 16 percent since the 2014 midterm elections, while the county’s population grew by less than 5 percent.

Lundrigan said her office had “multiple thousands of ballots” remaining to be counted. The election office reported early Wednesday that it had counted 79,996 ballots so far. That represents a turnout of 32.3 percent among the county’s 247,833 registered voters.

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She said Tuesday’s election ranks among the five busiest of the 43 her office has conducted during her 17-year tenure. “It seems like a very busy election, and a very excited electorate,” Lundrigan said.

Battista said poll watchers worked with the Harder campaign to pinpoint the polling places with high turnout and Spanish-speaking voters. She said poll watchers visited about three dozen polling places. Lundrigan said the county had 141 polling places Tuesday.

Battista has said that about a dozen polling places ran out of pink envelopes used for provisional ballots and voters were turned away. “This problem caused delays and long lines and some voters were certainly frustrated and left without voting,” she said in a previous story.

Provisional ballots are offered to voters whose registration cannot be verified at a polling place. Those reasons can include people who are registered to vote at another polling place or who have recently moved. These ballots are placed in pink envelopes to separate them from regular ballots so they can be verified later.

Lundrigan said pink envelopes were provided to polling places that needed them and polling places found other ways to segregate provisional ballots.

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Provisional ballot envelope at the Stanislaus County Clerk Recorders office in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

She said the recent option of conditional voting was another factor. This lets people vote who missed the Oct. 22 registration deadline to register but they have to vote at the main election office in downtown Modesto.

Lundrigan has said her office had more than 1,000 of these voters Tuesday. She said poll watchers may have seen conditional voters being told at polling places that they had to vote at the election office and assumed they were being prevented from voting.

Some other voters in Turlock — claimed by both Denham and Harder as their home base — felt devalued when poll workers could not find their names on voter rolls.

Stephanie Endsley-Bull and her husband, John Bull, and Ronda LaFollette all took their sample ballots with them to the polls where they had voted many years, The Bee learned in separate phone interviews.

Clearly printed on the sample ballots were their names and instructions to vote at Cornerstone Covenant Church and Crossroads Church, respectively, said Endsley-Bull and LaFollette’s husband, Brian. But they still were forced to re-register before they were given provisional ballots, they said.

Endsley-Bull said she doesn’t vote by mail because she likes her 6-year-old son to see her participate in the democratic process. But what usually is a quick in-and-out stop took more than an hour on Tuesday, she said. “I didn’t leave with that satisfied, `I voted’ kind of feeling,” she said.

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