For The Madera Tribune
County Registrar of Voters Rebecca Martinez has certified the result of the Madera Unified School District’s governing board trustee Area 5 election, conducted as part of the November 2018 General Election.
Just prior to election day, Madera County discovered that a mistake was made by the county’s contracted ballot printer, which resulted in more than 400 voters in the Madera area receiving a vote-by-mail ballot that included an additional local contest for which they were not entitled to vote in. The error had no effect on any state, federal or county-wide contests.
After notifying the ballot printer, the elections department conducted extensive research, carefully maintaining the integrity of the process, and was able to isolate most of the returned ballots and correct the error.
Eighty-five ballots were returned and counted that contained the additional Area 5 contest, and said voters possibly voted in this contest while being ineligible. The difference between leading candidate Lucy Salazar and candidate Steve Duncan was only 70 votes (Salazar, 945 v. Duncan, 875). Based on this uncertainty, the registrar obtained an order from Madera County Superior Court extending the deadline to certify the results.
This was done in an effort to be transparent about what took place in the election, and to allow the school district opportunity to call for a new election, if it chose to.
However, the school district said a new election would not be called.
Based on the response from the school district’s lawyer, Martinez was left to certify the election to the best of her ability under the law. To this end, she used the proportional vote reduction approach recognized in cases Russell v. McDowell (1890) 83 Cal. 70, and Singletary v. Kelly (1966) 242 Cal.App.3d 611, as well as California Elections Code section 16203.
Using this approach, the 85 incorrect ballots were reduced from the vote totals of each candidate in the same proportion as the percentage of the vote for each candidate. As Salazar has 51.92 percent of the total vote, her vote was reduced by 41 votes. Duncan’s vote total was reduced by the remaining 41 votes. As a result, the certification of Trustee Area 5 was provided Jan. 25.
Thereafter, it is the responsibility governing body to declare the result and seat the candidate receiving the highest number of votes.
Martinez believes that in the absence of a new election, this is the fairest approach she could have taken under the law to certify the results.
The certification of this contest is available on the registrar’s website at www.votemadera.com.