Botched ballots for Nov. 3 election mailed to Woodland Hills precinct; new ones on the way

The Los Angeles County Registrar on Tuesday, Oct. 6, mailed new ballots to at least 2,100 Woodland Hills residents, who a day before received faulty ballots with duplicate options for a proposition — but with no opportunity to vote for president.

The ballots came in the mail Monday — the first day of a massive first-time effort to send vote-by-mail ballots to the county’s 5.6 million registered voters in the lead-up to the Nov. 3 General Election.

While the Woodland Hills precinct is a small fraction of the county’s voters, it opened up opportunities for debate as a time when the mail-in process has been under scrutiny nationwide. Some were bewildered and angry that the snafu could happen during such a consequential election, where election fraud has become a major issue.

Jill Rotner and her Woodland Hills neighbor, Leanne Maertens and several other residents in her neighborhood received vote-by-mail ballots that did not have the presidential sectional on it, and it duplicated State Measures 21 and 22 on pages 4 and 5. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“I was just shocked and frightened,” resident Judith Salk. “Whether it’s incompetence or fraud I have no clue. Nevertheless, it’s really wrong.”

Jill Rotner was stunned when she opened up her ballot on Monday.

“I opened it up, looked at the first few pages …. I said to my husband and said, ‘open your ballot… do you have a page missing?’ “

He did.

“We’re supposed to get a new one, but what do do with the old one?” she said.

That same question was on the mind of Leanne Maertens, who also received one of the errant ballots.

“The concern is, how many people will vote twice?” she said, worried that voters who may not immediately know the difference will send there’s back to the registrar’s office anyway.

News of the issue buzzed on local neighborhood blogs: No presidential selections on a back page, and duplicate options on pages 4 and 5 (of 6) for Proposition 21, a measure that would expand government authority to enact rent control on residential properties.

The registrar’s office confirmed the error and apologized.

“The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk has been made aware that ballots distributed in Woodland Hills contained printing errors,” L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan said in a statement. “While this has impacted a very small number of Los Angeles County voters – we believe the faulty ballots were mailed to a single precinct of just over 2,100 voters, out of a total of more than 5.6 million registered voters in the County – we nevertheless apologize to those affected by the mistake.”

The statement said robocalls and emails were sent out alerting affected voters, and corrected ballots were mailed  Tuesday morning with a letter describing the error. They said:

  • Election officials encouraged all voters to discard the faulty ballot and to fill out the accurate one; and
  • If voters have already filled out and mailed in the original ballot, officials said they would cancel the original once a new one is received.

The situation left voters on both sides of the political aisle concerned about the integrity of the process. None seemed to go as far as President Donald Trump — to say that mail-in voting is a prescription for fraud. But they voiced concern that so early in the process there was already some cause for confusion.

Salk, for instance, was willing to give the registrar the benefit of the doubt, but hoped this was not a sign of things to come.

“Whatever is going on is a mess,” she said, noting her hope that this was just a one-off instance of “incompetence.”

“Does no one proofread?” she said.

Logan is administering a massive mail-in ballot effort this year, mandated by the state and the county to offer a safe option amid a pandemic that in L.A. County has killed nearly 7,000 people and infected nearly 275,000.

That effort comes on the heels of the March 3 primary, where the county’s $300 million effort to revamp the in-person voting experience ran into issues such as tecnnical glitches and insufficient human resources at vote centers across the county.

Logan says those issues were fixed and learned from, heading into the Nov. 3 election, where people will have the option for safe, in-person voting.

But the nationwide effort to widen mail-in balloting this year has faced the scorn of Trump and many other Republicans, who claimed that the mass mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud.

It’s an allegation that comes with pushback from election experts, who say there’s little evidence for such fraud.

At the very least, though, it was clear that voters Republican and Democrat were sensitive to making sure that their votes were counted.

“It’s your right to do it right,” Rotner said.

By the end of October, several vote centers will be open for in-person voting. But for those who want to vote by mail — but who have concerns about their ballots getting lost or not making it to the registrar in time — can receive updates via Where’s My Ballot, a registrar’s office digital tool.

You can also drop off mail-in ballots in person. Here are your options:

  • Return by mail, no postage required – must be postmarked by Election Day;
  • Drop off at any Vote by Mail Drop Box from Oct. 5 to Nov. 3;
  • Drop off at any Vote Center; and
  • Drop off at registrar headquarters.

Those who vote or drop off their ballots in person must follow all public health guidelines, including wearing a facial covering.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla recently touted voting by mail across California and early voting — and the security of election systems.

“For the first time, every active, registered voter in California will have a vote-by-mail ballot in hand weeks before the election,” he said in a recent statement. “This expansion of vote-by-mail will maintain the resiliency of our democracy during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no safer way for voters to vote than from the comfort and safety of home.

“And with multiple layers of security — ballot watermarks, unique barcodes on each vote-by-mail ballot return envelope, required signature verification, and ballot tracking,” Padilla added, “Californians can vote by mail with confidence.”

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