MENDOCINO Co., 02/09/24 — Thanks to a vendor, Mendocino County Elections sent error-ridden primary ballots to every single county resident, a mistake unlike anything County Clerk Recorder-Assessor Katrina Bartolomie has experienced in her 19 years of county service.
Everyone in the county got a Republican ballot for the 1st Supervisorial District in the mail, no matter if they registered Democrat or Independent and actually live in the 3rd district or another district. Even Republicans in the 1st district didn’t get off scot-free — their ballots also have errors. People who have already voted using the wrong ballot can fix the problem by contacting the county elections office immediately. Call 707-234-6819 or email [email protected].
“I just received my official ballot from the County Clerk-Recorder-Registrar of Voters and immediately noticed a space for me to vote for the Supervisor, 1st District. The problem is I live in the 3rd district!” Frank Sanderson of Willits wrote by email. He was one of several people who wrote to alert the Mendocino Voice about the problem.
“A quick call to Ukiah and I was advised that there was a mistake and that I would be receiving another ballot. What’s up with the County Government? Out of money and problem after problem?!?,” Sanderson wrote.
The ballot mess has created rumors that insidious forces may be behind the mistake. Among the people discussing the debacle on the MCN Announce Listserv, four people worried that the huge error may be more than it seems. An investigation of the process by the Mendocino Voice shows no evidence of anything but an error by a Central California vendor hired to produce the ballots; that job has become increasingly automated, with fewer eyeballs catching mistakes.
Bartolomie, the person in charge of the county’s elections, said in an interview that the mistake was made by the county’s election ballot mailing vendor, IVS (integrated Voting Systems), of Dinuba CA, near Fresno. In a telephone interview, IVS CEO Eric Kozlowski said the error happened when a third party vendor used by IVS conducted a print test of colors, using the Republican ballot for 1st district voters as a sample. But the test image ended up being the one that was printed and mailed to all county voters. Kozlowski declined to give the name of the third party vendor who made the mistake.
Kozlowski said he was taking responsibility. He said there would be no extra cost to the county to fix the errors. The ballots are in the process of being reprinted and remailed next week at the expense of IVS, he said. The company services voting agencies around the nation.
Deputy Secretary of State for Communications Joe Kocurek says nothing like this has ever happened before in California, at least so far as he could find. The Secretary of State’s office is currently investigating the Mendocino mistake. “Our subject matter expert says in her seven years, this has never happened… We are still investigating whether any law has been violated,” Kucurek said.
Besides Mendocino County, IVS provides election services in Fresno, Lassen, and Tuolumne counties, but no problems were reported in those areas. Each interviewee mentioned that the issue comes with greater urgency than it might have had in the past. Kozlowski is familiar with widespread suspicion of any mix-up surrounding ballots and voting. Fox News agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $785 million for defamation after the network was shown to have been making false claims about the voting machine company although Fox knew those claims were untrue. Kozlowksi said until recently the business was simply a matter of getting up in the morning and doing the job of providing election services.
“Now people talk about red or blue,” he said. “My only color is green. This is how I get paid. We do the job and do it right and we don’t ever get into politics. But any time there are human beings involved, there is the possibility of a human error.”
The process is much cheaper and involves more automation and fewer humans than it used to. IVS claims to have launched numerous innovations that have changed the world of voting into a more advanced, much more automated process.
Bartolomie confirmed that IVS is a different vendor than Data Center LLC, the vendor that made mistakes on the county’s tax bills in October 2023. There appears to be no connection between the two mistakes other than both are highly automated processes, and there was a lack of a final round of careful vetting between the printing of materials and mailing those materials. All of this is now done by the vendor, which affords staffing and mailing savings for the county.
The Mendocino Voice had a story about the fall’s tax bill vendor mailing error that embarrassed the county.
Bartolomie said four people working in teams of two check the ballots before they are sent to the vendor. In the county offices, each of the different ballots was printed and proofed as well as proofed on the screen. There are three supervisorial districts holding elections, each with different alternatives for Republicans and Democrats, the two parties holding primaries.
“We print out each party and each supervisorial district ballot,” she said. “We proof each different ballot against our certified candidate list — we proof it and then have the second team proof the same for approval. If an error is found, it’s corrected and goes through full proofing again. This error did not come from us — the file we sent was correct.”
After the county is done with proofing, the file is sent electronically to IVS through an FTP site, Bartolomie said. “The company has them printed and then it ships them. IVS drop ships them – this time they took them to San Francisco.”
Will more spot checking be mandated?
“That’s up to the vendor — this is the first time anything like this is happening. I would imagine IVS will do something to make sure it doesn’t happen through them. We’ve used IVS for quite awhile and never had a problem.”
Myra Beals, who responded to this reporter’s query on the MCN ListServ, said a better proofing process should have been used.
“I can’t believe the county didn’t demand a proof of the ballots and double-check the mailing lists before allowing them to be sent out,” Beals said.
There are two primary companies that make voting materials software, Dominion and Hart Voting Systems. Mendocino County uses Hart.
Kozlowski said the company will take all needed measures to make sure nothing like this happens again. He said the county upgraded its software as part of a process with Hart. A test file had to be created to ensure that colors were correct. For example, Democratic ballots are green this time, he said.
IVS has had other problems and mistakes, as this article details.
Mendocino County used IVS for more than a decade and then switched to Runbeck Election Voting Services, which provided a wider range of services.
“For three elections we went with Runbeck,” Bartolomie said. “They purchased our Election Management System. I thought it would be good to have a one-stop shop. The first election was wonderful — we had an experienced rep. But the second and third elections were difficult. They had a new rep who we could not communicate with — so I got a few bids and went back to IVS. We felt at home again. IVS handled our November 2023 election with the City of Fort Bragg and did their normal wonderful job.”
Several people interviewed said they got polite and prompt responses when they contacted the county about receiving the wrong ballot.
Beals said she got the following email back from Amanda Wolter, who is Assistant Clerk-Recorder and Assistant Registrar of Voters.
“Good afternoon Myra, We discovered this error late yesterday thanks to voters like you who let us know there was an issue and have been working with the vendor to correct this. The vendor sent out the wrong ballots, they will be re-sending (at their cost) new ballots to everyone in the County.
“We apologize for this inconvenience and this error. New ballots should be arriving next week.
“I will be issuing a press release. Please let me know if you have any other questions.”
Jamie Roberts had a similar experience. By email, he reported: “I did receive a bad ballot in the mail. (GOP ballot for a Dem voter). I called the `call with questions number’ on the ballot and got a real live person who said it was a vendor error, apologized and said a press release is coming out soon… She said that we should destroy these improper ballots which I did (good kindling).”
Bartolomie said if any voter who has already voted should contact the county elections department.
“Our office will also reach out to voters who returned one of the ballots mailed on February 5, 2024, to make sure the voter is provided the correct ballot,” the county press release said.
Military and overseas ballots were not affected by this error. Military and overseas voters received correct ballots, the press release states.
This statement on the front of the IVS home page says IVS has successfully managed the delivery of over 38 million election ballots .
The homepage: https://www.integravote.com/
The press release from the county issued February 8, 2024:
A “FAQ” issued by the county registrar on the evening February 9. 2024: