BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Measure W, the half-cent SamTrans sales tax that had been failing since Election Day, is now ahead after votes that were dramatically different from the earlier ones were counted.
An opponent to Measure W called the situation “odd.”
On Friday, the measure — which needs two-thirds or 66.7% to pass — was behind with 66.55% of the vote. Then, over the weekend, additional ballots were counted and yesterday (Nov. 26) the tax jumped ahead with 66.85% of the vote.
Over the weekend, county employees at the Elections Department counted 15,631 ballots. It turns out that 71.65% of those ballots were in favor of the tax.
By contrast, prior to this weekend, 66.55% of the ballots were in favor of Measure W.
That dramatic change caused opponents of the tax — county Republicans and members of the local Sierra Club — to ask why those additional ballots counted over the weekend were so wildly out of synch with the previous ballots that had been counted.
They may be going to court or asking for a recount.
Gladwyn D’Souza, conservation chair at the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club, noted the percentage spiked after the elections office counted the damaged ballots.
Damaged ballots re-created
Elections Services Supervisor Michael Lui said yesterday that about 100 damaged ballots were ultimately counted.
Damaged ballots might have a stray mark on them, or the paper may have been ripped.
When that happens, county employees transcribe the votes on the damaged ballot to a clean ballot, which is then fed into a scanner for tallying.
Lui said all of the employees who transfer the ballots are thoroughly screened and receive FBI checks.
He said two people copy the ballot from the ruined paper to the new one, in order to make sure there are no errors, or even the perception of corruption. The only time just one person is handles a ballots is when it is fed into the scanner.
Confrontation at county office
Yesterday, D’Souza along with county Republicans Tom Weissmiller, John McDowell and Greg Conlon went to the Election Department on Tower Road in San Mateo to question Lui about the shift in results.
Lui said that the ballots counted Sunday included those transcribed from damaged ballots as well as provisional ballots (where there had been a question about a voter’s eligibility) and some of the last vote-by-mail ballots.
Lui also said that the employees who count the ballots typically aren’t concerned with a race’s outcome.
“The ballot is one in 100,000 (being counted). And we are trying to count as efficiently as possible, that’s what we care about,” Lui said.
Conlon found the sudden shift in favor of Measure W to be “odd.”
He’s run for office several times and had never seen numbers change like that in the final days of vote-counting. Conlon said he and some others may be returning to the elections office today to observe the final ballots being counted.
$8 million recount possible
It’s possible that the recount, which would be countywide, could cost $8 million, said D’Souza.
Conlon said it’s likely the county’s Republican Party will attempt to raise money to cover the cost of the recount.
“The San Mateo County Republican Party worked to defeat W, with emails and door hangers,” Conlon said. “The only thing we can do is do a recount.”
According to Lui, the group can request a recount between Dec. 6 and Dec. 11. Recounts must be requested in writing and are to be submitted af ter the county finishes the certification of the election results.
Measure W would generate $80 million a year. Half would go to SamTrans, which runs buses and paratransit services. The rest would go to various local transit projects.
Measure W would raise the sales tax to 9.25% in most San Mateo County cities. In Belmont, East Palo Alto and San Mateo, it would go to 9.5%. In Red- wood City, sales tax will go to 9.75% because the city passed its own sales tax increase in the Nov. 6 election.