Opinion: Does every vote count? Local election officials didn’t count 10,000 ballots in March primary


Daily Post Editor

Politicians like to say that every vote counts. But when it comes to mail-in voting, not so much.

In the March primary, California election officials rejected 100,000 mail-in ballots. That’s according to California Secretary of State data obtained by The Associated Press.
In Santa Clara County, officials rejected 6,000 mail-in ballots and in San Mateo County 4,220 in Santa Clara County were rejected.

Of California’s 58 counties, San Mateo had the fifth highest rejection rate at 2.12%.
If you live in San Mateo County, it’s more likely that your ballot will be thrown out than it is that you’ll die from COVID-19.

The highest rejection rate in California was 5% in San Francisco, where 9,407 ballots were set aside.

Why did they throw out this many ballots?

About 70% of the time, the ballot didn’t arrive in time at the county election office. To count, the ballot must be postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive within three days afterward. The three-day period has just been extended to 17 days thanks to a law by Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park.

Other reasons include a voter forgetting to sign the ballot.

If you want to make sure your ballot counts, vote at a polling center where workers can assist people who have questions.

Counting every vote should be a priority for local election officials because there’s always a chance that a race will be decided by just a few votes.

Close elections

The mid-Peninsula has had some interesting examples of close elections.

• In the November 2016 election, Lynette Lee Eng defeated Neysa Fligor by just five votes for a seat on the Los Altos City Council. But it took 58 days — until Jan. 5, 2017 — to determine the winner in that race due to a recount and an audit of the vote.

• In November 1998, Nicholas Jellins eked out a four-vote victory over Bernie Valencia for a seat on the Menlo Park City Council. Originally, it appeared Jellins had won by just one vote, but the county elections department did a recount and found the difference was four votes.

• The closest local election I could find was in 1981 when a Belmont school board race ended in a tie, according to archived newspaper accounts. When the ballots were counted, it appeared incumbent Ascension Gutierrez had defeated challenger Stan Langland by just one vote, 1,458 to 1,457.

But then a would-be voter named Laurence Becker stepped forward and said he had wanted to vote in the election, but was turned away at the polls. Poll workers said Becker arrived at the polls a few minutes after the 8 p.m. closing time, but Becker denied it.

The matter went to court and a judge decided Becker could cast a ballot. Becker voted for Langland, the candidate who lost by one vote.

That made it a tie.

Under state law, the school board had a choice of either holding a run-off election between the two or drawing lots. They decided to draw lots. Gutierrez, the incumbent who was ahead by one vote before Becker voted, won the election.

Gutierrez, who had been on the school board since 1969, served the four-year term and then retired in 1985.

Even with the problems created by mail-in voting, election officials need to ensure that every vote is counted.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].


  1. This is disheartening that so many people went to the effort of voting and their ballots were postmarked late. We’ll never know if they got them to the post office on time, and the post office was slow in postmarking them, or if they were mailed late. I know that when it comes to mailing tax payments, you can’ trust the post office to postmark them the day you put the envelope in the box. You’ve got to put them in the mail a day or two. Frankly, with my property tax payments, I just go down to the county office building on W. Hedding and drop my envelope off there. I was burned once by the post office but won’t be again.

  2. The safest thing to do if you want your ballot counted is to go to the polling station and have them put it in the box for you. You never know what will happen if you put it in the mail.

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