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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

June, 2006

 

All Is Not Well With Marin Elections:
Don't Even Think About Re-counting Paper Ballots In Marin
By Carol Sterritt

The goal of the article is to discuss election policies or lack of them here in Marin. In short order, we will examine malfeasance on the part of paid election workers, with the County's response as being one of indifference.
First off, let's re-examine the situation that took place between Jessica Sabbag and Charlotte Mastrangelo on Nov. 2nd, 2004. On that day, Sabbag was working near a Marin City polling site, The Marin City Library, with the Grassroots Leadership Network. This group of activists had printed up voter guides to help people make decisions about various oppositions. The entire group had studied thoroughly all the particulars of State of California election day law. They knew that they were within their rights to set up their booth at 100 feet of the polling place. There they planned to hand out their materials. And they could encourage those voters who took the guides to mark them up and then use them when they were in the voting station.

Her group was approached by "Charlotte," a woman in perhaps her late 60's who told them that they needed to be 300 feet away (essentially, in order to avoid traffic, around the block and out of view of that polling place.) She also told them that no one could bring the guides with them into the polling station. She also stated that they could hand out the guides, but only to people who had already voted!! She claimed to be in charge of 27 polling places. The group used their cell phone to call the local attorney, Larry Organ. (This man was offering his legal services free to activists needing him on election day.)

When "Charlotte" saw him getting out of his car, she immediately addressed Sabbag with words to the effect, "I'm gonna' be nice and make an exception and let you do anything you asked to do earlier." But without Attorney Organ's presence, it is not clear what would have happened.

On Dec. 4th, 2004, together with Mark Frost, I filed a Freedom of Information Act with the County Registrar of Voters. (At that time, Michael J Smith.) Our request asked for the names of "all poll workers, troubleshooters, 'rovers' and any on-site personnel" employed by the County Registrar of Voters for the 24 hour time period of Tuesday, Nov. 2nd, 2004. Low and behold, the name of Charlotte Mastrangelo did turn up on that list of County-paid personnel. Several Sausalito citizens had already suggested that it was Ms. Mastrangelo, based on the physical description of the woman given by Sabbag.

She was possibly in violation of the law. Although there is the chance that she was simply "ignorant" of the actual standards of space and footage required between an activist group's booth and a polling site, her quick change of mind when she saw the election lawyer show up indicates that she was uncomfortable with having to explain her actions to a legal representative.

If she did violate the law, then she is guilty of a felony. For that, see Section 245, Chapter 18 of the US Code which stipulates that anyone who injures, intimidates or interferes with any other citizen(s) in their undertaking their right to vote, shall be fined under this section of law, or imprisoned for A YEAR, or BOTH. (This section also reserves the same privileges for those intimidating those "participating lawfully in speech or peaceful assembly.") Yet this reporter found that there was no way to prosecute her as one would need to file a federal complaint through the FBI, and no one at the FBI would take that complaint. Now the statute of limitations has passed, and Mastrangelo is free to continue acting as she did before. Additionally according to County election personnel, she remains on the County payroll of the Registrar of Voters, and will be out in force once again on June 6th, 2006.

For years in Sausalito, an election day official named Fritz Warren has held the post of Chief Polling Inspector for his district. During the Paula Kamena recall election effort, Warren paced about the polling place, announcing to one and all that the recall measure was a farce and a "waste of taxpayers money," and that no one having an ounce of sense would vote for Kamena's recall. To make any statements regarding a position or person on the ballot while in the polling place is in flagrant disregard of the election laws. Yet neither the officials at the County of Marin, nor local election personnel (Sausalito) were anything but indifferent. One such official told this reporter that since election day activities were always hard to staff, that they simply could not afford to remove Mr. Warren. As far as I know he continues to work as Chief Polling Inspector for the election polling site in Sausalito.

The other issue that Marin County voters need to concern themselves with is the issue of ballot accountability. Again and again I have had citizens explain that they know our votes are safe here because they are on paper ballots. However most Marinites are unaware that once the filled out paper ballot is submitted by the voter into the voting machine as the last step of the voting process, it is unlikely that that ballot will ever again see the light of day. The paper ballots are indeed stored for a number of years after each election. But attempting to use those ballots to verify that the results of any given election are true and correct has been an impossibility due to cost.

During the last six years, there have been a handful of attempts to hold a recount for specific elections. In several of those attempts, the price of the recount was so exorbitant that those seeking the recount were unable or unwilling to pay the needed funding.

Unhappy with his election results after his run for Town Council in Fairfax during November 2005, frank Egger sought a recount. Because of the narrowness of his defeat, he believed that there would be little difficulty in having a recount, until he actually spoke with Michael J Smith, Marin County Registrar of Voters, and Madelyn DeJusto, Assistant Registrar. The pair quoted a $ 13,000 figure in upfront costs that would allow the County to sort out the ballots according to precinct, plus an additional amount, two to three thousand dollars for the actual vote recounting. The County offered to let Egger have a total of four days to raise this amount. Egger was not able to do this. This amount was more than he spent on his entire campaign.

In November of 2004, Jonathan Frieman campaigned for an opening on the Marin General Hospital District Board. Out of 101,000 (approximately) ballots cast, he was defeated by a mere 600 some votes. He requested a recount only to learn that the cost of that recount would require $ 161,000 or roughly $ 1.60 for each vote to be recounted. Tens of thousands of dollars were demanded "upfront" before the vote recount would begin. Frieman decided that the amount of money was excessive and he nixed the idea of having a recount.

Or take the experience of Linda Bagneschi Dorrance of Novato. After serving as an unpaid volunteer who was trained to do election monitoring, she wanted to demonstrate the accuracy of the ballot count in Corte Madera's Precinct 4009. She requested a recount of the ballots cast with an eye to verifying the outcome of Proposition 79. The cost to her to have a recount of the on-site polling ballots, a total of 266 ballots, would have been $ 3,502. The cost to her for a recount of the same area and same election but including the absentee ballots, a total of 583 ballots, would have been $ 5,803.06. This extreme expense to an unpaid volunteer was naturally so daunting that she gave up on this aspect of her quest.

Currently one group working to change the policies surrounding election activities is known as Marin County Advocates. Headed by Linda Dorrance, the group is seeking reasonable recount fees, a decent interval of time to raise the money needed, a return to an elected Registrar of Voter. The group believes that electing our Registrar would result in greater accountability. Also a conference organized by several local election integrity advocates to educate the Board of Supervisors about local voting issues and the possible solutions has been suggested. In fact, as of today's date, May 23rd, 2006, the local election activists were meeting with the Board of Supervisors at the Civic Center.

For further information on Marin County Advocates for Election Integrity, contact Linda Dorrance. her email is [email protected]

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