Unsigned ballots rejected Ross Valley flood fee
Marin Independent Journal
Article Launched:07/24/2007 12:02:19 AM PDT
An unofficial count of ballots that were unsigned and thus disqualified
in the Ross Valley flood control fee election indicates the measure
would have failed by 147 votes if the ballots were counted.
San Anselmo lawyer Ford Greene - who on Monday paid for an official
recount but used the opportunity to tally the disqualified votes - said
he is considering taking the county to court over the issue.
Greene said more than 1,600 Ross Valley residents who participated in
the mail-in election had their votes tossed out because they failed to
sign their ballots in the unusual election.
Greene blamed the design of the ballots, which included voting
instructions on one side and a requirement to sign the ballot on the
"Why didn't the consultant who designed this put a message in bold
saying your vote won't count if you don't sign the ballot?" Greene
asked. "To me, the county's failure to do that is evidence of a
deliberate scheme to disenfranchise hundreds of voters as part of an
end-run around Proposition 13, which requires a two-thirds vote to pass
a property tax law.
"This dead rat stinks," Greene said.
Supervisor Hal Brown, a key booster of the annual fee, said neither the
results of Greene's unofficial count nor a prospective legal challenge
would change the county's official position.
"Anyone can file a legal action about anything," Brown said. "We are
still going to validate what all of those people who voted correctly
said with their ballots. Unless the courts do something unexpected,
that means going forward, collecting the property tax, and going
through studies of specific hydrological models that can best prevent"
Greene paid $545 to hold Monday's official recount of the mail-in
election. But Greene was not interested in double-checking that result,
in which property owners agreed to annual fees for flood control by
just 65 votes in a tally of 3,208 to 3,143 - after 21 percent of
overall ballots were disqualified.
Instead, Greene said he wanted to examine the disqualified ballots,
which had been kept secret by county officials.
"As part of the recount process, an individual can request to examine
any materials that are relevant to the election," said Marin Registrar
of Voters Elaine Ginnold. Thus, Greene could look at the disqualified
ballots. "We covered up the name and parcel number on each ballot that
was clearly marked yes or no, and read him the result."
The county Department of Public Works sent ballots to 15,010 property
owners in Fairfax, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Larkspur, Ross and San
Anselmo. Election workers discounted about 1,700, or 21 percent, of the
8,059 ballots returned - most because they were not signed.
Of the 1,678 disqualified ballots Greene counted, 730 were marked in
favor of the flood measure, while 942 were against. Had those ballots
been part of the official tally, the measure would have failed by 147
"That's still tight," Greene said. "But the act would have lost."
Greene said he will consult with members of the Marin Taxpayers
Association on filing a lawsuit that would focus on the mail-in ballots
for the election being confusing and unfair to voters.
"It would be a narrow-focused lawsuit, looking at the ballot
designÉ as a way in which voters were disenfranchised,"
Greene said. "This was a subversion of democracy here in Marin,
Florida-style politics raising its rat's head. I've lived here all my
life, and over my dead body are they going to do this.
"Not in my county."
Critics of the Ross Valley election have charged county supervisors
used Proposition 218 - which allows local governments to pass user fees
through a simple majority vote - to avoid the legal requirements for
imposing property taxes under Proposition 13.
Despite the controversy, Brown said he would not do anything
differently if given the chance.
"We followed the rules," the supervisor said. "We had tremendous
publicity on this. Everyone knew the ballot was coming. And I would do
the same again if it saved the county and cities $100 million in
damage," Brown said. "That's how important this is," he said.
Greene's $545 paid for about three hours' work by four county
employees, two of whom monitored his inspection of the discounted
ballots while the other two conducted the official recount. Those
workers ended the official recount, at Greene's request, as soon as he
completed his survey of the discounted ballots.
"Had the recount continued, it would have cost twice as much and lasted
all day," Ginnold said.
The half-completed recount found only one mistake from the initial
count, the registrar reported.
"We found one ballot in all the batches we checked that had not been
signed, so we pulled that one out," Ginnold said.
Contact Rob Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org