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Santa Clara Co. fixing ballot smudge issue

November 2, 2010 8:35:48 PM PDT
In Santa Clara County, elections workers are busy fixing a snafu on mail-in ballots that have come in and are still coming in.

Workers were seen in back offices using rubber erasers to clean off smudge marks found mostly on the mail-in ballots. Smudges that are throwing off the ballot-reading machines.

Meanwhile, voters continue to drop off their vote-by-mail ballots. Each of which will be inspected.

What do a box of erasers and a stack of ballots have in common on Election Day? Well, in Santa Clara County, clusters of election workers are busy using the little chunks of rubber to swiftly scrub clean any ballots that have these barely-noticeable, printer-toner smudges -- little marks causing big problems.

"Last week, we realized that the machine that counts the ballots was outstacking, was setting aside a larger number than usual ballots that had extraneous marks,or were marked as write-ins but they didn't actually have a write-in ballot," said Matt Moreles of S.C. Co. Registrar's Office.

The registrar of voters office says that the county's 14 optical scanners were rejecting a high volume of the first 100,000 mail ballots being processed. Workers discovered the machines were getting thrown off by the toner smudges. Most of the affected ballots were vote-by-mail ones, on the creases where they're folded to fit in the envelope.

"It's definitely an unusual situation, but the important thing is we're taking every step possible to make sure that every vote gets counted," said Moreles.

The solution: physically inspect every ballot -- the mail ballots and those going to polling precincts. If smudged, erase away.

"That is a little strange," said voter Donna Mencimer.

Most voters dropping off their ballots Tuesday morning had no idea the county had been working overtime for a week now erasing smudges.

"I think there's errors in any type of counting, in voting and ballots and things like that. I don't know, I guess we just hope that it's looked at and it's counted truthfully," said voter Jessica Welker.

As for those first 100,000 ballots that had to be cancelled -- they were all cleaned and re-counted. No actual votes will be erased, since they're marked with pen ink.

The ballot printing company, ProVoteSolutions, says Santa Clara County is its only client that has reported smudged ballots. It says it intends on reimbursing the county for all the costs of inspecting and cleaning the ballots. The registrar's office says it has taken into account all the extra time needed for erasing and doesn't expect any delays in delivering election results.


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