Suit Filed to Enforce Ballot Security for November Election


"The suit also requests a formal finding that a failure to account for all ballots issued at any polling place constitutes evidence of potential fraud."

Group Seeks Tighter Ballot Security in San Diego

By ALLISON HOFFMAN, Associated Press Writer
(08-08) 14:33 PDT San Diego, CA (AP) --

A voting-rights group has asked a judge to order tougher enforcement of anti-fraud measures in San Diego County for November's presidential elections, saying officials failed to investigate lapses in ballot security during February's primary.

"We goofed!" was the explanation a poll worker offered for why the total number of ballots cast at one precinct did not match the number of signatures in the voter log book, according to documents in the lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court.

Election workers at county headquarters accepted unsealed and unsigned boxes of ballots for processing, according to statements from volunteers who observed the February tally. A troubleshooting log indicated dispatchers told poll workers not to worry about missing seals after the county ran out of the red locking tabs.

"We don't know how the anomalies in the process affected the results," said lawyer Ken Karan, who filed the lawsuit July 31 on behalf of a member of the San Diego-based group Psephos. "But we do have an important election coming up and we want to insure that the results are as accurate as possible."

Karan said his group had presented its concerns in meetings with Deborah Seiler, San Diego's top election official, after the election but said he was not aware of any investigation or review by the registrar's office of potential tampering.

Seiler acknowledged that poll workers erred by failing to reconcile ballot rosters and, in a few instances, returning boxes unsealed or incorrectly sealed. She said discrepancies in ballot reconciliation were addressed in the final canvass before the election was certified.

"It was true in a few instances that there were problems but we didn't have any allegation of wrongdoing," Seiler said. "There's not a failure of the chain of custody here, it's just that not every poll worker gets every single thing right."

Seiler said the primary was a< particularly complicated election for poll workers because the Democratic and Republican parties had different rules about who could participate. It was also the first election since 2003 using paper ballots.

Seiler said problems were resolved in the state and local primary election in June as poll workers got comfortable with the new rules for paper ballots.

A county attorney who has reviewed the claims said Karan should have contested the election before results were certified in March if he believed the results were flawed. He said the certification process includes reconciliation of discrepancies in the records submitted by poll workers on Election Night.

"There's no showing that even if these variations were not subsequently corrected by the registrar that there would have been any difference made to the results of the election," said Tom Barry, a senior deputy county counsel.

Poll workers will be required to transport ballot boxes in teams to secure county collection centers in November to reduce the potential for tampering and in accordance with state elections code, Barry said.

The suit underscores the array of logistical complications that arise in almost every election, from supply shortages to poll worker errors. According to the suit, as many as 60 percent of precinct boards failed to account for discrepancies in the number of ballots handed out and received on the day of the primary.

"Poor control of official ballots permits unauthorized or fraudulent use of those ballots," Karan wrote in the suit. "Where evidence of tampering is present, such as the delivery of unsealed containers for counting, no official can in good faith certify the results without investigating the possibility of fraud."

Karan said he wants a court order requiring Seiler to adhere more closely to state election code by insuring that ballot boxes remain sealed from the time they leave the polling place until they arrive at the main processing center and establishing a formal policy for dealing with boxes that have not been properly sealed.

The suit also requests a formal finding that a failure to account for all ballots issued at any polling place constitutes evidence of potential fraud.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Michael Anello scheduled a hearing Oct. 10.