Threat to privacy of votes seen
It perhaps was fitting that a long and bitterly fought District 3 campaign did not come to an end Wednesday without some fireworks.
The controversy can be traced back to Nov. 14, the day before Nevada County Clerk-recorder Lorraine Jewett-Burdick made the final call on whether 81 provisional ballots cast in the district met the legal requirements to be counted.
Jewett-Burdick met with representatives from the Bruce Conklin and Drew Bedwell campaigns and worked out a procedure allowing them to view the process and make challenges allowed by law, while preserving ballot secrecy and the names of voters.
Wednesday morning, an angry Jewett-Burdick interrupted the count to remind observers that all parties agreed not to look at the names or write down addresses. Her comments were triggered when Nevada City Planning Commission Chair Laurie Oberholtzer, who was observing the recount on Conklin’s behalf, asked to see all the county’s provisional ballot envelopes that were disqualified by the clerk-recorder.
“Even though I covered up the names on the envelopes, I was frustrated in my efforts to protect voter privacy,” Jewett-Burdick said. She said Conklin’s campaign “purchased a county-wide voter file Monday, which contains the addresses and names of all registered voters in Nevada County.”
Even though it was her intent to provide some secrecy for the voters, Jewett-Burdick said, “we all know if you have an address, you can get the voter’s name, and there’s nothing I can do about it because you’re within your legal right.”
California Election Code Section 15629 states: “All ballots, whether voted or not, and any other relevant material, may be examined as part of any recount if the voter (or campaign) filing the declaration requesting the recount so requests.”
Regardless of the legalities, Jewett-Burdick said, she was disappointed that the Conklin campaign reneged on the agreement made weeks ago. “I think the voters would be very disappointed about the conduct of the campaign if they knew,” she said.
Joan Lancaster, voter service chair for the Western Nevada County League of Women voters, commented about the incident: “I’m surprised someone would try to identify a voter. How you voted should be your own private concern. We all need our privacy, unless we tell someone how we voted.”
Ben Davidian, an attorney observing the recount on Bedwell’s behalf, called Oberholtzer’s request a stall tactic and a waste of time, prompted by a “temper tantrum” as it became clear the vote would not change.
In response to the clerk-recorder’s scolding and Davidian’s criticism, Oberholtzer commented, “We’re here to make sure that every vote is counted, it’s just as simple as that. . . and none of this is a waste of time.”
Asked why she planned to do with the addresses, Oberholtzer replied: “To be honest, I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with them. We just wanted to know why those votes were disqualified. There was no grand scheme.”
She claimed the votes of about 25 registered District 3 voters were disqualified for minor reasons, “and it was important for us to understand why. We owe it to the voters of District 3 to ensure that every vote was counted.”
Reasons for rejecting ballots include the voter not being registered in the county, failure to show proof of identification or residency, or when a voter marks their choice for more races than they are entitled to.
When asked if she was satisfied with the recount and the election’s final results, Oberholtzer said she has never been satisfied when any voter is disqualified. “But I understand the reasons, and we’ll leave it at that,” she said.
Davidian, who served as chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission from 1991 to 1995, praised the job done by Jewett-Burdick and her staff. “But clearly the Conklin campaign didn’t like the results they were getting, so they threw a tantrum,” Davidian said.
He said he doesn’t expect that a lawsuit will be filed by the Conklin camp to block the election outcome, “but if they do, we’ll be ready.”
Davidian said the recount process went as smoothly as any he has ever seen, and that he has seen plenty of them.
“Both sides were given every opportunity to voice their concerns and make their legal arguments,” Davidian said. “No one can walk away from this recount and say they didn’t get a full hearing and a fair shot.”
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