Local Election

Fresno County voting going smoothly – except for vote-by-mail surprises

Cars line up to drop off their voted ballots at a drive-thru site outside the Fresno County Elections Office in downtown Fresno on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
Cars line up to drop off their voted ballots at a drive-thru site outside the Fresno County Elections Office in downtown Fresno on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Elections in Fresno County were flowing smoothly through Tuesday evening – with a couple of notable vote-by-mail mixups.

County elections chief Brandi Orth described turnout as “robust.”

“We are always happy to see that voters are letting their voices be heard and exercising their right to vote,” Orth said.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing for Lauren Stephens, who lives in an unincorporated area of Fresno County south of Clovis. She tried to double check her polling place on her sample ballot Monday night, only to learn that her precinct had switched to vote by mail only.

Stephens says she never received a vote-by-mail ballot. The complication appears to stem from an incorrect address, with Stephens saying she learned she’d been dropped from the voter rolls because of returned mail.

Orth explained that some precincts are switched to vote by mail when there’s not many people in them.

“When a geographic area has less than 250 voters, the law provides that they are to vote by mail,” she said.

Orth said voters are notified of such changes when the ballot is mailed to them and on their sample ballot.

Stephens ended up voting provisionally at her former polling place. The precinct didn’t have the appropriate ballot, leaving her puzzled at Clovis Unified School District races when she lives in the Sanger school district. Stephens’ vote will count in the elections she’s eligible to vote in, Orth said.

Orth said she hasn’t heard of anyone else in that precinct facing these difficulties. Anyone in Fresno County in a similar situation should come to the Elections Office at 2221 Kern St. in downtown Fresno, where they have the appropriate ballot, Orth said. Other county elections offices are similarly set up to handle voting issues.

“The best thing is to come to our office and we can handle any kind of situation here directly,” Orth said.

Permanent vote-by-mail

Another voter who hit a speed bump when trying to vote was Jeffrey Pietz of north Fresno. When he went to his regular polling place at the Fairwinds assisted living center, he was surprised to learn he was registered as a permanent vote-by-mail voter. The same thing happened during the primary.

“I have never signed up as a permanent absentee voter,” he said. “The thing that bothers me about all this is I don’t know if they’re doing something wrong or not, and the truth is I’ll probably never be able to find out.”

Orth hadn’t yet looked into the details of Pietz’ situation.

“Without seeing all the facts, I can take a guess,” she said. “Sometimes people forget that they have requested a vote-by-mail ballot.”

They may have accidentally checked a box they didn’t intend to when re-registering to vote via the Secretary of State’s office, she said.

People in this situation can either vote provisionally (which Pietz did), or turn in their mail ballot and get a regular ballot to ensure they’re not voting twice.

Keeping the pink postcard that comes with the provisional ballot will allow the elections office to check 40 days after the election to see if your vote counted.

Other notes from Election Day

▪ The machine was “out for repair” early Tuesday at the polling place at Second Church of Christ Scientist at Shaw and College avenues just east of Fig Garden Village. Voters had to manually feed their ballot into the box.

▪ The California Secretary of State’s office is operating a toll-free voter hotline. Voters can call to ask election-related questions, to file complaints, or to confidentially report potential election fraud or voter intimidation. Call 800-345-8683 (VOTE) or 800-232-8682 (VOTA, for Spanish language).

Bee staff contributed to this report. Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough