The Tulare County elections division ran short of paper ballots on Tuesday due to heavy turnout that caused more demand than expected.
The problem caused lines to get longer as elections staff diverted people to touch screens, of which there were too few.
“You just do your best at estimating the ballots you need,” said Registrar of Voters Rita Woodard. “The turnout was far greater than expected.”
Additionally, at some polling places people were voting well past the 8 p.m. closing time. The last vote was cast at a Visalia polling place at 10:40 p.m., a full two hours and 40 minutes after the polls closed.
That was a result of many people showing up at the last minute, Woodard said. They waited their turn to vote, and some took a while going through the long ballot, which had a lot of propositions on it. As a result, voters were kept waiting in line, she said.
Because of the long ballot, “it took longer for people to vote,” she said.
For critics, the delay in reporting returns and running short of paper ballots indicate the election division was not as prepared as it should have been.
“Come on Tulare County Elections. This isn’t acceptable. Get your act together!!!” Visalia resident Janice Avila posted on Facebook.
To the consternation of candidates, there was a lengthy delay in the release of the first election results. Many of the candidates holding post-election gatherings gave up and went home before knowing whether they won or not.
You just do your best at estimating the ballots you need.
Rita Woodard, registrar of voters
Candidate Dennis Smith, running for Tulare County supervisor, said his supporters left before the results were out.
“It’s possible that Rita (Woodard) did not anticipate the voter turnout, not understanding what Trump was doing across the nation,” he said.
As of midafternoon Wednesday, the percentage of voter turnout in Tulare County was unavailable. But it was certainly the largest turnout since the 2008 election, Woodard said.
Hiley Wallis, chief deputy treasurer-tax collector, who helps out during elections, said the number of ballots printed for the November balloting was based on June turnout.
It’s costly to have an excessive number of ballots printed, she said. The cost is 65 cents per ballot.
Woodard said the office overestimates the need, but there was more turnout than expected.
To try to keep up with demand, the county printed some extra ballots at the elections office when the shortage became a problem.
After each election, the staff sits down and figures out what to do better next time, Woodard said.
Next time, “we will order more ballots, even though it costs more,” she said.
California secretary of state spokesman Sam Mahood said he was aware of only one other county that ran out of ballots – Merced County.
In Tulare County, the elections division started running out of ballots midafternoon at a polling place in Lindsay. Elections officials rushed additional ballots from the main office in Visalia, and added another touch screen voting machine.
But because of lines at all precincts, not enough touch screens could be delivered to places that were short of ballots, Woodard said. That created longer lines.
Ballot shortages also emerged at polling places in Tulare and Farmersville, but the total number of precincts that ran short and their locations were not available Wednesday from elections officials.
Woodard said rather than running out of paper ballots completely, elections staff and volunteers were instructed to set aside paper ballots for those voting provisionally. The high demand for provisional ballots complicated the situation, she said.
Any precinct that has fewer than 250 voters is converted to a vote-by-mail precinct, she said. But voters often don’t realize it. “Some of them think their vote-by-mail ballot is a sample ballot. They throw it away,” she said.
Then they arrive at their old polling place and want to vote. They are issued a paper ballot that is put in an envelope to be checked later to make sure they are valid voters.
“That takes a ballot,” she said.
Seventy-six percent of registered voters in the county get vote-by-mail ballots. She said she wants to better educate vote-by-mail voters to use the ballot they get in the mail.
People who show up at the wrong polling place also vote provisionally. This election, officials had problems with people showing up to vote but not being listed.
“There were glitches up and down with people being registered and not being on the state file,” Woodard said.
Turnout by county
Fresno County: 65 percent. About 111,000 votes by mail and provisional ballots haven’t been processed.
Madera County: 60.8 percent. Still to be totaled are the votes by mail or provisional ballots that haven’t yet been counted.
Tulare County: 40 percent as of Tuesday evening. Thousands of provisional and vote-by-mail ballots have yet to be counted.
Kings County: 60 percent. Several thousand ballots have yet to be processed.