Damaged vote-by-mail ballots cause delay in election results

Scanning issues with barcodes on vote-by-mail ballots are causing delays in tabulating votes, San Joaquin County officials say.

Slightly smeared barcodes on vote-by-mail ballots are causing major delays in tabulating votes, San Joaquin County officials say.

Results from only about 22,000 San Joaquin County ballots have been reported since polls closed Tuesday evening, with a small update being provided on Thursday evening. The county has more than 385,000 registered voters, of which approximately 134,000, or 35 percent, cast ballots.

Approximately 77,000 mail-in ballots were received by the weekend, with another 42,000 vote-by-mail ballots coming in Monday and Tuesday, said assistant registrar Olivia Hale, who is running the tally due to the untimely passing of Registrar Heather Ditty. Most of those 129,000 mail-in ballots were supposed to be scanned and tabulated by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Hale said.

Nancy St. Clair checks results at a local Democratic Party gathering in Stockton. She is competing i the race to become the new San Joaquin County Supervisor in the 4th District. )SCOTT LINESBURGH/STOCKTONIA)

Yet, only about 15,000 of the mail-in ballots, plus about 5,000 from countywide precincts, were able to be counted. Hale said Wednesday evening the registrar’s office received a large batch of damaged and defective vote-by-mail ballots.

That’s because scanning machines found hundreds of slightly smeared barcodes. Officials must now count the marred ballots by hand instead of running them quickly through the machines.

“(​​Registrar of Voters) staff have identified each of the ballots with scanning issues, just like they would a damaged ballot, and have taken actions approved by the California Elections Code to duplicate the defective ballots using a two-person integrity process while under camera surveillance to ensure the votes are cast,” county officials said. “This process takes time and will result in a longer tabulation time.”

Hale said only three counties in the United States found similar problems with their ballots, including Clackamas, Oregon, and one on the East Coast. And, of course, San Joaquin County. She said anyone interested in watching the process of counting ballots, including candidates, may come to the registrar’s office and request to do so beginning Thursday.

“Normally, we wouldn’t let candidates watch, but this is an extraordinary issue,” Hale said.

Dino Ballin speaks with supporters at his campaign gathering at Midgley’s Public House in Stockton. Ballin is running for San Joaquin County Supervisor in the 2nd District. (SCOTT LINESBURGH/STOCKTONIA)

Hale described the influx of vote-by-mail ballots received on election day as “a significant anomaly,” and speculated that a large number of voters preferred to hold onto their ballots to drop them off at a polling station rather than mailing them in to ensure they arrived on time. 

Meanwhile, polling stations were almost empty. Only 0.5% — about 7,000 — of the county’s registered voters reportedly opted to vote directly at a polling place.

“Assuming that 25% – 30% of those (77,000 mail-in) ballots will be rejected due to the scanning issue, it will most likely slow down the tabulating process,” county officials said.

“The reason the County is not doing more frequent postings is because each posting requires an extensive balancing process with the state, which slows the tabulating of ballots even further,” county officials said. “It is called an unprocessed ballot report due each time we update.”

Ballots postmarked by June 7 will also continue to be tabulated until the cut off deadline next Tuesday. Officials have 30 days to certify the election.

Here’s a look at race vote totals as of Thursday evening.

9th Congressional District

JOSH HARDER 7,356  37.76%

TOM PATTI 5,357   27.50%

JIM SHOEMAKER 2,883  14.80%

HARPREET SINGH CHIMA 1,335   6.85%

JONATHAN MADISON 1,130  5.80%

KHALID JEFFREY JAFRIKHALID 667   3.42%

KARENA APPLE FENG 569   2.92%

MARK T. ANDREWS 182   0.93%

9th State Assembly District 

HEATH FLORA 7,298 100.00%

13th State Assembly District

CARLOS VILLAPUDUA 5,066  56.99%

VERONICA VARGAS 2,490  28.01%

MATEO BEDOLLA 1,313  14.77%

JESSICA WAGNER 21   0.25%

County Superintendent of Schools

TROY A. BROWN 11,624    64.88%

BRIAN MICHAEL BIEDERMANN 6,291     35.12%

County Supervisor District 2

PAUL CANEPA 1,483   43.00%

ELBERT HOLMAN JR. 936   27.14%

DINO BALLIN 536   15.54%

BILL SMITHBILL SMITH 494   14.32%

County Supervisor District 4

STEVE COLANGELO 957 20.60%

STEVEN J DING 933 20.09%

DOUG KUEHNE 859 18.49%

NANCY G. ST. CLAIR 786 16.92%

STEVE MOORE 558 12.01%

PAUL BRENNAN 552 11.99%

District Attorney

RON FREITAS 10,187   54.42%

TORI VERBER SALAZAR 8,528   45.57%

Sheriff

PATRICK WITHROW 16,057   100.00%

City Council District 1

SOL JOBRACK 571 46.84%

MICHELE PADILLA 518 42.49%

FELIX OGBAH 130 10.66%

City Council District 3

MICHAEL BLOWER 1,052 67.91%

SHOUA LO 340 21.95%

BRIDGET HAWLEY-ORTIZ 157 10.14%

City Council District 5

BRANDO VILLAPUDUA 399 69.88%

JEWELIAN JOHNSON 172 30.12%

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