[CAVO] Report on real ballot observer problems

Lawrence Rosen lrosen at rosenlaw.com
Tue Nov 15 00:10:24 UTC 2016

[To: CAVO. Below is an email from a local Mendocino County resident
summarizing our post-election ballot counting procedures at the County
Clerk/Registrar's office. We should explain to the California Secretary of
State that effective and reliable open source software can prevent ALL this
ballot-counting crap. Voting is easy, but counting them is obviously
untrusted in parts of California. /Larry Rosen]


11/14/16 Report regarding questionable voter observation practices

 Here is my quick summary and take away from 4 Ukiah Daily Journal articles
about questionable observation practices. Link included. 


Sorry for the weird format, this is my worksheet about what to research
further and documents/election code to assemble to support this effort. 




Three Mendocino County residents are deeply troubled by the treatment they
received while observing post-election ballot counting at the County
Clerk/Registrar's office in Ukiah. Their experience prompted them to file a
formal complaint with the California Secretary of State's Office.

Deborah Moore is a Ukiah resident, a teacher and owner of Take Wing
Tutoring. Moore observed for five days, beginning June 23. Aleshanee Akin,
also from Ukiah, is a published author and teacher. Akin observed on an
almost daily basis from June 16 until June 29. Cynthia Raiser Jeavons, a
Willits resident, is a non-profit adviser and serves on several nonprofit
boards Jeavons observed for three days beginning June 20.

The three women were not acquainted prior to meeting at the Clerk-Recorder's
office to observe post-election activities. They emphasized they were not
professionally affiliated with a political campaign and had no prior
experience as voter observers.


Their allegations include witnessing inconsistent practices with regard to
ballot counting procedures, the promulgation of a "hostile" office
environment toward voter observers and what they characterize as either a
display of abject ignorance, or a calculated effort to employ narrow-cast,
questionable interpretations of California State election law, laws that
unambiguously uphold the rights of California voters to observe nearly every
aspect of pre-and post-election activities.



Secretary of State Alex Padilla's office provided "County Clerk/Registrar of
Voters Memorandum #16140," the 2016 Election Observation Rights and
Responsibilities document used by California Voter Registrars.

A post-election "canvass," encompasses numerous activities, including the
processing, counting and recording of precinct ballots, "vote-by-mail" and
provisional ballots. State law clearly delineates that the canvass is open
to the public, per State Elections Code 15104.


During the reading and tallying, the ballot read and the tally sheet kept
shall be within the clear view of watchers." (Elections Code sec.15272).


Many counties clarify state guidelines by adopting local observer standards.
Along with reviewing the California Elections Code and the Observation
Rights and Responsibilities document, we studied observer guidelines drafted
by eight other California counties to determine how other county registrars
interpret election law in their jurisdictions, with the presumption that
county-appointed attorneys have approved the contents contained in those


Susan Ranochak says that over the past eight years, only a handful of
citizens have observed elections in Mendocino County.


systematic effort to dissuade them from easily viewing the canvass, by
keeping them at an inordinate distance from canvass workers. They claim that
at times, visual barriers were placed between themselves and the workers,
with workers stationed so far away that ballots were unreadable from their
designated viewing areas.



"Within two minutes of signing in and standing at the tabulating room's
observation window, I was approached by Ms. Ranochak. I'd never seen her
before and she did not introduce herself. She immediately ordered me to move
further away from the window. I replied that I was a citizen observer, and
that I was trying to see the ballots being processed. I was told by Ms.
Ranochak that the blinds to the observation area would be closed if I did
not move further away," says Moore. "I stated that it was my understanding
that I had a right to observe the canvass, and that I was going to sit right
here in my chair, which I did."


"There were times when we were expected to see through the cracks in
partially-opened blinds," says Moore.


Asked why she kept observers at such a distance from canvass work areas,
Ranochak indicated two Assessor work stations located near the canvass


Ranochak stated that for security reasons, the observers could not be
located near those workstations because assessing work demands
confidentiality. The observers state that Katrina Bartolomei, assistant
clerk-recorder and assistant registrar of voters, told them that space
restrictions, and not issues of taxpayer confidentiality, precluded them
from being in the room, closer to the canvassers.




Akin also stated that Ranochak told her that "Observers have no right to see
ballots being worked on, only the general process."


Though state law gives elections officials latitude with regard to running
their canvass in their own office, the intention of the law seems to favor
close encounters with canvassers. Elections Code 15104(d) states, "Observers
will be permitted access to a designated observations area, sufficiently
close to enable them to observe and challenge whether individuals handling
vote-by-mail ballots are following established procedures."




The Sacramento County Election Observers Guide states that "Observers may
get close enough to observe the information on the workstation and the
reports pertaining to the workstation."


Ranochak to justify her decisions regarding their lack of proximity to
canvassers was California Elections Code 14291, which states, "After the
ballot is marked, a voter shall not show it to any person in such a way as
to reveal its contents."


However, Lisette Mata, deputy secretary of state for special projects,
disagrees with Ranochak's view. Asked if this statute applied to the voter
observation process, Mata asserted it does not. According to Mata, "That
code section refers to Election Day procedures at the polls."


The Sacramento County Voter Observer Guide takes a clear but lighthearted
approach, stating "If staff can hear you breathe, back up. You're too
close." It is clear through researching other county policies that voter
observers are not only allowed in the room with canvassers, but are expected
to be standing directly behind them, so that they can easily tally votes and
observe the canvass in real time.




Ranochak acknowledged however, that the observers never identified
themselves as Sanders supporters. "No, they did not. They were not (pause),
but I guess he ran a grass roots campaign. There was a loose organization in
each county. They were passing out information to them and over the Internet
to do this. The questions that I was being asked, they were concerned about
how ballots were going to be tabulated, which they watched, whether ballots
were being rejected for any reason, which we very seldom do," she explained.




"We asked and were specifically told by Sue Ranochak that we couldn't
observe the processing of provisional ballots because there was personal
information on the outside envelope of those ballots," says Akin. Voters
using a provisional ballot fill out information on a unique outer envelope,
which includes their name, address, birth date and either the last four
digits of their Social Security number or their California Driver's License

Ranochak insists it is a violation of both state and federal law to view
personal information on provisional ballots, and that this was explained to
observers numerous times. "Typically, Katrina goes through this with them.
We have copies of the guidelines here, if they want them."


To explain her interpretation of this decision, Ranochak provided a page
from the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA. She cited section 15482-
Provisional Voting and Voting Information Requirements, highlighting one
sentence: "Access to information about an individual provisional ballot
shall be restricted to the individual who cast the ballot."


A search of the entire HAVA document did not result in the revelation of
specific rulings regarding an observer's right to view provisional ballots.
The previous portions of the statute Ranochak cited refer to the
establishment of "a free access system that any individual who casts a
provisional ballot may access to discover whether the vote of that
individual was counted." The specific sentence Ranochak cites refers to
establishing the confidentiality of this free access system, and does not,
as she states, address any federal laws regarding voter observation

 Elections Code section 15350 provides that provisional ballots shall be
processed and counted "in the same manner as vote-by-mail ballots."


Lisette Mata states that though counties have the ability to set up
individualized processes to verify signatures and count ballots, Elections
Code section 15350 provides that provisional ballots shall be processed and
counted "in the same manner as vote-by-mail ballots."


Mata also stated that Elections Code 15104, noted earlier, upholds the right
of observers to view the processing of provisional ballots. Sacramento
County clearly addresses the presumption and the likelihood that observers
might view personal information by stating that "Observers may take notes
during the process, but may not record any voter's personal identifying or
contact information," adding that "The Registrar of Voters reserves the
right to read an observer's notes prior to exiting the building."




The observers also saw numbers of opened provisional ballots which had been
bundled together with what appeared to be unprocessed provisional ballots.
Regarding opened provisional ballots, Mata cited Elections Code 3019(g),
stating "A ballot shall not be removed from its identification envelope
until the time for processing ballots. A ballot shall not be rejected for
cause after the identification envelope has been opened.




 Ms. Ranochak said to us was, 'I can ask you to leave, even if you are not a
distraction to the process,'" says Akin.

According to California Government Code section 12172.5, all California
counties are required to create an Election Observer Panel event. Each
county is required to develop an Election Observer Panel Plan that provides
people with the opportunity to observe local elections processes.


Mendocino County's plan states it will "Provide the public with the
opportunity to observe and make suggestions on ways to improve the election
process, to help ensure the integrity of the election process and remove
some of the mystery associated with the election process, in an effort to
build voter confidence and encourage more people to take part."


It continues by stating that observers may "view absentee and provisional
ballot processing, make notes and watch all procedures."


UDJ Editor KC Meadows


Two sources went so far as to intimate that the extra-help canvass workers
are related to upper-level staff currently employed in the county clerk's


"For years, virtually the same people are hired to work on the canvass.
Mendocino County is almost always among the last counties in the state to
post election results. It's not much of a stretch to wonder if these two
circumstances are connected in some way," the source continues.


Despite their frustration, the observers state they are ready to do it again
in the fall.




During public comment to the supervisors, the observers alleged they were
lied to by Ranochak, and said Ranochak threatened one observer with
intervention by law enforcement.


Supervisor Dan Gjerde questioned extensively and at times somewhat
contentiously on why 4th District election numbers took such a long time to
report - so much so that in June, two coastal newspapers were given the
inaccurate impression that the coastal voter participation had drastically
decreased. They based their conclusion on the scant number of votes that
were reported by Ranochak's office during the week following the election.




Alice Chan, a longtime Sonoma County resident and respected political
activist, said she attended the meeting because of the previous articles in
the UDJ.


election observation is a right


"Aleshanee and I sat in the hallway, waiting for a break to end. We were in
full view of the office." They went into the office, asked "When are you
resuming work?" and were told, "We are done. The process is complete."


"We were not given the feeling we could ask questions. We were simply told
the process was done."

Moore states she was astonished they were told the canvass was finished.


"Later, we came to find out, when the UDJ reporter came down and determined
that the canvass was not done, that we were lied to.


Moore also mentioned the need for a Voter Observation Panel Process,
outlined in previous UDJ articles - an event that is required of all
counties and which has not been recently convened in Mendocino County.


Supervisors Dan Hamburg, Gjerde and McCowen, though polite and professional,
each displayed, in their own way, a degree of frustration with Ranochak's
handling of the observer issues and more pointedly, with the ongoing
problems with slow reporting.


Hamburg said, "It's pretty clear to me that a significant segment of the
public is really interested in this." He discussed the gap between election
night reporting and final results, and noted the confusing online language
which states, "100% of precincts reporting."




Addressing Ranochak, Hamburg said "I beseech you, and everyone involved, to
try and figure out another way, if it involves a different use of physical
spaces or if it's a matter of trying to be more diplomatic with each other.

"We don't have, maybe, the physical setup we need, to do what the law
requires, but I do think it's important that these concerns be recognized
for what they are. These folks really do care, and I really do care, as a
representative, that people feel we have transparent processes," Hamburg
said, adding that he wants to see that Ranochak is "obviously complying, not
only with the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, which does allow
election observers a fair amount of latitude."




McCowen agreed. "To the extent that there are things we can do that tell the
observers and the general public that we are adhering to elections code
mandate -that people have the right to observe the actual ballots, and
clearly see what decisions are being made, and why, with respect to those
ballots - that's the intent of the elections code section.


"Anything we can do to assure people that we're fully adhering to that would
be beneficial. I do not question results reported by the Elections Office.
We have a history of very meticulous attention to detail," said McCowen,
citing two previous, very close supervisors races.


"Our challenge is to convince observers that it's a completely open and
transparent process." McCowen told Ranochak, "I encourage you to review the
complaints and see what can be done. I do understand there's space


"The separate issue is more timely reporting of results, even if they're not
absolutely complete." He felt that there would be a "big public benefit" in
weekly elections updates, adding that he would like Ranochak to review
consolidating precincts.



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