Tulare County Elections Office reissues 1,341 ballots across Tulare County after this year’s redistricting throws a wrench in office’s geographical mapping
VISALIA – Over a thousand Tulare County residents have received incorrect ballots weeks before election day, an error felt across multiple counties in the state, but the Tulare County Elections Office is making sure to remedy the mistake.
The Tulare County Elections Office reported an overall total of 1,341 ballots reissued across Tulare County, in Dinuba, Woodlake and Visalia areas. The issue began mid-October when 13 initial residents in Visalia received the wrong ballot for their voting district following a geographical error with the office’s mapping system, a number that ballooned to 301. Soon after the initial mistake, it was discovered by the elections office that the error was a county-wide one and affected residents were issued new ballots almost immediately.
Michelle Baldwin, registrar of voters for the elections office, addressed the issue at the Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting on Nov. 1 in a public comment. At the meeting, she informed the board of the overall situation and the steps being taken by the elections office to remedy the error.
“Unfortunately, there are multiple counties throughout the state of California dealing with similar issues because of the redistricting process and the short time frame we were given,” Baldwin said to the board. “Nonetheless, these errors should not have happened.”
The Tulare County Elections Office faced this problem when the election office’s geographical information system (GIS) made errors on voter locations in Visalia and eventually other cities in the county. After district lines were reestablished in the county, which are updated every 10 years based on census population changes throughout the state, the ballots were mistakenly sent to incorrect districts. This created an issue for voters, as the contests and measures on ballots vary by precinct, which determine votes for things like congressional, city council and school board members as well as tax policies.
According to Baldwin, the elections office has identified the precincts that received the incorrect ballots. They have issued a second batch of the ballots to supply the affected 1,341 Tulare County residents with their proper voting tool, including 122 ballots that were reprinted for a third time following a printing error.
“The 1,341 ballots that we had to reissue are the only issues we know that have occurred within our county,” Baldwin said.
Of the 1,341 incorrect ballots, 862 were from Dinuba, 301 were in Visalia and 178 in Woodlake. Of the 301 ballots mistakenly sent to incorrect districts in Visalia, the printing company working with the elections office encountered an issue when reprinting the second batch of ballots. This resulted in 122 ballots requiring a third reprint to correct the errors, which have already been sent out.
Baldwin said the incorrect ballots sent out have been voided and isolated from the office’s system and the office is ensuring any ballots received for the wrong precinct are counted towards the proper ballot for the correct precinct. To prevent this issue from happening in the future, Baldwin said the office is working with their technological systems, like their GIS, to prevent any further complications, especially in preparation for the 2024 election.
“I will continue to make myself available to our voters and address any concerns they may have so that they continue to be confident in our election process going forward,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said the office has received some community concern, with calls coming in from apprehensive voters who want to ensure they are voting on the correct ballot. She said she makes an effort to answer the calls herself to explain the issue and that residents have been understanding of the overall situation.
Stephanie Hill, system and procedure analyst for the elections office, said the Tulare County Elections Office is always open for observation for anyone interested in understanding the work that goes into election and ballot preparation. She said visitors are welcome anytime during the office’s hours, which are Monday through Thursday, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Friday from 8 a.m. to noon.
“We encourage folks to come in and observe to help them understand the processes and procedures that go along with an election,” Hill said. “They can see it firsthand for themselves.”
The circumstance of ballots being sent to incorrect districts is the result of the recent redistricting that took place in Visalia after the 2020 Census, according to Baldwin. This resulted in some Visalia residents having to vote in different districts after it was changed in the springtime of this year. Before the redistricting was finalized, the elections office hired the help of a quality assurance company to help establish address points, but tight deadlines from the Census and COVID happening around the same time turned the process into a rather large undertaking in a short period of time.
Similar cases of ballots being sent to the incorrect districts have been reported in the San Joaquin Valley in Merced County. According to the Merced County website, some residents were mailed incorrect ballots following mapping issues associated with the redistricting process.