Council district map snafu causes confusion among voters

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Dozens of Claremont voters got a surprise this week when they opened their newly arrived ballots to discover the option of voting for Claremont City Council was missing.

The crux of the issue appears to be a critical difference between the district map the Claremont City Council approved in March and one the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder used to determine which ballots to mail out.

In the city’s version of the map, District 4 extends all the way to the western border with La Verne and up to Interstate 210 in the north. The county’s map shifts several streets west of Arlington Drive, Las Casas Avenue and Garey Avenue from District 4 into District 1. Because voters in District 1 are not casting ballots for city council this election, the ballots mailed to the affected addresses lacked the option to vote for council.

Other impacted streets include all of Williams, Northampton, New Bedford and Florac avenues, as well as portions of Smith Drive and College Way.

“Yesterday our city clerk was notified by a resident in District 4 that their ballot was missing the council race for their district,” City Manager Adam Pirrie said during Tuesday’s city council meeting. “The clerk’s office immediately notified the L.A. County Registrar’s office, and the city posted information on social media requesting that residents check their ballots and notify the clerk’s office of any errors. After doing that, additional residents in a small area of District 4 reported incorrect ballots.”

Public Information Officer Bevin Handel said 338 voters were affected by the snafu and that replacement ballots were printed and mailed on Wednesday. Additionally, anyone who received the wrong ballot got a call and an email from the registrar recorder. Handel confirmed the problem seems to be limited to District 4, but all voters are encouraged to check their ballots to ensure they are correct.

Early reports that the mix-up had affected a school board race were inaccurate.

Officials from the county said they were working on the geographic information system files to determine what happened, according to Handel.

“The ‘shape files’from the March 2022 redistricting were sent to the county by Doug Johnson of National Demographics Corp., and were correct,” Handel said.

“The City and County take voter participation and voter rights very seriously and are deeply concerned whenever an error in precincting occurs,” read a joint statement from the city and the registrar recorder. “The County Elections Division has identified which voters were affected by this error, and is taking corrective action to reissue ballots. Affected voters will be notified by the County and replacement ballots are targeted to be printed [Tuesday, October 11] evening and mailed first class mail [Wednesday, October 12]  If you are a voter in District 4, and do not have City Council candidates on your ballot, you should receive a new and correct ballot within a few days.”

“The county has asked that we convey their deepest apologies for the inconvenience that this error has caused,” Pirrie said.

“If a voter has received an incorrect ballot, and has not yet voted, please wait for a new ballot to arrive. If a voter has voted and returned their ballot prior to identifying an issue, the County will automatically void the incorrect ballot,” according to the statement from the county and the city.

Councilmember Corey Calaycay expressed great concern about the mix up with the ballots, including the appearance of disenfranchisement.

“This is another thing where I get upset at the state,” he said. “The state required that we consolidate with state and federal [elections], prior to that we had the option of running our own election and I feel we had better quality control when we ran our own.”

Calaycay also wanted assurance that the city would not be saddled with the cost of sending out new ballots, since it appeared to be a mistake made by the county. He also said county election officials need to take more responsibility for ballot accuracy rather than just expecting residents to notice an error and self report.

“People are confused enough with districts as it is to really know for sure what district they live in [and] to know they were shortchanged,” Calaycay said. “So, one of the things I would suggest is we reach out to our supervisor’s office [and] make sure we impress on the supervisor’s office that we expect the registrar’s office to pay for any additional costs. They shouldn’t pass those back to city since its their responsibility to have quality control and run the election the correct way.”

“I am absolutely willing to do that and address the situation with the supervisor’s office,” Pirrie responded. “I also want to mention that our clerk’s office is working very closely with the county today and will continue to do so over the coming days to proactively identify areas where the county map differs from the city map to identify voters on our own without having to rely on Claremont voter’s self identifying.”

In the midterm election on November 8, voters in District 4 will choose between Aundré Johnson and Jed Leano. Voters in District 1, which is represented by Calaycay, do not vote for council until 2024.

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