SF will recanvass votes after state releases probe results

By Margie Mason The Associated Press
Thursday November 22, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — A six-month state probe of San Francisco’s November 2000 election has found “very unusual” ballot-counting discrepancies in a limited sample that could suggest a problem “large enough to affect the results of several contests,” Secretary of State Bill Jones said Wednesday. 

In response, San Francisco Department of Elections Director Tammy Haygood called for a recanvass of all ballots from that election. 

Jones’ review of 21 randomly selected precincts found an average 8.8 percent difference between the number of ballots the city reported and the number found during the state’s probe. 

In one precinct, the city logged 569 votes, but Jones’ review counted 768 ballots. 

San Francisco has 647 precincts, and Jones said he does not have enough evidence to conclude whether the discrepancies resulted from fraud or gross error. 

Still, he said “the size of the number of discrepancies is very concerning and highly unusual.” 

Haygood said the city will recanvass the November 2000 election and the December runoff. 

“In an effort to gain credibility back at the Department of Elections, I feel this is a task we must undertake,” Haygood said. 

A recanvass involves reviewing the number of ballots cast, which differs from a recount. It does not tally how many votes each candidate received. Instead, the recanvass will simply report how many total ballots were undercounted or overcounted, Jones said. 

Haygood estimated it will take about a month for the recanvass and said her department would fund it. She did not have a cost estimate. 

City Attorney Louise Renne has said the recanvass will not change the results of the election. However, the issue isn’t necessarily dead. 

Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano said some candidates could file lawsuits, claiming they won their races. 

“The scenario could be a very troublesome one and a very, very expensive one,” Ammiano said. 

In addition to the recanvass, Jones said voter confidence can be restored by creating a statewide committee of elections officials to help San Francisco. 

The city has a history of troubled elections. Since taking office in 1995, Jones said his office has intervened or provided assistance to the city’s Department of Elections in six of the past seven years. 

The investigation of the Nov. 2000 election began after former acting elections chief Phillip Paris accused the department of miscounting votes and misusing up to $1 million on salaries. Paris was relieved of his duties after he alleged misconduct by two other department officials who have since left the department. 

City officials criticized this month’s election after absentee ballots mailed on Election Day were taken to an alternative site to eliminate concerns of anthrax contamination. Jones said Haygood made the right decision, and the election should boost voter confidence. 

But regardless of what changes are made, Ammiano said the damage is done. He’s pleased about a ballot measure passed this month, which puts an independent commission in charge of the department. 

“Right now, the confidence is in the toilet,” he said. 

Supervisor Tony Hall, who won his seat last December in a runoff after three recounts, said he’s not buying Jones’ probe or the need for a recanvass. 

“I think this is just more San Francisco theater,” Hall said. “We’ve spent enough of the taxpayers’ money on this foolishness. In my opinion, San Francisco has not had fair, independent elections in 25 years.”