SAN FRANCISCO — Elections officials spent Thursday counting 240 ballots found more than three weeks after Election Day, another in a string of embarrassments that has infuriated some city leaders.
The ballots mistakenly were left in locked boxes at polling places across the city on Election Day, Department of Elections officials said. Though their number would not overturn the results of any major race or ballot initiative, discovery of the ballots comes days after the lids of eight ballot boxes were found floating in San Francisco Bay.
“I still think there’s an erosion of public confidence in the Department of Elections,” Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano said. “This is infuriating. The buck has to stop somewhere – we need to have a recanvassing and a recount, but we also need to be informed.”
The Board of Supervisors has not certified the Nov. 6 election, which included races for city attorney, treasurer and ballot measures including votes for a municipal utility.
“I think we have to realize this is not something new” to find a number of ballots left in voting machines, said Ryan Brooks, director of administrative services for the elections department. Tammy Haygood, director of the elections department, said about 600 such ballots were retrieved in the same manner after last year’s elections.
Proponents of at least one ballot measure, which lost by a small margin, are questioning the results. Proposition F was declared a loser by 533 votes on Nov. 11, and no votes outweighed yes votes by 515 votes Thursday. It would have expanded the city’s public utilities commission into a department of water and power, allowing an elected board to buy the infrastructure of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to serve the city.
While the 240 ballots would not affect the outcome of that race, Ross Mirkarimi, campaign manager for the public power measure, said he’s frustrated with a number of ongoing questions being asked about the election.
“This goes to the X-files of irregularities for our election process,” Mirkarimi said. “I have a feeling (the ballots) were pulled out of the water.”
The U.S. Coast Guard discovered the lids of eight ballot boxes floating in the bay Sunday. Haygood said a storm Saturday blew the lids off empty boxes stored at the department’s Pier 29 warehouse.
Haygood also was criticized for moving about 5,500 absentee ballots mailed on Election Day to an alternative site. The measure was taken to eliminate concerns of anthrax contamination.
Following an investigation, Secretary of State Bill Jones praised Haygood last week for the way she handled the election, saying she acted within the law. During the same speech, Jones revealed the results of a six-month probe into the November 2000 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, a difference Jones called “very unusual.”
In response, Haygood has called for a recanvass of all ballots from that election.