By Miriam Raftery
Updated August 9, 2016 to include clarification provided by County spokesman Michael Workman.
August 8, 2016 (San Diego) — Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil has issued a preliminary decision finding that San Diego Registrar of Voters Michael Vu erred in failing to include provisional and late vote-by-mail ballots in a hand-count of votes from one percent of precincts—an audit intended to assure accuracy.
“There could be massive election fraud in the portion of the ballots not counted,” says Ray Lutz, founder of Citizens Oversight, a watchdog group that filed a lawsuit over the audit procedure. Lutz contends that many votes for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders were likely missed in the audit, since many independent voters were provided provisional ballots.
But County spokesman Michael Workman disputes Lutz's contention. He states,"The 1% manual audit is to check the accuracy of the tabulation devices used to tally ballot...Over 1% of all ballots cast were manually tallied and zero discrepancies were found."
A total of 8,000 tabulated ballots were counted in the 1% manual tally, but not provisional ballots. Mail-in ballots that arrived early were included in the 1% manual tally, but not those mailed closer to election day –even though Sanders visited San Diego multiple times close to the election and drew thousands more people than Clinton, who also came here.
Sanders got 46 percent of the vote statewide, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially won with 53.1 percent. In San Diego, the margin was Clinton 51.4 to Sanders 47.6 percent. Since some other counties used the same procedure as San Diego, the potential exists that Sanders could have been declared the winner statewide, Lutz contends. California has more delegates than any state in the nation.
The county stated in court documents that it estimated it would cost $100,000 to add enough people to process election day vote by mail and provisionals before the 1% was started. But Judge Wohlfeil indicated that’s no excuse for short-changing an election audit, potentially allowing fraud or errors to go unnoticed.
Wohlfeil’s order indicates there is a reasonable probability that Citizens Oversight will win its case in court, in which case the county could be required to count mail-in and provisional ballots,changing election procedures for the future.
But a ruling in favor of Citizens Oversight won’t change the outcome of the June presidential primary results, since the Judge didn’t take action until after the election results were certified.
Citizens Oversight’s attorney Alan Geraci is pursuing an agreement with the county to assure that audits are properly completed, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, and says he anticipates a resolution before the November election. “A law is useless unless there is an enforcement vehicle,” he said. Lutz's group aims to provide citizens with a way to make sure that the Registrar of Voter's office provides such a vehicle for the future.