California, and by extension the Central Valley, is garnering significant attention with less than two weeks to the June Primary.
With former President Bill Clinton, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, and now Sen. Bernie Sanders stumping in the Fresno metro area, the usually dull June affair has some unexpected flair. The likely result: higher than expected turnout and high voter enthusiasm.
Yet, despite that high voter enthusiasm, one Valley county known for tremendous absentee voting is struggling to get its ballots into voters’ mailboxes quickly.
Apparently, it’s deja vu for Kings County.
A dozen Kings County voters reached out to CVObserver on Monday expressing dismay over the fact that, with roughly two weeks before Election Day, none had received their absentee ballots. The implications could be considerable – and costly.
Sources told CVObserver that a similar problem cropped up in 2014. As Election Day neared in November 2014, the Kings County Elections Office (then under different management) was significantly tardy in sending out ballots to absentee voters.
Under state election law, Kings County must have absentee ballots reach voters by Election Day, Kings County elections chief Kristine Lee said. Absentee ballots will be counted so long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day and are received by Friday, June 10 (three days after Election Day).
Prior to Monday, only 350 ballots had been mailed out to voters. These voters are considered “late registrants” – voters who registered to vote just before the cutoff for the primary.
The late registration ballots, Lee said, were hand mailed by the Elections office, rather than by the vendor contracted by the County.
Of the 350 late registration ballots – sent to roughly .01% of absentee voters in Kings County – only 55 had been returned and accounted for by Kings County elections officials as of Tuesday close of business.
Lee claimed that the remaining 35,000+ ballots were mailed out on Monday. She reported that voters started to receive their absentee ballots Wednesday. Of the dozen Kings County voters who reached out to CVObserver, none reported having received them by Thursday.
The new Kings County Elections Chief gave a myriad of reasons for the delay in sending out the ballot, pointing to the intricacies of this year’s ballot – namely the 34 person field running for U.S. Senate in California.
While the Senate race is a statewide race featured on every ballot (Democrat, Republican, etc.), which has had no impact on other county deliveries of absentee ballots, Lee also assigned considerable blame to the county’s printing vendor.
The vendor handling the printing of Kings County absentee ballots also handles a number of other California counties. As the proofing process goes along, the printing vendor handles changes on a first-come first-serve basis.
Along with proofing revisions, Lee said that Kings County officials were burdened with having to hold a mock election mandated by the California Secretary of State’s office. That mandate ate up valuable time dedicated to finalizing the ballot.
Given Lee’s timetable for delivery of the 35,000 delayed absentee ballots, voters have roughly 10 to 14 days (depending on delivery) to submit their ballot.
As for neighboring counties’ work on sending out ballots, the results are mixed.
Fresno County has sent out its ballots on a rolling basis. However, a large swath of Fresno County absentee ballots were sent on May 9th – the first day absentee ballots can be sent by elections officials in California.
Tulare County, Lee said, is just as slow to send out ballots as Kings. Their ballots are being sent out this week.
The delays could cause serious legal headaches surrounding one segment of Kings County’s population: active duty armed service members. Kings County, home to Lemoore Naval Air Base, has a considerable population of military personnel.
Active duty soldiers – especially those serving overseas – typically require a longer window to receive, fill out, and return their ballot. The shortened window to vote absentee could open Kings County up to lawsuits to count military ballots that missed the postmark deadline (June 7) or delivery deadline (June 10) due to soldiers receiving ballots so late in the election calendar.
Whether a challenge pops up or not, it’s a quagmire no elections department would like to face.