By KAREN VELIE
The San Luis Obispo County Clerk Recorder’s Office discovered an additional 332 provisional ballots last week, after ordering election observers to leave the viewing area in an apparent violation of state law.
On election night, the Clerk Recorder’s office reported that there were approximately 800 provisional ballots to be counted. Several days later, the county reported there were 927 provisional ballots. Then last Wednesday, the county reported there were 1,259 provisional ballots left to count, after discovering 332 provisional ballots at the county building in SLO, according to a county official.
If a voter’s name is not on the voter roll at their polling place, they have the right to vote a provisional ballot at any polling place in the county. Provisional ballots are not tallied until all mail-in ballots have been counted, according to state law.
On Nov. 23, county staff ordered ballot count observers to leave the observation room while they processed provisional ballots. However, the state requires that observers are “permitted to view vote-by-mail and provisional ballot processing.”
In her defense, SLO County Clerk Recorder Elaina Cano asserts she has a responsibility to protect confidential voter information.
While the state does not permit viewers to sit at the “official worktables or view confidential voter information on any computer terminal or document,” it requires that the public is able to observe the process.
Next to the election ballot processing room, is a room separated by a glass partition for observers, with some of the computer screens turned toward the observers. Several observers question why county staff does not turn the screens around instead of making the observers leave the room.
After CalCoastNew questioned the legality of ordering observers to leave the observation room, county staff agreed to allow observers to watch the processing of provisional ballots.
In addition, observers have complained that county staff requires them to stand during the count regardless of age or physical limitations, and fails to provide the public the required 48 hours notice before a count.
“I was able to stay for about three hours, but could not stand any longer,” said 86-year-old Jeannette Watson.
On Monday, county staff told SLO County District 2 supervisor candidate Bruce Jones that they were unsure when they would resume the count, but they were likely to count again on Wednesday morning, Jones said.
After questions were raised by CalCoastNews, the county has determined it cannot resume counting until Friday at the earliest because of the 48-hour notice requirement, though it appears state law requires the county to continue the canvas daily until finished.
“The canvass shall commence no later than the Thursday following the election, shall be open to the public …,” according to California Election Code 15301. “The canvass shall be continued daily, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays excepted, for not less than six hours each day until completed.
The county has not yet announced the date of the next count.