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Report Number: 2017-107

Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters
Insufficient Policies and Procedures Have Led to Errors That May Have Reduced Voters’ Confidence in the Registrar’s Office

October 24, 2017 2017-107

The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

As requested by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor presents this audit of the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters’ (Santa Clara) policies, procedures, and practices for the creation, review, and distribution of election-related materials. Santa Clara administers multiple elections annually and, in doing so, conducts many tasks including the creation and distribution of official ballots and voter information guides. This report concludes that Santa Clara’s insufficient policies and procedures led to errors in election-related materials, and it responded inconsistently and sometimes inadequately when notifying the public of the errors.

Santa Clara reported to us that from 2010 through 2016, it administered nearly 30 elections and had 26 errors in its development and distribution of election-related materials. These errors largely originated from incorrect mapping of voting districts, vendor mistakes, and inadequate proofreading and publication processes. Santa Clara’s errors ranged in significance from minor typographical errors to sending voters the wrong ballots. Because some of the more significant errors Santa Clara experienced were related to mapping and to inaccuracies in ballots and voter information guides, we expected to find that it had developed comprehensive policies and procedures to prevent these types of errors from recurring; however, it has not done so.

Further, rather than using a formalized contingency plan to inform its decision making when responding to errors, it has chosen to rely on staff judgment. Although Santa Clara typically notified voters of errors through press releases and errata letters, it generally did not inform voters of the causes of the errors or its actions to prevent the errors from recurring. We believe that by disclosing this information in its postelection reports, which are available to the public, Santa Clara will better demonstrate its commitment to providing voters with accurate information and maintaining voter confidence.

In addition, this report concludes that to help prevent errors in election-related materials and processes, the California Secretary of State’s Office (Secretary of State) should enhance its oversight of county election officials. Although the Secretary of State is responsible for administering and enforcing state election laws and seeing that election officials conduct elections efficiently, it does not monitor or oversee county election-related materials to verify that the counties comply with laws and regulations. If it were to do so, the Secretary of State could help identify and mitigate the causes of those errors, such as by increasing the guidance it provides to county election officials.

Respectfully submitted,

State Auditor

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