State investigation fingers vendor for missing San Mateo County voter guides

by Bonnie Eslinger, San Jose Mercury News

The case of San Mateo County’s missing voter guides has been solved — sort of.

Some were apparently never sent, according to Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who heads the California agency that oversees elections.

The vendor hired to mail out the guides, Sacramento-based Admail West, "made significant errors," according to an Aug. 5 letter Bowen sent to Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, outlining the conclusions of her investigation. Hill’s office contacted Bowen’s office after fielding calls from county residents who had not received the state’s official voter guide.

"Admail West managers have admitted their company is responsible for duplicate and triplicate mailings of state voter guides to voter households in some counties, while at the same time failing to mail a single state voter guide to other households," Bowen wrote.

Days before the June 8 primary election, San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum said his office had taken calls and e-mails from residents who had not been mailed the guide. Ironically, Slocum was among those who had not received one.

At the time, Bowen’s office insisted the guides — which include information on statewide propositions and candidates for state and federal offices — were in the mail. The California Secretary of State is required by law to mail the voter guides between 21 and 40 days before an election.

A spokeswoman for Bowen’s office, Nicole Winger, told The Daily News on Friday that the error only happened with San Mateo County voter guides.

"The Secretary of State has not heard of this scenario happening in any other county," Winger said.

Bowen’s office had no specific figures, but officials said they believe "several thousand" residents did not receive a guide.

Admail West managers told Bowen that the one employee who handled the mailing data and caused the San Mateo County mailing errors died in June, and "many key details are not known by anyone else at the company," Bowen wrote in her letter to Hill.

When asked if Bowen’s office was concerned that the missing guides affected people’s ability to make informed votes, Winger said no, "because this information was available in multiple ways," including on the Web and at the polls. In addition, people who contacted Bowen’s office were immediately mailed a copy, she said.

Richard Holober, the executive director of the San Mateo-based Consumer Federation of California, said he was dismayed that Bowen’s office did not feel the error had an impact on the election.

"Are they saying going online (for the voter guide) satisfied the law? If so, that’s an outrageous statement," Holober said, adding that many people don’t know where to go online for voter information, or didn’t even know to look for a missing guide.

Despite Bowen’s explanation, Hill said in a statement that the case was not closed.

"There are many unanswered questions that still need to be resolved to ensure that this problem does not happen again," he said.