Marin IJ

Questions raised about invalid ballots in Ross Valley flood fee vote

Mark Prado
Marin Independent Journal
Article Launched:07/02/2007 11:20:50 PM PDT

A Marin taxpayer group and others are raising questions about more than 1,000 ballots that weren't counted as part of a vote on a Ross Valley flood fee measure that passed by just 65 votes.

The fee to pay for flood control projects passed with 3,208 yes votes to 3,143 no votes in a 45-day mail-in election that ended last week. The fee will raise about $40 million over the next 20 years and cost the average homeowner about $125 annually in Fairfax, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Larkspur, Ross and San Anselmo.

A total of 1,708 ballots were judged invalid; of those, more than 1,000 were rejected because they were not signed by the property owner, according to the registrar of voters office.

Now, the Marin United Taxpayers Association is questioning the validity of the results.

"MUTA intends to request that the ballots be provided to determine if the invalidated votes would have made a difference," said Nancy McCarthy, a member of the association's board of directors.

McCarthy said the ballots were confusing because they had the name of the voter and parcel number on them.

"It was an unusual situation," she said. "People may have thought, why would they have to sign something with their name and parcel number right on it? It calls into question these vote-by-mail ballots."

Louise Mathews of San Anselmo, a resolute opponent of the fee, said she is filing a California Public Records Act request that the ballots and related materials not be destroyed.

"I want to freeze the process so the secretary of state can look at this mess," she said.

Melvin Briones, assistant registrar of voters, said his office has received no formal requests to contest the election. The invalid ballots are being kept by the elections department, he said.

Fairfax Councilman David Weinsoff, a board member of the Ross Valley flood control district, said he had not heard complaints about the vote process.

"Not a single person has complained to me," he said.

Small type on one side of the ballot advised voters that ballots "received without a signature will not be counted," and that "if you wrongly mark or deface this ballot, it will be invalidated." Voters marked "yes" or "no" on the opposite side, where there was space to date and sign the ballot.

In a typical election, voters who vote by mail are required to sign the envelope that contains their ballot, but not the ballot itself, election officials have said.

Of the 15,010 ballots mailed out to Ross Valley property owners on May 4, a total of 8,059 were returned to the elections office to be counted.

The Ross Valley Flood Control District's more than 15,000 property owners will be charged based on the estimated amount of stormwater run-off their property produces. For that reason, the charge qualified as a fee, not a tax, and the ballot measure's adoption required a simple majority of those property owners casting ballots. A tax increase generally requires two-thirds approval.

Marin Supervisor Hal Brown, whose district encompasses must of the flood zone, couldn't be reached for comment Monday. Brown spearheaded the campaign after 1,200 homes and 200 businesses were damaged by flooding that occurred across much of Marin in the early morning of Dec. 31, 2005.

The Ross Valley was hit the hardest. The Corte Madera Creek Basin has flooded 14 times over the past 50 years.

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at; IJ reporter Tad Whitaker contributed to this report.

Hub Law Offices 711 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, San Anselmo, California 94960-1949 415-258-0360