Marin IJ

Ford Greene: Ross Valley voters deserve an apology

Staff Report
Marin Independent Journal
Article Launched:07/24/2007 11:05:58 PM PDT
Ford Greene

THERE ARE MANY things about the integrity of the mail-notice flood tax election to question. Those questions need to be asked and the facts openly and thoroughly examined.

A determination of the integrity of the voting process does not, however, require going any further than an examination of the face of the ballot itself.

June 25 concluded the seven-week period during which the "voters" returned by mail the "ballots" that the Marin Public Works Department had distributed to its list of property owners. June 25 was the date by which the clerk of the Board of Supervisors was to receive the votes.

At issue is a proposed $40 million "fee" for "flood control" that would be administered by Marin Public Works in conjunction with the Ross Valley Flood Control District. It would include the dredging of the base of Corte Madera Creek. While dredging will ease egress and ingress for the boats of dock owners, it will do little to deter the incoming flood of a high tide, one of the consistent factors that drives big floods in the creek.

The flood "fee" was approved by a slim majority of 65 votes. But the rub is more than 20 percent of the ballots were thrown out because, unlike any ballot I have ever seen, I had to date it, print my name and then sign it. When 20 percent of the votes languish in the toilet to achieve a simple majority to enact a measure (which if it were named a "tax" would have required a Proposition 13 two-third's majority), a certain bad smell inevitably arises.

For this reason, I decided to spearhead a timely filed demand for a recount.

I wanted to examine the ballots in the toilet.

Fortunately, with the help of Registrar Elaine Ginnold and others, on Monday I did. With the registrar and her assistant, I personally helped count the ballots that had been disregarded because the voters did not sign them. We counted 1,718 disregarded votes. 1,678 were disregarded because the voter simply failed to sign the document. Of those, 736 were "yes" votes and 942 were "no."

The "no's" won by 206 votes.

If these disregarded ballots had been counted, along with those that were signed, the flood tax would have been defeated by 141 votes. Now, to the ballot. The ballot is a two-sided, 4-by-8 1Ú2-inch piece of card stock. On the voting side a "Yes" box and "No" box are prominently displayed on the right. Below that and across the bottom is a signature and date line. Although there is plenty of room for it, there is no warning, in bold or otherwise, that one's failure to sign would trigger the disregard of one's vote.

On the other side of the ballot, in the smallest print at the bottom buried among other text is the line: "Ballots received without a signature will not be counted." Very small print and not even in bold.

I am 54 and cannot read the warning without my glasses. Elderly persons who are on fixed incomes are even less likely to read the small print. Elderly persons on fixed incomes also are less likely to approve a $40 million tax. They cannot afford it.

On the face of it, the ballot stinks of lack of notice and a cynical manipulation of the elderly and infirm, who are among our weakest citizens.

Not only should we protect the weaker among us, but we should never exploit their vulnerability, no less the integrity of our democratic process, to obtain a particular aim or result. To so do is neither fair nor democratic.

The Marin County Public Works Department and Marin County Board of Supervisors should apologize to the voters and do the right thing by disqualifying the false results of this democratic embarrassment.

We are not Dade County. We are Marin.

Ford Greene is a San Anselmo lawyer.

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