MADERA COUNTY – Results of the race for Bass Lake School District Area 4 Trustee are in question after an issue concerning area boundaries required residents to complete provisional ballots in order to vote in that contest. Dalene Stephens emerged as the winner on Tuesday, by a slim margin over Bill Freed, while incumbent David Read received what, for now, appears to be a minority of votes.
Prior to the election, it was brought to light by several parties that a map of area boundaries the Madera County Elections Office received from the Bass Lake School District (BLSD) was inaccurate. The wrong map resulted in the three-way race for Area 4 being entirely left off some ballots mailed to constituents who should have been voting in their area. Additionally, confusion over boundaries left some ballots showing the Area 4 contest for residents who do not live in that area and should not have voted.
“It came to both the Madera County Clerk’s and the school district’s attention shortly before the November 4 election that mistakes had been made in the distribution of ballots for the Area 4 trustee election in the Bass Lake Elementary District,” says BLSD Superintendent Glenn Reid.
To mitigate the problem, provisional ballots were offered at the polls in Ahwahnee and Oakhurst. Voters who mailed in their ballots prior to the election were unable to vote with provisional ballots.
Still unknown at this time is precisely how many people in the District have been affected by the map mistake.
Superintendent Reid is now suggesting that a special election may be required before a trustee can be fairly decided.
“We firmly believe that it is in the best interest of the School District and its students that the results of any election for the critical role of a trustee serving on a school board be accurate and above reproach,” he says.
Reid is currently in communication with County Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters Rebecca Martinez concerning the subject of a special election. Reid says Martinez agrees that a special election is needed.
“How these decisions are implemented and what the timelines would be is something I am learning about now,” says the Superintendent.
Also unknown at this time is how the error occurred in the first place. Superintendent Reid said the map error was the result of two different maps having been created with two different trustee boundary areas for the school board to vote on two years ago. The board voted on one map, Reid explained, but the map not chosen was mistakenly sent to the elections office. Martinez says that mistake occurred four times.
“The Bass Lake School District requested that I conduct an election in Trustee Area 4 based on boundaries provided to my office, on four occasions, by the School District.” Martinez says that ballots were distributed in accordance with the law to those voters residing in Area 4 as shown in the boundaries provided to her office by BLSD.
“As a result of the School District’s failure to provide accurate boundary information I have serious doubts about the validity of the results in this contest only,” Martinez says.
She is currently working with the California Secretary of State and the Madera County Counsel’s Office to determine how to proceed. Martinez said all legal options are being explored and while a decision has yet to be made she is concerned about what has transpired and doubts she will be able to certify the results of this contest.
The County Clerk puts the cost of an all mail paper ballot special election at about $4,500.
“I remain committed to ensuring that legal, fair and independent elections are conducted in Madera County and to this end I will take every necessary step to protect the voters who have entrusted me with this responsibility,” she concludes.
Superintendent Reid is equally committed to the process of determining the people’s choice. He says the special election could be handled by mail and the details of those decisions rest with the County Clerk’s Office.
“No matter who is elected we need to make sure that the count is accurate and that the final results cannot be questioned by anyone in the future,” says Reid. “We owe the candidates, and ultimately the students, nothing less.”