10:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, June 23, 2010

CASSIE MACDUFF

Disenfranchising 12,500 voters whose ballots arrived before the 8 p.m. Election Day deadline but didn’t get to the registrar’s office because of a mistake would be grossly unjust.

Elections are a cornerstone of American democracy. Any time a vote is not counted because of error or misadventure, that cornerstone is undermined.

Whichever court reviews the miscommunication that occurred between the Moreno Valley post office and the Riverside County registrar on election night should rule in favor of counting those votes.

I’m not holding my breath.

Look what happened in Florida in 2000: People mistakenly purged from the voter rolls because their names resembled those of convicted felons didn’t have their votes counted in the presidential election.

It’s quite possible some legal technicality will take precedence over justice and common sense in the case of the Riverside County voters.

Registrar Barbara Dunmore and County Executive Officer Bill Luna appropriately decided to hold off finalizing the vote count until a legal ruling can be made.

It’s vital that absentee ballots be handled correctly, especially now that a majority of voters mail in votes.

Two experiences in the past two years make me skeptical that the post office — a branch of government — understands mail-in votes.

In the first instance, my absentee-ballot request — that pre-addressed, tear-off card that comes on the back of your sample ballot — instead of being delivered to the registrar was delivered back to my home.

In the second instance, my absentee-ballot request never got to the registrar.

I’ve sworn off voting by mail. I don’t trust the Postal Service. I’d rather put my ballot in the box at the polling place. Then I’m pretty sure it won’t go astray.

To find out what went wrong on election night, I spoke to Eva Jackson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service San Diego district, which serves Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Imperial counties.

She said more than a year ago, the Postal Service started sorting Riverside County absentee ballots at the new Moreno Valley post office.

Employees there say they had an informal agreement with the registrar to pick up on Election Day ballots that arrived too late for the early morning truck to Riverside.

The agreement was never put in writing. There’s no record the registrar’s office ever picked up ballots there. In prior years, late ballots were picked up at the main postal center in Redlands.

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