SVO Accuses Santa Clara County ROV of Going to Bat for Labor

The day Santa Clara County and its six neighbors issued the nation’s first stay-home order of the Covid-19 pandemic, the letter arrived.

Dated March 16, the South Bay Labor Council demanded to review signatures that county Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey—just a month earlier—said fell short of the number needed to qualify the union coalition-backed Fair Elections Initiative for the fall ballot.

The proposal would shift San Jose’s mayoral elections to presidential years, in which labor-friendly voters turn out in greater numbers, increasing South Bay Labor’s chances of winning the city’s top job. The long term strategy is important enough that the council spent $420,000 on the petition drive to bring the initiative to voters.

Proponents needed at least 65,573 valid names to meet the state election law benchmark. The raw count started on Valentine’s Day and lasted through the end of February. During that time, ROV personnel sorted signatures to see if proponents collected enough names.

They thumbed through signature pages by month and then by day in a manual count that identified 92,404 names. Then, during the first week of March, the ROV reviewed 2,826 names randomly selected by a computer algorithm and deemed 1,183 of them invalid.

Based on the state election law’s formula, that meant the initiative fell short of the 95 percent threshold to land on the ballot. The ROV team quadruple-checked the tally, Bushey said, before finalizing the result.

Case closed. Until it wasn’t.

In a move the initiative’s opponents call a stunning admission of failure, Bushey on April 13 sued San Jose over a litany of mistakes for which she takes the blame.

Bushey’s petition against City Clerk Toni Taber—who withstood ROV’s pressure for a full recount—and three proponents of the measure demanded a recount of nearly 100,000 names on grounds that the ROV made dozens of errors and missed at least 87 valid signatures during the February tally. It’s an unprecedented about-face that could cost the city, already reeling from Covid-19’s economic fallout, $1 million to fix.

Bushey and Taber both declined requests for comment because the matter is subject to ongoing litigation. And South Bay Labor didn’t respond to a similar query.

But the head of the region’s largest chamber of commerce said the whole situation suggests ineptitude—if not worse.

“Due to the extraordinary incompetence of the Registrar of Voters, the integrity of our local elections is at stake here,” said Matt Mahood, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Organization (SVO), which usually stands at odds politically with South Bay Labor. “The public deserves to know how the registrar could even have 87 alleged errors or more than a 3 percent alleged error rate in the signature verification process. Entire elections can be swayed with such a large margin of error and it undermines the public’s confidence in our election system.”

SVO also took issue with the way Bushey went about trying to invalidate her own original order. After certifying the results in February, proponents didn’t ask to review rejected signatures until the Bay Area issued its public health mandate, which shuttered all but essential county functions, severely diminishing ROV staffing, and suspended all but the most urgent court proceedings.

A lawyer representing SVO said the business group didn’t find out about Bushey’s petition until the same day she asked a judge to consider it in an emergency hearing. SVO attorney Matthew Alvarez said the lawsuit’s rushed timing makes it look like the ROV was trying to use pandemic-related shutdowns as a chance to address the matter “under the cover of darkness.”

The fact that Bushey allowed the measure’s proponents to bring in its own experts after a ruling had already been issued is unusual enough in itself, SVO officials added, and makes it look like the county’s going to bat for special interests.

“The ROV and county counsel are doing all the proponent’s work,” Alvarez said, “so they don’t have to bring the litigation themselves.”

Mahood slammed the ROV as exceptionally inept and secretive and called on Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen to investigate alleged “improprieties” under Bushey’s watch.

“Shannon Bushey continues to fail as our county registrar with zero accountability,” he said. “No other registrar in the state would keep their job given the ongoing mistakes and incompetence exhibited during this signature verification process and the past elections. In this case, we don’t know the extent of the incompetence because they continue to hide everything behind closed doors. Everything the ROV has done should be open to the public, including all of the alleged mistakes they made the first time and why they are changing their mind now.”

A judge is scheduled to decide today whether the SVO can join the lawsuit. The court will then hold a hearing on the merits of the ROV’s petition on May 8.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

11 Comments

  1. The SCC ROV under Bushey’s “leadership” has become the slowest, most incompetent ROV office in California, and perhaps the entire USA. It is consistently the last ROV in the state to finalize election vote counting tallies. How does she keep her job? A lot of dirt on a lot of people? Compromising photos of powerful people?

    • How does she keep her job? By being a corrupt, incompetent lackey for people more powerful than her. Who will rig elections in favor of her special interests when she’s told to do so, and take the fall for it when told to do so.

      The same can be said for a number of other politicians. They overwhelmingly suck up to people much more powerful than them, eagerly volunteer to do their dirty work for them, in exchange for being installed into some minor position through shady backroom methods.

  2. From every angle, this “just another day in Santa Clara County” scenario is disturbing.

    First, 92,000 signatures when 65,000 are required. Of course the initiative measure had enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. 21st Century brings electronic access to voter databases through 3rd party software programs. The proponents turned in the ballots for the count because they knew they had collected enough valid signatures.

    If the ROV’s “random sampling” of 3% of names submitted fails to yield enough valid signatures, then the circumstances (well funded signature collection effort; access to technology by proponents; submission of 40% more signatures than required) should have raised alarm in the ROV Office that they had a ringer.

    Instead, bananas.

    But does anyone believe today’s shenanigans (funded on the dime of Santa Clara County tax payers) started or ended in the Office of the ROV?

    It does seem some powerful folks have decided it’s time for the current ROV to go, any handy scandal will do. But if the Office of the ROV is not the source of the rot, wouldn’t an ouster of the ROV serve to temporarily waft away the stench, while leaving the root cause untroubled?

    And where will this case be decided?

  3. > The proposal would shift San Jose’s mayoral elections to presidential years, in which labor-friendly voters turn out in greater numbers, increasing South Bay Labor’s chances of winning the city’s top job.

    I thought the idea of “democracy” was “one man, one vote”.

    Does the number of “labor-friendly voters” change from election to election?

    My answer is, that it DOESN’T, So the idea of a “labor-friendly” election schedule is not an essential requirement for “democracy” but is just obnoxious advantage-seeking ANTI-democratic political gamesmanship,

    • The third paragraph of the post states correctly that The number of labor friendly voters who actually vote is much greater in a presidential election year than in a mid-term year. The Democrat Party already has a stranglehold on elective offices in the Bay Area, but they want more. They want to es5ablish their oligarchy even more firmly in South Bay. Democrats are the more labor friendly of the two major parties.

  4. “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything.”

    ― Joseph Stalin

    People need to wake up to how corrupted the elections process has become and hold accountable those who deliberately miscount votes. Something similar happened in Milpitas last year with the school board “elections”. These people do NOT deserve the benefit of the doubt. After so many “mistakes” one after another, only the stupid and corrupt will still believe it wasn’t deliberate.

  5. But of course SVO would make this a political topic! Go figure! Bushey is probably the only election official to admit her mistakes instead of covering them up!

    • But her mistakes are so numerous, yet she’s still getting a fat paycheck while I sit at home still waiting for my first unemployment benefit payment.

  6. Enough chances! Why is this Registrar of Voters still here? The CA State Auditor concluded in 2017 that “Santa Clara’s insufficient policies and procedures led to errors in election-related materials, and it responded inconsistently and sometimes inadequately when notifying the public of the errors.” https://www.auditor.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2008-106.pdf It still fails to develop comprehensive P&P‘s and fails to track its numerous errors. Do your own research & try getting P&P’s from SCC ROV. Good luck. A 2017 SCC Management Audit cited other issues. Why waste anymore taxpayer $$’s on a ROV who isn’t fixing the problems. The SCC Board of Supervisors has been informed of these issues and why aren’t they responding? We have an important election in November, isn’t anyone concerned that it isn’t being run competently in our County?

  7. Fun fact: I went to the ROV during the recount, as a registered voter, in early April, and requested to “observe” the recount process. It is quite common to have “observers” for transparency. The ROV, Shannon Bushey, personally refused my request.

    • > The ROV, Shannon Bushey, personally refused my request.

      A bit surprising to me. My supposition is that there’s not really much to see in the recount process because it’s just some people running some ballots through a machine. She should have been happy for the opportunity to show you an electronic box with some flashing lights.

      The real observations should focus on: Who were ballots sent to? Who filled out the ballots? Who transported the ballots? Who wrote the software for the machines?

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