On Thursday, Dec. 11, the Bass Lake District School Board unanimously adopted a resolution to the issue surrounding the Nov. 4, election for Bass Lake District Area 4 trustee.
The decision was made to hold an alternative new-election June 2, 2015 strictly to decide the rightful Area 4 trustee.
The issue arose arose prior to this year’s Nov. 4, election when both the school board and Madera County office of elections were made aware of an inaccurate boundary used to send out absentee ballots to voters across the Bass Lake District.
The fault of the error was thought to originate in early 2012 when district representatives decided to divide the school board into five distinct areas. Voters in those areas would only be allowed to cast votes on those representatives inside their designated area.
Prior to this change voters throughout the Bass Lake District where given the opportunity to vote for all five trustees on the school board. By separating the district into five areas board members figured to give a more specific representative to the voters in the district. In order to run and vote on a specific area trustee residents would be required to live within the designated boundaries of that area.
To create fair boundaries, based on population sizes, the district contracted ODELL Planning & Research, Inc. to construct two alternative possibilities for a five area split of the district.
Upon the board’s selection and confirmation of option one, the next step sent the recommendation to the county board of education for final approval. At a board of education meeting in 2012 Bill Freed, a board member at the time, brought a recommendation to the county board of education requesting option two be used to decide to official boundaries. Despite Freed’s recommendation the board voted to approve the district’s original option one.
It is unclear who exactly made the mistake but somewhere between the boards approval and giving the selected option to the county elections office, the incorrect map was given to the department and the county elections office assumed option 2 was the correct option to be used leading to the disbursement of incorrect ballots throughout the area.
With 936 votes cast in this year’s Bass Lake District Area 4 trustee, a total of 41 votes separated winner Dalene Stephens and second place Bill Freed. David Read finished third.
Despite winning by more than 40 votes in the Nov 4, election Stephens said she is satisfied the election process will be handled officially and legitimately with all voters in Area 4 being given the opportunity to vote for the candidate they feel best represents their area.
“Unfortunately, my ethics cannot ignore what I believe to be wrong. Voter fraud is wrong, no matter how we look at it and I am willing to take the risk of a complete nullified election if it means things are made right and ultimately I lose,” Stephens said.
In the meantime, while the election specifics are ironed out, Area 4 incumbent David Read will continue to fulfill the duties of Area 4 trustee until a legitimate winner can be determined.
The next step will be to get an approval from the superintendent of schools and Madera County Office of Education and then hold the election. Due to California election restrictions elections can only be held in the months of March, June and November. The new election, if approved, will be held June 2, 2015.
Area 4 voters can expect a special ballot to arrive by mail sometime around May. For those who wish to vote via polls a special polling site will be made available in Ahwahnee. No specific time or place has been designated for a polling location until the final approval is made.
Bass Lake Superintendent Glenn Reid feels like the new election is the only fair thing to do to insure a legitimate trustee member.
“In a democracy it is important that all election results be above reproach - and never more so than when the results concern a School Board election,” Reid said. “ I feel that it is in the best interests of the candidates and the school district that we get this right and while I think that everyone would love to be able to schedule a March election, under election law, that is not possible, so we will have to wait until June to clear this up.”
Area 5 was also effected although no re-election is necessary since only one candidate ran for election in Area 5. The error stands to cost an estimated $4,500.