CALEDONIA — Ahead of the April 2 election, 27 early voters living at the Siena Center, 5635 Erie St., were provided with ballots for a ward in which they did not live. The oversight, however, wasn’t noticed until Election Day, and thus those 27 were unable to vote in a Racine Unified School Board election in which they should have been able to do so.
The mistake did not ultimately affect the outcome of the races. Caledonia Village Clerk Karie Pope (nee: Torkilsen) said the village will be changing procedures to prevent this from happening in the future.
When first questioned about election issues, Pope initially said: “Thankfully, no issues to report.” It was not until she was later prodded about an issue involving Siena Center votes that she admitted there had been a mess-up.
Journal Times Editor Emeritus Steve Lovejoy was one of the poll workers in Caledonia who became aware of the incorrect ballots on April 2, after the mistake was already made. He alerted The Journal Times to the issue. After The Journal Times contacted Pope, she told Lovejoy that his services as a poll worker would no longer be needed.
When questioned about the decision to let Lovejoy go as a poll worker, Pope said: “He didn’t even approach me about that, he just called the paper.”
Lovejoy said: “All I did was alert the paper that there were some problems with early balloting for Siena voters and directed the paper to contact the village clerk to determine what had happened.”
He said he would be “more than willing” to continue working as a Caledonia poll worker if Pope changed her mind.
The 27 voters in question were residents of Ward 12, but were incorrectly provided with ballots for Ward 7.
Ward 12’s and Ward 7’s ballots were identical for the April 2 election, except for the Racine Unified School Board races: Ward 12 is in RUSD’s 9th District, where Matthew Hanser ran unopposed in the April 2 election; and Ward 7 is in District 8, where Kimberly Hoover, who ultimately won, faced Anthony Hammes.
When a voting machine rejected the improper ballots on Election Day, the 27 ballots had to be remade. To do this, poll workers took blank ballots from the appropriate ward, Ward 12, and copied down the votes from the Ward 7 ballots that had been filled out by Siena residents.
However, since poll workers couldn’t have known if the voters would have voted for Hoover or Hammes, that space was left blank.
Votes that had been cast in District 8 were thrown out.
Those 27 votes couldn’t have had an effect on who won either RUSD election. Hanser took more than 97% of the votes cast in District 8, and Hoover defeated Hammes by a margin of 388 votes in District 9.
“One key note … in this election, out of 6,000 voters, almost 50% of the voters did not vote for the school district race at all,” Pope said in an email.
In District 9 specifically, out of 4,066 ballots cast, 3,134 made a vote for School Board — a 77% participation rate.
There was only one vote in Racine County that could have been swayed by so few ballots: The Waterford High School District’s $9.9 million referendum was decided by fewer than 10 votes. No Caledonia voters participated in the Waterford vote, of course.
This was the first time something like this has happened in the village, according to Pope. She said that the election supplies bag that was delivered to Siena contained some of the wrong ballots, and the mistake wasn’t caught until it was too late.
Pope explained: “(We dropped) off a sample ballot a week or so before the election and, unfortunately, not one of those voters noticed or we could have corrected it that day … people (should) know they are their own biggest advocates when voting. Being an informed voter will always serve you well not to mention it may help prevent errors that can and will occur with anything run by humans. Know your ward, know what and who you are voting for.”
This situation has compelled the village to add extra checks to make sure mistakes like this don’t happen again. Pope said that the new policy will require an additional person to “double-check the elections supplies bags that are sent to each nursing home when there are multiple ballot styles.”
Representatives from the Siena Center and Lakeshore at Siena, a memory care facility that shares a building with Siena Center, both said they were unaware there had been any issues regarding the election.
“People (should) know they are their own biggest advocates when voting. Being an informed voter will always serve you well not to mention it may help prevent errors that can and will occur with anything run by humans. Know your ward, know what and who you are voting for.” Karie Pope, Caledonia village clerk