RICHMOND (CBS SF) -- Contra Costa County elections officials announced an investigation Thursday into the disappearance of election ballots deposited into a county drop box in Richmond earlier this month.
Scott Konopasek, Contra Costa's assistant registrar of voters, said on Thursday that county officials did not know why "dozens, max" of ballots that were placed in the drop box at Richmond City Hall on Oct. 12 went missing.
Konopasek said a two-person team from his office collected 84 ballots from that drop box on Oct. 12, a Monday, which they do six days a week.
"We are aware of reports by dozens of voters, and claims on social media, that they deposited their ballot into the Richmond City Hall drop box on Oct. 12 and the county has not been able to confirm receipt of the ballot," Konopasek said.
His office found, through "sleuthing" phone numbers and Nextdoor social media posts, about 40 of those voters, who took advantage of various ways to re-cast ballots.
There is no way of knowing exactly how many ballots were never recorded, said Konopasek, who acknowledged such problems attract more "concern in today's political environment."
The Contra Costa County Elections Department has 37 drop boxes stationed throughout the county; the Richmond City Hall box is one of three in that city.
Nearly 150,000 ballots had been returned from those drop boxes as of Thursday morning, said Konopasek, who stressed that this one Richmond box is the only one with which problems have arisen.
An internal investigation turned up no evidence of physical tampering with the drop box, Konopasek said, nor evidence of nefarious actions by elections workers.
"I suspect there's some sort of handling error, but we don't know where that is," said Konopasek, who said the investigation will continue.
The "glass half full" element of this story, as Konopasek put it, is that the county now has for this election, for the first time, online ballot tracking, allowing voters to see there was a problem.
Also, these ballots were cast early enough for those problems to be discovered, and for those voters to be offered a second opportunity to cast ballots, in any of several ways.
Konopasek said discussions have already been had about installing electronic surveillance covering the drop boxes.
The episode proved some critical points that elections officials have been stressing for weeks. One is that voters are paying attention.
"I'm going to track it," said Sandra Stephenson, who was voting at Richmond City Hall Thursday. "I have both the tracking numbers in town, so I will be tracking it at all times to make sure that my vote is counted. That's the most important thing to me."
When voters use those tools and show up early, there is still time to correct any kind of confusion like this.
"These voters knew they could track their ballot," said Konopasek. "They went and tracked it, they didn't see what they were expecting, so they let us know."
Voters who want to verify receipt of their ballot can use the "Track My Vote by Mail" feature on the website www.cocovote.us, or call the Elections Department office at (925) 335-7800.
Konopasek said the 150,000 drop box ballots are among 370,000 overall ballots returned by Contra Costa voters as of Thursday morning -- representing 52% of the county's registered voters.
"The voters in Contra Costa are voting early, and are paying attention to what's going on," Konopasek said.
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