For countless Americans, doubts about election integrity that arose during the 2020 cycle persist to this day, suspicions not likely to be assuaged amid reports that a bag filled with completed, valid ballots was found last month dumped in a ravine in Santa Clara County, California, as NBC Bay Area reports.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, over 30 such ballots were discovered, together with a pile of unrelated mail, in a wooded area near Sugarloaf Road in the vicinity of Highway 17.
The aforementioned NBC affiliate station spoke to Lou and Janet Witkin, two voters whose ballots were among those found discarded, and according to the couple, they had deposited their voting materials at a post office in West San Jose the Saturday before their discovery.
Janet Witkin remains puzzled and frustrated by the series of events, asking, “How? How did it get from the mailbox to Santa Cruz? Just disappointing to me that something could have transpired.”
Her husband, Lou Witkin, expressed a desire to learn more, declaring, “I'm interested in the facts. Wanted to see, well, what was the situation? Was it something that was dropped in transit? What were the circumstances?”
Julie Nieman, the alert citizen who first noticed the bag containing the ballots, explained that she was on her way to work via motorcycle when she made the vexing – and to her mind highly spurious – find.
“They were trying to make it look like people wouldn't find them,” Nieman told NBC Bay Area. “That's the way I saw it. They were dumped over the edge of the road down this deep ravine. It goes pretty far and it's very steep.”
According to the Mercury News, a probe of the situation was launched by the U.S. Postal Service as well as the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.
Michael Borja, a communications officer with the County Registrar, told the outlet, “... [We are] very concerned about this unfortunate incident... . [Our office] has extensive safeguards and chain-of-custody procedures to ensure that ballots are collected and transported safety and securely.”
At the time the investigation was launched, it remained unclear as to whether existing election law would permit the discarded ballots to be counted, a situation that Janet Witkin found understandably exasperating.
“We put time and energy into [voting]. We vote every single time, and we take this very seriously,” Witkin said.
According to a subsequent report in the Red Bluff Daily News, 31 of the 36 ballots found in the mountain ravine were permitted to be counted toward the outcome of the elections held on Nov. 8, with a handful having been disqualified due to open envelopes or signature issues.
Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey expressed relief at the outcome, saying, “I am glad that we were able to recover these ballots and that the majority of them can be counted and included in the final election results... . This was a very unfortunate incident. I appreciate the USPS for working with us to get us the ballots as quickly as possible on behalf of the voters.”
Though Borja said there had been “no indication” that ballots had been wrongfully removed from a ballot collection box and that postal service error may have been to blame, those statements may do little to quell the lingering worries all too many voters have about election security in jurisdictions across the country.