Sitting in what we affectionately call the “bat cave,” watching returns come in from the special election for San Jose’s District 4 council seat, Steve Kline noted there was something wrong. “There are too many spoiled ballots, “ he said. Kline, our numbers guy, was noting the difference between votes cast and votes counted. In a small turnout, spoiled ballots can make a huge difference. Fortunately, it did not affect our candidate in the race: Tim Orozco. But it did hurt Lan Diep, who should be Orozco’s opponent in the runoff, not Manh Nguyen. It is an anomaly that falls in line with the “butterfly” ballots cast in Florida for Pat Buchanan, back in 2000. The spoiled ballots cost Diep, who finished just 13 votes behind Nguyen.
This is every candidate and campaign consultant’s nightmare. An election lost not because the votes were lacking, but because of the way votes were counted. The write-in portion of the ballot was left blank on a substantial number of ballots. Diep told his supporters to mark the last spot on the ballot—where he thought his name would be listed. Some voters clearly made a mistake by instead selecting the write-in choice.