Botched ballots in SF supervisor race not the only shadow cast over election day

Botched ballots in SF supervisor race not the only shadow cast over election day

Candidates, campaign consultants and The City’s movers-and-shakers had their heads hung low at the annual John’s Grill election luncheon today.

The political gathering is meant to be Switzerland for candidates — a place where enemies and frenemies gather to break bread amid the Election Day madness.

But today at John Konstin and Willie Brown’s big party on Ellis Street, those in the know dwelled on regrets.

Firstly, a seemingly small screwup in the little-talked-about race between Supervisor Vallie Brown and candidate Dean Preston for supervisor of District 5 stopped at least five voters — and perhaps more — from voting for their neighborhood supervisor.

(District 5, for those not in the know: Western Addition, Haight Ashbury, Japantown, Divisadero, and a slice of the Inner Sunset.)

John Arntz, director of the Department of Elections, confirmed a ballot inspector took a box with “the wrong ballot type” to a District 5 precinct. Only ten people tried to cast those incorrect ballots, he said, but voting technology caught the snafu.

Those incorrect ballots were quickly replaced, he said.

“The machine rejected them,” Arntz added.

But complaints have continued to stream in, according to Preston’s campaign manager Jen Snyder, who alluded to quickly changed polling places and other ballot errors. Voters also reached out to Brown’s campaign, who then reached out to the Department of Elections, she told me.

“It’s a little scary that none of us were on the ballot” voters were given, Brown told me outside John’s Grill.

Snyder told me “they had a box of citywide ballots instead of ones with (District 5), and the voting machines rejected them.”

Yeah, that’s a mess.

Still, neither side is ready to ask for a special election as a do-over, should they lose.

Perhaps tellingly, each campaign told me to ask them again after the results come in.

I didn’t spot anyone from Preston’s camp at John’s Grill, but a web of political insiders kvetched over their beers about everything that has gone wrong.

Brown’s campaign managers, for instance, are relative newcomers, some lamented. Much of San Francisco’s moderate camp has depended on a limited set of people to run their campaigns — Maggie Muir, Nicole Derse, and Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners, among others, but many of those mainstays are gone.

Brown’s staffers, Derek Jansen and Leo Wallach from RALLY, are up against Preston’s more experienced campaign managers, who include Jim Stearns and his up-and-coming protege Jen Snyder, who is considered a force to be reckoned with. (You may remember her for flipping off the SF Democratic Party.)

Putting any newbie up against Stearns is worse than David v. Goliath, it’s like asking a high school debate team to out-talk Willie Brown. Add Snyder into the mix, and you’re in trouble.

That kind of doom-and-gloom talk makes me wonder if Brown may not pull this one out, and the dour look on Brown’s face today broadcast to me, “I’m over it.”

Many at John’s Grill were debating how much the news of her 25-year-old eviction, and subsequent false statements, may have hurt her reputation among voters. In low-turnout elections like this one, many people vote by mail early. Among District 5 voters, 6,815 mail-in ballots have already made it to the Department of Elections.

So did people already vote before the eviction news hit? If people cared, was it too late?

But Brown’s wasn’t the only dark cloud hovering over Ellis and Powell Streets. Some Preston supporters lamented a nebulous inability to connect with black voters in the Western Addition, and his vulnerability for being a single-issue candidate focused on tenant support.

Ask Preston a criminal justice question? He’ll tell you about tenants.

Ask Preston a transit question? He’ll tell you about tenants.

Ask Preston what time of day it is? Yeah, you get it.

Just how much any difference that will make, I certainly wouldn’t profess to tell you.

Last year around this same time, I let an off-record insider at John’s Grill make a prediction that BARF-er and YIMBY-ite Sonja Trauss would present a real challenge to Supervisor Matt Haney’s election campaign.

It was just a single tweet! I didn’t even publish it in a news column. But boy, was it wrong.

I ate crow for weeks, I admit. Everyone has flubs.

So at this year’s John’s Grill election luncheon, Haney — who yes, won his election by a near landslide — smiled a grin as wide as the Bay Bridge my way.

He told me that tweet about Trauss’ political strength brought “the heat” to his supporters after his campaign people emailed it out, bringing boots to the ground and energizing their final push.

“It allowed us to finish the day really strong,” Haney said.

Grumble grumble grumble — lesson learned. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at

Caroline Ghisolfi contributed reporting to this column.

New state proposals create an uncertain future for S.F.’s universal health care

‘Why should The City pay for health care if their residents can get it from the state?’

The Niners can win even when Jimmy Garoppolo has an off night

What we learned during crazy NFL weekend

Opinion: California’s misguided rooftop solar debate

Why aren’t we focused on the value of residential solar to reduce emissions?