Summerville High Superintendent Dr. John Keiter (center) watches as Special Projects Accountant Cindy Niebla (left) and Senior Accounting Clerk Dianne Carpenter recount ballots. Amy Alonzo Rozak / Union Democrat
A manual recount of ballots from Summerville Union High School District voters yielded surprising results Tuesday: The district's $8 million bond measure has been approved after all.
An initial count of ballots in the weeks after the Nov. 6 general election suggested Summerville High's Measure H failed by a margin of just two votes - 2,601 to 2,130.
The tedious manual recount of more than 5,000 ballots revealed nine more "yes" votes and only one more "no," putting Measure H two votes over the 55 percent threshold required for passage, according to county elections officials.
A total of 2,610 voters approved of the measure, and 2,131 voted against it.
Tuolumne County Clerk and Auditor-Recorder Debi Russell Bautista said the difference in results was likely caused by machines that occasionally don't read penciled-in votes.
"What we believe is that the machine is very sensitive," Russell Bautista said. "If the oval isn't dark enough, it reads as blank."
She added that there can be no doubt about the results of the manual recount, which was requested and paid for by a private citizen.
"Four (Tuolumne County Elections Office) employees counted them with two observers," Russell Bautista said. "There were six sets of eyes looking at every single ballot."
The two observers were Summerville Union High School District Superintendent John Keiter and district Board of Education President Cheri Farrell.
Barbra Kerr, the Summerville High School foundation member who requested and paid for the recount, also served as an observer for part of the day.
Russell Bautista said that, while none of the observers were "neutral," there was never any dispute between them and elections office employees about the content of ballots.
"We're very happy that the kids will get what they deserve, which is improved (school) facilities," Keiter said.
Russell Bautista called the difference in results a "learning experience" and said the elections office will now test its theory about the machines.
If the theory is correct, the elections office will educate the public about the need to mark votes more clearly on ballots, Russell Bautista added.
Because of the new findings, a check for $756 was returned to Kerr, who has no children at Summerville High School but says she values involvement in education.
If a recount of ballots yields results in the requestor's favor, they are not responsible for the costs, Russell Bautista said.