Sacramento Paper Gets Meg Whitman's Voting Record Wrong

The Sacramento Bee has drawn some heat for a September 24 article about California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's previous voting record.

In the piece, author Andrew McIntosh alleged that "Whitman regularly skipped elections in California and several other states where she lived and worked."

On Monday, conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt took McIntosh to task:

First, the “expert” McIntosh quotes to assess Whitman’s record is University of California, Irvine Professor Mark Petracca.  Mark’s been a friend of mine for 20 years, and he’s to the left of President Obama and a long time Democratic activist.  Asking Mark for an opinion on the significance of Whitman’s voting record is like quoting me and only me in a Bee story on Gavin Newsome’s [sic] temperament or Jerry Brown’s record on prisoner release litigation. 

For those unfamiliar, Newsom is the mayor of San Francisco and Jerry Brown is the former governor of California as well as the current attorney general; neither are liked by Hewitt. But I digress:

Even a modest level of attention should draw a reader’s eyes to this non-attributed assertion:  “The San Francisco County elections office no longer retains records prior to 1992, but said that had she been registered and voting, her registration information would have been transferred to the current system.  They have no record of her registration.” (My emphasis.)

“Offices” don’t make statements, people do, and no individual is quoted here. This is especially odd as voting data is not controversial, and such government offices routinely designate individuals to deal with press inquiries –individuals who can be quoted and whose quotes can be checked.  These are public records after all --not state secrets.

A little digging proved Hewitt correct:

Sure enough, the “San Francisco County elections office” is staffed by real people, and one of them, Jocelyn Wong –the “Campaign Services Coordinator”—had previously responded to a request for registration information on such high profile San Francisco residents as Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi with a letter that states that “there is no registration records kept prior to 1992 kept by the Department.” (sic).  

“Please also keep in mind that our database can only account for the voting history of voters from 1992 to the present since the Department switched databases that year,” Ms. Wong added.

As such, if the San Francisco County elections office doesn't have registration records before 1992, the Bee's conclusion about Whitman's record prior to that year seems questionable.

But that's not all:

After noting that Whitman lived in Ohio from 1979 to 1981 after graduating from Harvard, McIntosh wrote that “[n]either Ohio State elections officials nor Hamilton County Board of Election officials found a record of Whitman registering or voting there.” [...]

I e-mailed Whitman campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds about the story.  He produced a letter from Hamilton County’s Board of Elections’ Registration Clerk Jean Beirise stating unequivocally that Meg Whitman was registered in the county from April of 1980 through December of 1982, when her registration was canceled and stamped “MOVED OUT OF THE COUNTY.”

“Ohio election officials had confirmed in writing that Meg Whitman had registered in Hamilton County, Ohio while living there,” Bounds succinctly noted.

I pressed Bounds for any other errors in the Bee report, and while Bounds repeated again and again that Whitman makes no excuses for her spotty voting record, the Bee had missed evidence of her 1999 registration in Santa Clara County in addition to the error concerning Ohio and the misleading account concerning San Francisco’s records.

Records concerning Whitman's registration history in San Francisco and Ohio are available here

Moving forward, Hewitt interviewed the Bee's capital bureau editor Amy Chance Monday. As can be heard here, Chance got quite flustered by Hewitt's questions, and eventually hung up on him.

The following day, another newspaper in Northern California, the Contra Costa Times, wrote:

In a letter to the Whitman campaign, John Arntz, the director of the San Francisco department of elections, wrote: "We cannot confirm or deny whether individual records for people where records were canceled prior to 1992 were included in the transition to the current system."

"Some records were moved forward, and some weren't," Arntz added in an interview. "There's no way to confirm if she voted."

That point seems to undercut the Bee's assertion that had she been registered and voting, her information would have been transferred to the city's current system. But Arntz noted that if Whitman had voted in the 1980s, as her campaign claims, then canceled her registration before 1992, it could explain why her records weren't found.

The Bee apparently realized some of its story was on thin ice and published the following Wednesday:

As The Bee first reported last month, the San Francisco County elections office no longer retains voting records prior to 1992.

But San Francisco Elections Office clerk Laura Roman said that if Whitman - who lived there between 1981 and 1989 - had been registered and voted at either of her two San Francisco addresses, her registration information would have been transferred to the new system. Officials there have no record of that.

Whitman's campaign said in its letter that it could find no voting information for prominent San Francisco Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein during the same period in the 1980s.

San Francisco officials could not be reached to conduct a registration search for Pelosi and Feinstein on Tuesday.

But The Bee was able to find state records that dated Pelosi's San Francisco County voting registration to Feb. 12, 1987, something it could not do for Whitman. The state record shows Feinstein's current registration dates to 1995.

Unfortunately, the Bee didn't say WHERE it got Pelosi's records from.

But new information surfaced Wednesday throwing cold water on the Bee's story. As published by the San Jose Mercury:

It turns out Meg Whitman did register to vote in Santa Clara County in the late 1990s, though she never had the chance to cast a ballot during her eight months on the rolls.

The revelation that the county Registrar of Voters had overlooked Whitman's registration was a victory for the GOP candidate for governor, who has been battered in recent weeks over her voting record.

The registrar's office Wednesday acknowledged it was wrong when it told the Sacramento Bee and other news outlets last month that Whitman hadn't registered after she moved to Silicon Valley to become CEO of eBay, the online auction giant. [...]

Matt Moreles, administrative support officer for the Santa Clara County registrar, said a newly discovered backup file showed that Whitman, who at the time lived in Palo Alto, was registered as an independent voter from Feb. 8, 1999 to Oct. 4, 1999. She had become CEO of eBay in February 1998.

She never voted in those eight months, but there were no elections in which she was eligible to cast a ballot, Moreles said. [...]

The San Francisco County elections office no longer retains records before 1992, but the Bee reported that if Whitman had been registered and voted, her registration would have been transferred to the county's current system. But John Arntz, director of the San Francisco department of elections, told the Mercury News on Tuesday that might not necessarily be true.

In addition, a Bee assertion that Whitman never registered to vote in Ohio when she lived there from 1979 to 1981 was upended after elections officials there turned up microfiche records to the contrary; those officials earlier had relied solely on computer records.

Likely as a result of these new findings, the Bee backtracked Thursday:

Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was registered as a Republican voter in San Francisco in 1982 and also signed up to vote in Santa Clara County in 1999, according to previously undisclosed records.

The new information about Whitman's San Francisco voting registration history surfaced Wednesday after The Bee made a public records request to the San Francisco County Elections Department that, in turn, led to a chance discovery. [...]

Officials found an uncataloged San Francisco voter list that was printed Oct. 19, 1985, and then put on a microfiche and kept at the public library, according to librarian Wendy Kramer and San Francisco Department of Elections Director John Arntz.

That 1985 voter list, held by the library's San Francisco History Center, shows that Margaret Cushing Whitman registered on Sept. 22, 1982, as a Republican. [...]

On Wednesday, officials said they had found a registration record for Whitman on a 1999 backup of county records not normally available to county officials.

"The backup file confirmed that Ms. Whitman was registered to vote in Palo Alto from February 8, 1999, to October 4, 1999," Santa Clara County spokesman Matt Moreles said.

So, more than two weeks after the Bee's piece on the subject, it turns out Whitman was registered in San Francisco in 1982, and then in Santa Clara in 1999.

Amazing.

More importantly, lost in all the squabbling is the stupidity of this entire issue.

Let's assume Whitman or any other person entering politics had no history of registering to vote. Who cares?

People on both sides of the aisle like to complain about career politicians. One also hears gripes about the inability of either Party to attract successful business leaders to their ranks that would bring new, highly-talented blood into government.

With this in mind, if a professional person has ignored politics his or her life to instead focus on a career or family, and then decides that the current state of the nation or his or her state is such that he or she wants to run for office to try and improve things, shouldn't that be applauded?

Don't we need more professional and business people in our capitals to rescue governments from their current fiscal crises?

After all, there have been a number of such defections from the private sector of late that didn't halt a political run.

As the Washington Post reported on September 28:

Jon Corzine: Corzine, who is in a battle for a second term as governor of New Jersey, had to overcome the fact that he hadn't voted in a Democratic primary since 1988 and had missed three general elections in that time when he first ran for the Senate in 2000. He did it by spending more than $60 million of his own money.

John Edwards: When Edwards, a successful trial lawyer, decided to challenge Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R) in the 1998 election cycle, the Democrat had voted in only half of the elections over the previous seven years -- missing the chance to cast a ballot in the 1994 Republican tidal-wave election among others. North Carolina voters didn't seem to mind, electing Edwards and then watching as he ran twice -- unsuccessfully -- for president in 2004 and 2008.

Bill Frist: The former Senate majority leader had never voted before 1988, despite being able to do so since 1971. Now-Sen. Bob Corker, who unsuccessfully challenged Frist in the 1994 GOP primary, ran ads slamming Frist for his inconsistent voting record. "Bill Frist didn't vote for 18 years, and he's never voted in a Republican primary," said the ad's narrator. "Now he wants to be our Republican nominee for the United States Senate. You've got to be kidding." Voters didn't buy it -- handing Frist victories in the GOP primary and over appointed Sen. Jim Sasser (D) in the general election.

Apparently this is not at all surprising. A November 2000 BusinessWeek article noted how CEOs have a horrible voting record: 

BUSINESS WEEK examined the voting record of 100 top executives. We found that the majority voted in most federal elections, but even as Congress shifts more decision-making power to state governments, precious few bothered to vote regularly in state or municipal elections (see table, "The Executive Ballot Box").

A disturbing number of top executives, however, had worse-than-spotty records. No registration could be found for a small group of execs such as AT&T's ( T) Mike Armstrong, eBay's ( EBAY) Meg Whitman, and Yahoo!'s ( YHOO) Tim Koogle. Charles Ergen of Echostar Communications ( DISH) registered on Oct. 10, and James Goodwin of UAL ( UAL) updated his registration on Oct. 18--both after inquiries were made. And some corporate chieftains, such as Oracle's ( ORCL) Larry Ellison and Nabisco Group's ( NGH) Steven Goldstone, are registered but don't vote.

A review of BW's Executive Ballot Box identified many of these top business leaders with less than stellar voting records. Should that disqualify them from seeking office if after years of running one of America's leading companies they decide they want to serve their country?

Frankly, not only shouldn't it, it should be irrelevant.

After all, people's passions change with age, and America sorely needs some more successful professionals who have ignored politics all of their lives to suddenly become passionate about changing the country's current downhill slide.

Maybe then we'd have more people in our capitals that understand the importance of intelligent budgeting and not spending more money than you take in as revenues.

I'm just saying.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.