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December 7, 2022

Investigation Underway After Discarded Ballots Found on Sugarloaf Road

A rural site about four miles from the Santa Cruz Mountains summit is now the focus of a federal investigation by the agency that probes mail system misdeeds.

That’s because this patch of ground along Sugarloaf Road, just north of Scotts Valley, is where one to two dozen election ballots were discovered, according to the United States Postal Service.

“This does not happen often,” said USPS spokesperson Justin Hastings, who noted its law enforcement arm, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, was in the middle of gathering additional information. “They’re like the FBI for the Postal Service.”

Sugarloaf Road is located in Santa Cruz County, about a 30-minute drive—without traffic—from the Santa Clara County elections office at 1555 Berger Drive in San Jose, where the ballots were supposed to end up.

It is a popular turnout for motorists traveling along Highway 17.

Hastings says he can’t comment on the ongoing investigation, but noted it had been given top priority at the agency, which investigates things like mail fraud and package theft.

Michael Borja, a communications officer with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, says NBC notified them on Nov. 11, three days after Election Day, that a member of the public had found the missing ballots alongside other mail.

“It looked like it was from the USPS mail stream,” he said. “From there, we began working with the USPS to resolve it as quickly as possible.”

Borja says it’s too soon to have a sense of what really occurred.

“We’re very concerned, and we’re taking it very seriously,” he said. “We would like to get the ballots in our hands.”

County elections officials hope USPS can wrap up its probe by next week.

“Once they conclude their investigation, we plan to take possession of the ballots,” Borja said, noting authorities still have to review the law to see if these citizens’ votes can be counted. “There are many safeguards.”

Borja says he’s not aware of any other time this has happened.

“It’s a rare occurrence,” he said, adding the investigation might reveal no postal worker is at fault. “It could also be someone taking stuff from USPS. We can’t assume anything.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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