Los Banos school board race remains in limbo

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comNovember 15, 2012 

The six-man race for the three seats on the Los Banos Unified School District board remains too close to call amid rumors and reports of voting mishaps.

Kent Christensen, Merced County's Registrar of Voters, said his crew is counting 9,000 vote-by-mail ballots and 3,000 provisional ballots countywide. Not until that count is complete will he know the number of irregularities and votes, he said.

"Until we get done, there's nothing to do about it," Christensen said.

Checking and double-checking ballots can be a lengthy process, he said, especially with provisional ballots. When a voter goes to a polling place and isn't on the roster, the voter fills out a provisional ballot. The registrar's office must check by hand if the provisional voter was registered before the vote can count.

"That's what's taking so long," Christensen said.

Christensen confirmed that some voters were given the wrong ballots at a polling place. When informed of this on Election Day, his office contacted the poll workers to make sure voters were getting the correct ballots.

If, indeed, it is determined that the number of mistaken ballots might affect the outcome of the voting, Christensen said "we would have to get direction" from legal counsel and/or California Secretary of State Debra Bowen about how to proceed.

The school district could opt to conduct a do-over election itself.

"But we're better equipped to handle it," Christensen said. "It's our responsibility."

It is not unusual for election certification to to take two to four weeks. Christensen said he is required to finish the job by Dec. 4.

Meanwhile, at least four candidates in tight races wait for the final numbers.

Attorney Dominic Falasco leads incumbent Colleen Menefee by 11 votes (569 to 558) in District 4, while retiree Carole Duffy outpaces incumbent Jack Vasquez by 55 votes (578 to 523) in District 6.

Retired teacher Tommy Jones has a comfortable lead over manufacturing engineer Thomas Higby, 637 to 302 in the race for District 2.

Duffy, a newcomer to the process, said she would not want another vote if it were to cost the school district any money. She said she would be satisfied with the results.

"If the election board is not concerned, why should I be?" Duffy said.

Menefee, who has served on the board since 1987, said she heard of "numerous" reports of ballot problems at the polls and by absentee. Menefee said she hasn't made up her mind on the issue of a do-over.

"I'd like to know, if I lost, that it's what people wanted," Menefee said.

Falasco and Vasquez were not available for comment.

Superintendent Steve Tietjen said the process will not disrupt the day-to-day workings of the school district. He said he received complaints of voting issues and directed them to the registrar's office.

"It seems to me there are legitimate questions being asked," Tietjen said.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

enterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.

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