Election certified despite errors

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comDecember 1, 2012 

The Merced County Registrar of Voters certified the Nov. 6 election on Monday, but some of the results may be in dispute in the school board race.

"It all depends on whether someone wants to (contest) it," said Registrar Kent Christensen.

In two of three Los Banos Unified School District board of trustee seats, candidates are separated by dozens of votes in precincts with hundreds of voting errors.

Retired teacher Tommy Jones, though, handily beat manufacturing engineer Thomas Higby, 727 votes to 354, in the race for District 2.

Attorney Dominic Falasco finished in front of incumbent Colleen Menefee by 25 votes (670 to 645) in District 4, while retiree Carole Duffy beat incumbent Jack Vasquez by 69 votes (695 to 626) in District 6.

Christensen confirmed that some voters were given the wrong ballots at a polling place on Election Day. His office contacted the poll workers to make sure voters were getting the correct ballots.

Christensen said District 4, which includes seven precincts, reported 103 people voted who should not have voted in the race, while 19 who should have were not given ballots. For District 6, which also covers seven precincts, 51 people voted who should not have while 51 were not allowed.

Christensen blamed human error for the mistakes, and said changes to districting likely added to the confusion. Trustees were elected by districts for the first time this year and the new census count changed a number of districts, he said.

Christensen said the elections will stand unless a candidate files a complaint to Merced County Superior Court.

"It's not something that's going to drag out very long," he said.

The candidates have 30 days from when Christensen certified the election to contest on grounds of error. Candidates may contest an election, according to state election code, if "the precinct board in conducting the election or in canvassing the returns, made errors sufficient to change the result of the election ... ."

Christensen said in bringing a case, the candidate has to have demonstrable numbers. Menefee, for example, would have to demonstrate error in at least 26 votes, one more than the difference in her race, that would sway the result in her favor.

He estimated a do-over election could cost $4 per registered voter.

Shannan Velayas, California Secretary of State spokeswoman, said her office would not get involved in the process, because it deals in statewide elections and initiatives, and local school board elections are the jurisdiction of the county.

Candidate reactions

Duffy said she has no reason to second guess the numbers, if the registrar has certified the results. She was glad to be declared the winner in District 6.

"I ran with all hopes of winning. In that way, it's good," Duffy said. "I'm looking forward to working with the board."

Menefee said she has heard from voters who said they had issues at the poll, but she will continue to look into them. She said if she can determine enough voting errors to sway the outcome, she'll move forward with a lawyer.

"I am willing to spend some money, because I think it needs to be right," Menefee said.

Falasco and Vasquez were not available for comment.

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

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