Local Politics

Friday, Jul 18 2014 03:02 PM

Controller candidate asks Kern to speed up recount

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    John Perez is the former California Speaker of the Assembly .

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County elections workers have found a rhythm to their counting and picked up the pace as the re-tally of the state controller's race rolls on.

But the pace isn't fast enough for John Perez.

On Tuesday and Thursday, Perez's legal counsel asked Kern to scrap the hand count of ballots that the candidate had requested and move to an electronic tally in "an effort to speed up the process."

"We're sensitive to the time considerations. We are doing everything we can within the confines of the California recount process to move this process forward as expeditiously as possible," said Stephen Kaufman, the attorney representing Perez.

"Counsel is reviewing them and we will be responding," Kern's Chief Deputy Registrar Karen Rhea said. "Right now we're moving ahead under the original request."

Perez, the former speaker of the California Assembly, took third place in the June primary balloting. He sits only 481 votes behind second-place finisher and fellow Democrat Betty Yee.

He called for a recount in 15 of California's 58 counties in hopes of bettering Yee and earning a spot on the general election ballot against Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

COUNTING COSTS

Kern County and Imperial County started recounting ballots July 11.

So far in Kern, Perez has whittled only three votes off Yee's lead. He's spent $20,095 on the Kern count, Rhea said, which adds up to a little more than $6,698 per additional vote.

"Kern has been moving slowly," Kaufman said, acknowledging, though, that its pace has increased.

Kern had counted 28,020 ballots by the end of Thursday. But 10,183 of them were counted on Thursday.

With 44,310 ballots left to count in Kern -- all the county's ballots must be counted before changes can be certified -- Rhea believes it will take at least another week to finish the work.

"I am hoping we can get it by next Friday. That is ambitious. It may go over by a day. Every day it's picking up speed," she said.

COUNTY BURDEN

Rhea said the cost to her operation has been high.

Preparations for the November general election have already begun, she said.

The Perez recount has forced her to delay staff's vacations, halt training for new workers and ask experienced staff to shuttle between two complicated tasks.

The campaign observers from the various interest groups have been good to work with, Rhea said.

"It's been very cordial," she said. "Everyone is doing their job. We're just working through the process."

But Rhea said it's pretty clear that time pressures are manifesting.

"There's a desire to move this along to other counties. There is a limited time before we start printing for the November ballot," she said. "My guess is they are anxious to wrap this up -- as are we."

There is also pressure on Perez to end the recount and let his fellow Democrat focus on defeating Swearengin, The Sacramento Bee and other publications have reported.

SPEED

Rhea said she wasn't sure that Perez's request to move to electronic counting would really speed up the process here.

The logistical adjustment necessary to shift mid-stream to machine counting would wipe out any benefits to the speedier machine count.

Machines would have to be recalibrated and staff would have to be moved around before the count could restart, Rhea said.

"My expectation is it would take us about the same amount of time," she said.

Kaufman said the Perez campaign would respect Rhea's expertise as they work toward how best to get the count done quickly.

Perez, after all, is footing the daily bill.

And ultimately, Rhea said, it was the by-hand count that produced the small number of ballot changes that did happen.

Some votes, she said, were overvotes or blank ballots the machines had trouble reading. A hand review of those ballots allowed elections officials to determine whom a voter who failed to cast his or her ballot properly intended to support.

In one case the voter had circled Perez's name -- rather than bubbling it in -- and also written Perez's name on the ballot.

MISTAKES

Other changes did come, she said, from counting errors. The counting machine sometimes jams or fails to tally a ballot.

If the elections worker stops the machine and mistakenly removes a ballot that has already been counted from the machine and recounts it, the results can be wrong.

That happens very infrequently.

On Thursday only two such mistakes were found in the 10,183 that were recounted.

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