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The recount: Why I support it and what will it cost

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Once again an issue has divided B-town. This time it’s the city council run-off recount. Some folks figured out quickly that this recount is a good way to have a public review of Burbank’s controversial mail-in ballot election system. I agree with this point of view. Last Thursday when Burbank resident, George Marciniw, abruptly withdrew from the recount process, putting it in jeopardy, I was one of the voters who stepped up to keep it alive. The other two are Kevin and Linda Muldoon.

Readers of this blog are probably not surprised by my decision. Frequently, I have declared my faith in the democratic process, which includes voter participation in elections. During the past several months, a countdown to the Burbank Primary and General Elections appeared on this website.  Also, I’ve written about the controversy surrounding the city’s mail-in ballots elections and included my own concerns about dropping my voted ballot into a Burbank post office mail slot.  

I reject the schoolyard taunt of “sore loser!” that is coming from some who are afraid of this recount going forward. It’s not about trying to change the results of a tight city council race where Planning Board member, Emily Gabel-Luddy, beat Police Commissioner, Bob Frutos, by less than 100 votes to win a seat on that panel in the recent April 12 General Election. (Disclosure: I endorsed Bob Frutos)  It’s about taking this opportunity to see what worked and perhaps didn’t work with the mail-in-ballot system in this contest, then using that review to improve or ditch the Burbank mail-in ballot system for something better.

Among the many questions about this recount — what will it cost? The election integrity group, Protect California Ballots, has joined Burbank residents in this recount request. Group founder, Judy Alter, responded to some e-mail questions about the recount cost. Here are the questions and answers.

1. There has been haggling over the price of the recount from the beginning. It’s even referred to in the April 20, 2011 recount request letter? Can you explain what the City Clerk, Margarita Campos, claimed the cost of the recount would be? And why you disagreed?

I learned from George and another citizen that she said that the costs would be more if the recount board member, who reads out the vote, would have to read out more than one name and even  “no vote.” I do not believe that this is accurate.  A recount requires that the vote on each ballot be read and observed for a recount of any race or issue to be legal. A ballot only has one vote on it for a candidate or has no vote.  The entire race with all ballots must be included in the process. I have just written out my understanding of a recount and will send Ms  Campos this letter tomorrow (Monday April 25).  Perhaps Ms. Campos has not conducted a recount, called a ”protest” in Burbank.  I know that the CA Elections Code specifies what to pay the recount board members:  the rate that poll workers earn for a day.  The CA Elections Code does not list any other expenses.  In Orange County the registrar charged only the poll worker rate for his 3 recount boards, but other registrars have charged much more.  These high charges feel like a deliberate means to discourage citizen actions such as asking for a a recount.

2.  You spoke to a state official about what cities are legally allowed to charge for the cost of a recount?  Who was that and what did he have to say?

I spoke to the CA Deputy Secretary of State, Lowell Finley, about how a recount is conducted and about what an election official can charge. He verified that all the votes for the race need to be read, observed and tallied by two people: four people on a recount board.   He suggested other possible expenses that an election official might charge such as for security.  I have asked Ms Campos for an itemized list of expenses.

In the request letter I asked for a written chain of custody of all the mail-in ballots from when they were sent out to when they were returned and had their signatures matched.  This chain of custody request is equivalent to our examining the roster books to check that the number of signatures match the total ballots cast for each precinct. That must be part of the recount procedure and should be included in the cost of the recount. She mentioned to George that she might charge us extra for this.

3. So how much should the city of Burbank charge for this city council race recount?

I am guessing that two recount boards for about $800 a day would take two or three days to recount the city council race: $1600 -$2400 for the recount boards.  Maybe less, depending on the time it takes.  That would be a similar cost to the Orange County City Council race that one of my colleagues in Protect California Ballots witnessed. I do not know what other expenses she will list, so I cannot say. 

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For more information on the election watchdog group, Protect California Ballots, and/or to donate to this recount go here.

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3 Responses to The recount: Why I support it and what will it cost

  1. Jim C. Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 2:32 am #

    Fronnie,

    Now the city clerk says that the “protest” request was withdrawn and that the protest period expired on Wednesday the 20th at 5 p.m.

    So, she has forwarded the “final” results to the council for ratification tomorrow night. It looks like she’s refusing to honor a recount request because it already “expired.”

    It’s on the latest council agenda, published Friday afternoon I believe. If it’s been preempted then I don’t know why they deliberately left it on there.

  2. Fronnie Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Jim,

    The recount or “protest” request as the city is calling it was received on Wednesday 20, 2011 before 5 p.m.

    George Marciniw’s withdrawal letter was not dropped off at the Burbank City Clerk’s office until Thursday, April 21. In his letter (which I have a copy of) Marciniw says quote: The organization “Protect California Ballots” representative Judy Alter would like to pursue the recount using Journalist Fronnie Lewis to take my place if that is acceptable.

    According to the California Deputy Secretary of State, Lowell Finley, this is acceptable and legal.

    Also on Thursday April 21, I handed City Clerk Margarita Campos my personal letter volunteering to replace Marciniw in the recount request process. While I was there, Kevin Muldoon came in with two letters and handed them to Campos. All three letters were delivered to the city clerk before 5 p.m. Thursday, April 21.

  3. Jim C. Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 4:45 am #

    Interesting.

    So the request was filed in a timely fashion on Wednesday– on their own calendar-day deadline– and never withdrawn.

    That means they must begin the recount no later than this Friday.

    There is also a 24-hour provision in the law that allows other people to join in on the recount and seek additional precincts to be added. This could also justify new voters being included.

    The good news here is that the Deputy SOS is a huge election-rights activist and attorney. He’s not going to be happy about Burbank’s refusal.

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