Ballot counting changes, but Carmel voters stick to the tried and true.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
For nearly four hours late Tuesday, April 8, it was a waiting game in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Conversations piddled around grandkids, travels and recent surgeries but inevitably returned to a central question: “When will the results be in?”
At City Hall, incumbent Councilmembers Karen Sharp and Ken Talmage chatted calmly with their supporters. Mayor Sue McCloud was even more relaxed. Her only opponent was Dogman McBill, a ZZ-Top doppelganger who campaigned under the slogan “Everybody Loves Dogman.”
The focus wasn’t on the vote so much as the county registrar’s meddling with tradition.
For years, McCloud explained, Carmelites had been converging at City Hall around 8pm on election night. The absentee ballots would already be counted. The registrar—recently Tony Anchundo, before admitting to stealing from taxpayers—would bring the ballots from the precincts and run them through a machine right in front of the cake-nibbling crowd. The results would pop up on a screen, usually by 8:30pm or so, and then a robust faction would migrate to the Cypress Inn for celebratory or doleful librations, as appropriate.
But this year Anchundo’s replacement, Linda Tulett, instituted a slower ballot-counting procedure that left 60 or so people—all but a few of whom would qualify for senior discounts—hanging around City Hall for hours, grazing on cookies and frowning at the lack of decaf coffee. City Administrator Rich Guillen camped away from the hubbub in his office, waiting for word.
Tulett, on the phone from the Sunset Center polling place, said she was only enforcing election code. It’s her view that none of the paper ballots—not even the absentees—should be hand-counted until the voting is over, despite tradition. “My interpretation of the law is different,” she said. “You cannot know the tally before the polls are closed.”
The county could offer more assistance if Carmel held a regular election in February or June instead of administering its own special election in April, she added.
By 10pm, a thinned-out crowd shuffled to the Cypress Inn, where champagne and a crackling hearth awaited. But still no news. “Kinda took the bubble out of the party,” said long-time Carmelite Pam Klaumann.
Across town, at the home of lone City Council challenger Michael LePage, about three dozen people hobnobbed, noshed and wined. LePage’s supporters, who tend to be critical of the sitting City Council and mayor, seemed more sympathetic to the registrar’s perspective. Vinz Koller of the Monterey County Democrats said city-run special elections not only depress turnout but also invite snafus, like the erroneous instruction on this year’s ballot. “If the county had been running the election I don’t think this would have happened,” he said.
At quarter to twelve, LePage paused in the center of the room, head slightly bowed. The results were in; turnout was low. Sue McCloud had handily taken her fifth term as mayor, with 867 votes to McBill’s 295. Sharp and Talmage got 734 and 726 votes, respectively. LePage was right behind with 697. “Needless to say, I am disappointed,” he said. . “I’m still going to respond to the leadership position people put me in and I will still be a voice in this community.”
His supporters filed out of the house, deflated, at the pumpkin-hour of midnight.