Dems Question Carmel Election Results.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Monterey County Democrats may challenge the results of the April 8 Carmel-by-the-Sea mayoral and City Council election. “We have a major concern here that this ballot design might have decided the election,” says MCD Central Committee Chair Vinz Koller.
The ballot sent by mail March 10 instructed voters in English to “Vote for two” City Council candidates, but in Spanish to “Vote for no more than two.”
The City of Carmel-by-the-Sea sent notice of the correction to voters by mail, published it in newspapers, posted it on the elections department website and displayed it at the precincts, according to Monterey County Registrar of Voters Linda Tulett.
The notice that ran in the Weekly the week of April 3 contains at least two grammatical and spelling errors in Spanish. “It’s just an indication we shouldn’t let amateurs run the election,” Koller says.
The city runs its own special election in April rather than during the regular election cycles in February and June. In a regular election, county elections staff sends out the ballots and voter information. But in Carmel-by-the-Sea’s special election, the city disburses the ballots and the county runs the polls and verifies the vote count. The city pays the county for its work, Tulett says.
Monterey County Democrats has criticized the city for holding a special election. For one, Koller says, special elections tend to have lower voter turnout than regular elections, when more issues are on the ballot. Carmel’s April 8 election drew fewer than half of the city’s registered voters, according to the registrar. “More people make better decisions than fewer people,” Koller says.
Secondly, errors like the glitch in Carmel’s ballot language tend to happen more frequently during special elections because the administrators are not elections officials, Koller says. “If the county had been running the election I don’t think this would have happened.”
Finally, special elections cost more. “We have been arguing that there’s not good reason for the city to run a special election,” he says.
In the official finalized tally for the April 8 election, City Council challenger Michael LePage, the only Democrat running for the non-partisan position, trailed second-place winner Ken Talmage by 22 votes, or 1.6 percent.
In the vote-by-mail ballots, which contained the error and constituted more than three-quarters of the votes cast, LePage got 44 fewer votes than Talmage. In the precinct votes, which contained the correct language, LePage beat both Talmage and Sharp (who were tied) by 22 votes.
Koller says the discrepancy may have decided the race because some LePage supporters felt compelled to also vote for one of the incumbents. “Several voters who had voted absentee before the correction notice was issued told us afterwards that if they had known, they would have voted differently,” he stated in a press release.
Tulett says only the courts can determine whether the election is valid. “This is not something [the Monterey County Democrats] can ask this office or the city to do,” she says. “Voter intent is extremely difficult to pinpoint. It comes down to opinion.”
City Administrator Rich Guillen has no comment until he reviews the issue.
The Monterey County Democratic Party will likely decide whether to legally challenge the election by Monday, April 14, Koller says.
Read the Weekly’s earlier story about the April 8 Carmel election here.