April 15, 2008 - Concerns over Carmel election
Paper: Monterey County Herald, The (CA)
Title: Concerns over Carmel election
Date: April 15, 2008
Author: Laith Agha
If all goes as planned today, Ken Talmage and Karen Sharp will be sworn in for new terms as Carmel City Council members.
But some Carmel residents are saying "not so fast" in light of some controversial wording on the ballot they say influenced the April 9 election results.
"The ballot language was in violation of state election code," said Vinz Koller, chairman of the Monterey County Democratic Central Committee, which is acting on behalf of the Carmel residents who raised concerns.
"We believe that the ballot error actually changed the outcome of this election," Koller said. "When you're talking about only a difference of 22 votes, that really speaks to these serious issues hanging over this election."
Koller sent a letter to Mayor Sue McCloud on Monday informing her that the Democratic Central Committee is assisting some Carmel voters with preliminary steps to contest the election results. The letter also asked that the swearing-in be postponed until the matter is resolved.
Two seats were up during last week's election. Michael LePage was the lone challenger to Talmage and Sharp, both of whom filled seats vacated by council members who left their posts.
Talmage stepped in for China-bound Eric Bethel in December 2006, and Sharp finished out Mike Cunningham's post, after he resigned in July. Both Talmage and Sharp were appointed by the City Council.
Carmel residents also voted for mayor on April 8. McCloud handily won re-election over challenger Dogman McBill.
The wording in question instructed voters to select two candidates, which was "perceived by many as being a mandate" to vote for two candidates, Koller said. State election code effectively states that the ballot should have instructed voters to vote for no more than two candidates, allowing for the option to cast one or no votes for City Council.
The Central Committee informed the city of the error about two weeks before the election day, and Carmel responded promptly by issuing a correction to voters . More than half the votes were cast by absentee voters before the correction was issued, Koller said, adding that the ballot's wording inherently favored incumbents. A count of votes cast after the correction was issued showed that votes were cast for LePage with greater frequency, Koller said.
Both incumbents retained their seats, but it was a tight three-way race. The 747 votes LePage received were just 22 less than Talmage's 769, and 37 less than Sharp's 784.
Mayor Sue McCloud declined to comment Monday, saying it was an issue for the county registrar of voters . County Registrar of Voters Linda Tulett did not return a message left by The Herald late Monday afternoon.
Koller disagreed with McCloud about it being a county matter, since the city ran the election.
The County Elections office usually conducts elections, but because it ran the primary election in February and is gearing up for another election in June, the county office did not have the resources to run a third election between those two.
"We have some concern that the city ran this election," Koller said. "We do believe that it's far less likely that this would have happened had the (county) elections department run this election. Now the question is, do we need to take the next step and challenge this in a court of law?"
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Record Number: 14875930
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