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Write-in Votes Found; Lasky Makes Fall Ballot to Challenge Mojonnier

Times Staff Writer

When we left Michael Lasky on Thursday, the write-in candidate--the lead of a political soap opera that might well be called, “As the 75th Assembly District Turns"--was dangling 43 votes short of the 1,371 needed to get his name on the November ballot, and had been told by local election officials that his fate might not be determined for another week.

On Friday, however, the 44-year-old UC San Diego doctoral candidate learned that the discovery of ballots misplaced earlier this week had pushed his vote total to 1,382--making him, local election officials believe, the first Assembly write-in candidate to qualify for the ballot in at least a decade.

“The waiting was frustrating, so it’s gratifying to finally know the result,” Lasky said.

Friday’s developments mean that Lasky, a Democrat, accomplished his goal of preventing the automatic reelection of Assemblywoman Sunny Mojonnier (R-Encinitas). Lasky, president of the University City Democratic Club, concedes that he has little chance of success this fall in the heavily Republican district, but says that he is content simply to be on the ballot because “every public official needs to be held accountable at election time.”

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Ray Ortiz, San Diego County registrar of voters, said Friday that Lasky “went over the top” as a result of about 50 write-in ballots that poll workers had mistakenly placed in some of the more than 300 precinct vote boxes that contain damaged and unused ballots.

“No matter how many times we tell the poll inspectors the proper procedures, after 16 hours (on Election Day), they get pretty tired and end up throwing everything together in the same box instead of where it belongs,” Ortiz said. “This happens a lot.”

What does not happen a lot, however, is a write-in candidate qualifying for the ballot--a task that requires an individual to receive write-in votes totaling at least 1% of the ballots cast for the office in the last general election.

Ortiz and other election officials said they cannot recall any such occurrence since at least the mid-1970s, and perhaps longer.

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“The fact that it happens so rarely shows that it’s not an easy thing to do,” Ortiz said.

The county’s most notable write-in candidacy was that of former Carlsbad dentist Ron Packard, who in 1982 became only the fourth person in American political history to win a write-in campaign for Congress.

“This tells me that Democrats were very interested in having a race in the 75th District,” Lasky said. “People wanted a choice.” The coastal district stretches from the Mexican border to Leucadia and extends inland to Mira Mesa and Rancho Bernardo.

On Thursday, Ortiz said the outcome in the 75th District probably would not be known for another week because all of Lasky’s write-in votes had to be hand-counted and because the registrar’s office had higher priorities--including canvassing very close races for the San Ysidro school district and the Lemon Grove City Council.

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“But we just opened up the boxes, and there they were,” Ortiz said of the misplaced write-in ballots.

With other precinct boxes remaining to be examined, Lasky’s final vote total probably will exceed 1,382--not that the final count particularly matters, because in this case, every vote beyond 1,371 is superfluous.

Another would-be Assembly candidate, however, appears to have fallen short in his bid to qualify for the 74th District ballot, election officials said.

Jim Melville, a Democrat who had hoped to oppose Assemblyman Robert Frazee (R-Carlsbad) in the 74th District, which includes parts of northern San Diego County and southern Orange County, was at least 148 votes short of the 1,195 needed to qualify for the November ballot as of late Friday. If Melville fails, Frazee will face only minor-party opposition.

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Although the final write-in count in the 74th District race will not be known until at least next week, few ballots remain to be counted. Also, Orange County election officials said Melville’s vote total is more likely to decrease than increase when they hand-inspect ballots counted by computer on Election Day.

While the registrar’s computers counted 387 write-in ballots in the Orange County portion of the 74th District, some of those votes may have been cast for individuals other than Melville, according to Rosalyn Lever, Orange County’s chief of elections operations.


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