Sumner to Ask for Recount; Registrar Predicts He’ll Win
Bruce Sumner, Orange County Democratic Party chief, said Monday that he will ask for a recount in his campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 40th Congressional District against Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. follower Art Hoffmann.
Meanwhile, Registrar of Voters A.E. Olson said he expected that a recount will show Sumner to be the ultimate winner and added that he may ask the district attorney’s office to investigate the returns from last Tuesday’s balloting as a check against possible election fraud.
The contest for the district’s Democratic nomination went into limbo Friday when Olson said Sumner, the apparent victor in votes tallied by computer, was actually losing as the hand count progressed.
Sumner, 61, a retired judge, waged a write-in campaign in a bid to prevent Hoffmann, the only Democrat listed on the ballot in the 40th District race, from becoming the party’s standard bearer.
Following last Tuesday’s primary election, the unofficial computer tally gave Sumner a 1,459-vote margin over Hoffmann in what appeared to be a rare triumph for a write-in candidate.
However, each precinct was supposed to hand-count write-in votes and file a signed report with Olson, which is separate from the computer tally. Officials were surprised to learn Friday that the hand count by precinct workers showed Sumner had received about 2,000 fewer write-in votes than the county’s vote-tallying computer showed for him.
What’s more, 14 precincts never filed mandatory reports of write-in votes after the polls closed last Tuesday, and one of those was still being counted today.
“I have no idea why they didn’t,” Olson said. “We’ve called them in to do their hand count here (at the registrar’s office), and by tonight (Monday) we expect to have only one more to go.”
The revelations put Sumner behind Hoffmann in the vote tally, and Olson said Monday that he will certify Hoffmann the winner next Tuesday--June 17.
As soon as that happens, Sumner announced at a Monday news conference, he will definitely seek a recount. Olson said such a recount would probably begin June 19 and take a few days to complete.
The registrar added that Sumner will not have to pay the $5,000 cost if the recount changes the result, something that he expects will happen. Olson cited evidence that some election workers probably missed counting write-in votes for Sumner. In some precincts, for example, the election workers’ hand count of write-ins is the same or comes within one or two votes of the computer-tallied write-ins. But in several precincts, the difference between the two tallies is greater than 50%.
“That just can’t be,” Olson said. “Those precincts where that happened just don’t fit the established pattern.”
To vote for Sumner, voters were supposed to write in his name in the blank space provided on the ballot just below Hoffmann’s name. Then they were supposed to place the ballot card in a ballot-marking machine and punch a hole next to Sumner’s name. If either the name or the hole was missing, the vote was disqualified.
Officials believe some voters punched a hole in the appropriate space for a write-in but failed to write anybody’s name next to the hole. The county’s vote-tallying computers count such holes automatically because they are not programmed to insist on a matchup between a hole and a candidate’s name.
Also, officials believe that some voters wrote in names such as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. However, these would normally account for only a fraction of the disputed tally in the 40th District--not enough to explain the big difference between the computer tally and the hand count.
Olson said he might have to seek a district attorney’s inquiry if it turns out that poll workers signed reports that falsely claimed there were no write-in votes for Sumner in their precincts.
Expects Issue to Arise
“I’m not sure yet as to what we would do, but that’s a subject certainly up for discussion,” Olson said. “We have to check and see what the Elections Code says about it. . . . Right now there’s no proof of election fraud, but I expect that issue will come up, and I may have to ask the D.A. to take a look. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
A cautious Olson warned against fixing blame for potentially incorrect write-in tallies by volunteers who staffed polling locations in last Tuesday’s election. He even barred picture-taking around election workers who were still hand-counting write-ins Monday, saying such photos might lead to unwarranted “finger-pointing.”
Olson also cautioned that there is no evidence of fraud and that it’s possible erroneous reports resulted from a “misunderstanding” of what procedures election workers were to follow.
Meanwhile, the gap between Sumner and Hoffmann had narrowed to only 224 votes Monday afternoon. But that was still not close enough to avoid Sumner’s demand for next week’s recount, since a computer tally showed there are only a maximum of 68 write-in votes that could show up in the last precinct to be hand-counted today.
Sumner praised Olson and his staff Monday and named prominent Orange County trial lawyer Frank P. Barbaro to oversee next week’s recount for him. A former county Democratic chairman, Barbaro ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 1982 against Republican Edward R. Royce of Anaheim.
Sumner said that if he loses the recount to Hoffmann he will not mount a write-in campaign in the fall. “I’ll return to my law practice,” he said.
Indeed, Sumner’s chances as an official Democratic candidate would be difficult enough in the heavily Republican 40th Congressional District--let alone as a write-in candidate.
A 1982 write-in effort by Republican Ron Packard succeeded in defeating GOP nominee Johnny Crean and Democrat Pat Archer in that November’s election. But Packard’s success came in a major Republican stronghold--the 43rd Congressional District--and it was only the fourth time a write-in campaign for the House had succeeded.
By contrast, Sumner would be a Democrat running a write-in campaign in hostile GOP territory against six-term incumbent Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach).
And while Democratic political observers give Hoffmann virtually no chance of defeating Badham, they have been concerned that the election could provide a forum for LaRouche’s extremist views. A former Socialist-turned right-wing conservative, LaRouche is a declared 1988 presidential candidate.
LaRouche has claimed at various times that President Reagan is drugged, that Queen Elizabeth is a dope dealer and that Henry Kissinger is an “agent of influence” for the Soviet Union.