Amid continuing charges that voters had been misled by poll workers, Orange County Registrar of Voters Al Olson said Thursday that he will throw out any write-in votes cast for Bruce Sumner in a recount of the 40th Congressional District Democratic primary if voters failed to punch holes next to Sumner's name on their ballot.
Olson said the decision to throw out unpunched ballots is consistent with prior practice in election recounts. But Sumner, who hopes to overcome the 200-vote lead of Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. follower Art Hoffmann in the hotly contested race, said Thursday that votes written in for him should be counted regardless of whether holes were punched.
In the June 3 election, Sumner, Orange County's Democratic Party chief, campaigned as a write-in candidate against Hoffmann, who was the only Democrat listed on the congressional ballot. The results of the election were thrown into doubt by confusion over how many voters actually cast valid write-in ballots for Sumner.
At first, a computer tally of votes appeared to make Sumner the winner. But a subsequent hand count of ballots thrust Hoffmann into the lead. Earlier this week, Sumner said he will demand a recount when the election results are certified by Olson.
Vying to Face Badham
Both candidates are vying to take on incumbent Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach) in the November general election.
There were continuing charges by Sumner supporters Thursday that Democratic voters had been erroneously instructed by poll workers how to cast write-in votes.
In one case, a poll worker allegedly told a voter that a hole could be punched in a ballot, "but no name should be written in." Poll workers at that location, however, denied the accusation.
The exact number of ballots that stand to be thrown out under Olson's decision and their effect on the outcome will not be fully known until the election recount, which is expected to get under way about June 19.
Yet even Sumner, who launched the well-organized write-in campaign to defeat Hoffmann, admits the recount procedure could cost him votes instead of putting him into the lead. If that happens, Sumner said he intends to go to court to seek a new election. And in court, Sumner said, he will ask that his name be placed on the ballot, even though his own attorney is uncertain that such a maneuver would be approved.
But before Sumner can get to court, it is possible that Hoffmann will "ask for a recount of the recount," the LaRouche supporter said Thursday, adding: "You'll have a hard time finding a judge who will overthrow an election."
Earlier this week, two poll workers at separate voting locations said they had mistakenly blocked voters from casting write-in ballots for Sumner, based on the advice of registrar of voters officials.
However, Olson said Thursday that he believes that was not typical conduct in the 705 polling places.
Olson had previously disclosed that 13 precincts failed to file a mandatory report on write-ins, and the election workers in those precincts were called into the county elections department to hand-count the write-in ballots.
But on Thursday he downplayed the apparent snafus by some of his volunteer poll workers and defended "hundreds and hundreds of polling places that did their jobs very well."
Meanwhile, Sumner supporters released signed declarations by two people, one of them his son-in-law, who said they witnessed poll workers at separate locations give incorrect instructions on how to cast write-in ballots.
Poll Workers Dispute Claims
Election workers who staffed those polling places disputed those claims Thursday, saying they had properly advised voters.
In her declaration, Barbara Evans, a Republican and Orange County Superior Court commissioner, said that at about 7:45 p.m. on election night "one of the precinct workers whose name I do not know" at Los Naranjos Elementary School in Irvine, instructed voters that "a hole could be punched . . . but that no names should be written in."
Evans' declaration asserted further that a man waiting to vote engaged the poll worker in a "rather loud discussion." The man wanted to write a name on his ballot, but the worker told him he could not, Evans said.
When the man pressed the issue, Evans said, the poll worker responded by saying, "We don't like you to do that because it just messes up the voting."
But finally the poll worker told the man "if it would make him happy she guessed he could go ahead and write in a name," according to Evans' declaration. "She then produced several sheets of paper stapled together and showed them to the man, stating that this was a list of names that he could write in on his ballot."
'Everyone Was Told'
However, Esther A. Grant, who was a judge at the school polling place, said Thursday that "every Democrat who picked up a ballot, we told to be sure to punch a hole as well as write in."
"I know very well everyone was told," she said.
Yet in one morning incident, Grant said, a man was erroneously instructed that there were no Republican write-in candidates.
"I did tell him there were no authorized (Republican) write-ins, but later we found out there were," Grant said.
Sumner supporters also pointed Thursday to precincts in which there were more write-in votes written on ballots than there were holes punched in ballots, a fact which they said supported Evans' account.
However, the tallies of write-in votes provided by Sumner showed 13 write-ins punched by machines and 12 hand-counted votes for Sumner in the precinct where Evans voted. Grant said the 13th vote had been an improperly cast Republican ballot that "had nothing to do with this dispute about Sumner."
According to Sumner's son-in-law, Robert P. Mosier, three workers at a polling place on Heliotrope Avenue in Corona del Mar told him it was unnecessary to punch the ballot cards when casting write-in votes and "merely writing in the name was sufficient, they thought."
As a Republican, Mosier could not cast a ballot for his father-in-law in the primary but had inquired about the procedure because, he said, he had taken "an active interest" in Sumner's campaign.
However, two of the four workers assigned to the Heliotrope polling place, Malva J. Aynes, inspector, and Esther E. Parant, judge, said Thursday that Mosier is mistaken because they both informed voters that ballots must be punched by machine.
"It has to be recorded by a punch on the machine," Parant said. "Common sense should have told him that. You don't just write in a name and not record."
Olson said the discrepancies between machine-punched ballots and hand-counted votes are not unusual and may have reasonable explanations, including mistakes by voters who had been properly instructed but nevertheless failed to follow directions.
But Sumner said the apparent irregularities at the polls showed a "kind of an amazing lack of understanding of the basic voting process on the part of a lot of officials who were charged with that responsibility."