Drudge Work Begins in Alarcon-Katz Recount


Sometimes democracy is glorious. Sometimes it’s the temp job from hell.

Sixteen temporary Los Angeles County workers got a taste of the more grueling side of the republic’s workings on Monday as they began recounting by hand each and every ballot cast in the 20th District primary race for state Senate.

The Democratic nomination in this race, awarded by a slim 29-vote margin to City Councilman Richard Alarcon, has been challenged by his closest opponent, Richard Katz. Katz requested the recount, and is paying for its cost, hoping to pick up 30 errors in the earlier count. But instead, Alarcon picked up one vote in Monday’s tallying.

Accordingly, the 16 temps settled themselves around tables under the fluorescent lights of the Los Angeles County Registar-Recorder’s office.


Eyes fixed, lips pressed together, the $7- to $8-an-hour workers sat in groups of four--like poker players, dealt out ballots and began the rhythmic drudge work required to do the people’s will.

One worker held each ballot against a piece of black velvet cloth, turned it over and read the punch-hole number aloud. The other three checked the reading, scratched hatchmarks on paper, and changed numbers.

“Twenty-seven,” “tally,” “check.” The murmurs floated around the tables. The hours passed. Rows of slash marks grew like days marked on a cell wall.

Leaning over them, volunteers from the competing campaigns squinted at every tiny punch-hole, and scratched notes on pads of paper. “Twenty-seven,” “tally.” An Alarcon volunteer snapped his bubble gum. “Twenty-eight,” “three,” a Katz volunteer sighed and leaned closer.


“There is no such thing as a perfect voting system,” said County Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack, looking on. “If there was, everyone would use it.”

By midday, Katz’s volunteers had found some 30 ballots to challenge, said Alarcon’s attorney, Fred Woocher.

The Katz people are looking for tiny bits of paper gone awry. Voters punch tiny perforated squares out of ballot cards to indicate preferences. But in rare cases, especially with absentee ballots--punched without the aid of a voting booth--physical-world problems intrude.

Paper squares cling to edges of the hole, or they just indent, and never separate from the card.


Occasionally, one suspects that the private anguish of voters, not voting mechanics, is to blame.

Even the impersonal balloting process can’t quite erase this human element. Take, for example, the ballots with more than one square punched, or those with one square punched and another dented.

And pity the poor voter who punches out a square, only to tape the bits of paper carefully back in place.

Of the ballots Katz’s volunteers requested set aside Monday, most had indented squares, tape or minute perforations.


A committee of deputy registrars will consider each challenged ballot, but McCormack said changes are rare. Committee members try to determine voters’ intent. Taped boxes are usually interpreted to mean the voter didn’t intend to mark that box.

She said the workers counted 6,158 ballots Monday. Fifty-seven were challenged, with a few changes noted, but the net result was one additional vote for Alarcon.

In the meantime, the long days at the registrar’s will continue. Said Katz campaign consultant Mitchell Englander: “I’m running out of nails to bite.”



Recount Snapshot

The battle of the Richards entered a new phase Monday as the recount began of ballots cast for Richard Alarcon and Richard Katz. The recount was requested by Katz, who lost the state Senate election by 29 votes.

Where: County Registrar-Recorder’s office, Norwalk.

Cost: Approximately $6,000 per day.


Payer: Katz. If results are reversed, money refunded.

Process: Ballots counted by four-person teams.

Caller: Examines each ballot and calls out vote.

Watcher: Checks ballot to make sure caller is correct.


Tallier: Records each vote on tally sheet.

Checker: Checks the work of tallier.


Ballot counters cannot eat, drink, talk or listen to music.


Observers cannot touch the ballots.