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Surprise Shift in Prop. 72 Vote Tally

Times Staff Writers

The fate of a statewide proposition mandating health insurance coverage -- assumed to have been defeated in the Nov. 2 election -- was thrown into confusion Tuesday night after the secretary of state’s office reported that late-counted ballots had given Proposition 72 a narrow margin of victory.

But state elections officials, who had posted the results on the secretary of state’s website after the close of business Tuesday, removed them a few hours later, fearing that a clerical error was responsible for the surprising turnaround.

Officials said they would verify the information today.

“We had updates from 17 different counties today, but we are suspicious that one did not report something right,” said Caren Daniels-Meade, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Kevin Shelley.

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“So we have to get in touch with them all tomorrow.”

If the late results prove accurate, however, it would make for one of the most remarkable come-from-behind victories in California’s election history.

Proposition 72, which would require all employers with 50 or more workers to provide health insurance, was the subject of one of the most intense battles in this year’s election. It pitted doctors, unions and consumer advocates against California’s business sectors.

Election night reports had the measure narrowly losing, but counties had until Tuesday night to tally all their absentee and provisional ballots. As of Sunday, the proposition was losing with 49.2%, a margin of 157,462 votes.

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But late Tuesday, as 17 counties submitted results -- many electronically -- to meet the deadline, the number suddenly shifted, and the proposition was listed as winning with 50.5% of the vote.

The change took the supporters of Proposition 72 by great surprise. “We’ve been monitoring this for about a month, and there have been ebbs and flows,” said Josh Pulliam, the campaign manager for the proposition. “We’re going to be patient and hopeful that pretty soon, 1 million Californians are going to wake up and have access to health care.”

However, Daniels-Meade cautioned against concluding that the new results were correct. “This has happened before in almost every election, in some race in some level,” she said. She also said that Proposition 72 was not even among the closest races the secretary of state’s office was tracking.

The office has until Dec. 11 to certify the election results. Daniels-Meade said the office hoped to have an unofficial tally to release today.

As of 9:50 a.m. Monday, the secretary of state’s website reported an estimated 224,000 absentee or provisional ballots uncounted in the state. The most votes believed outstanding were in Contra Costa County, where an estimated 57,000 votes still had to be tallied. Los Angeles County had about 26,000 votes to report, and Monterey County had about 26,000.

Counties, which have 28 days to count all votes, have been reporting updated totals since election day.

“Everybody was updating today, and it sounds like there might have been some glitch,” said Elaine Ginnold, a spokeswoman for the Alameda County registrar of voters. Ginnold said such totals are first placed on a computer disc and then transmitted to the secretary of state’s office through a computer dedicated to that purpose.

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Times staff writer Megan Garvey contributed from Los Angeles.


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