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City Clerk Defends Over-Marking of Mayoral Ballots

Times Staff Writer

City Clerk Frank Martinez told the Los Angeles City Council on Monday that he acted with justifiable prudence on election night, inspecting every ballot by hand and over-marking ballots where the voter’s ink mark might not have been read by vote-counting machines.

In a seven-page report responding to council concerns about election-night delays, Martinez acknowledged that he should have notified the candidates about the unusual procedures so they could have sent observers, and he said he should have told the California secretary of state’s office about a change of software meant to guarantee an accurate vote count.

Martinez also informed the council that he has asked the secretary of state’s office to review the proposed election procedures for the May 17 runoff to make sure they comply with acceptable standards.

“Maintaining the integrity of the election process is the highest priority of the City Clerk,” Martinez wrote.

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“I believe that the measures we took in March 8, 2005, Primary Nominating Election to inspect every ballot and over-mark when needed were necessary to ensure that every vote was counted.”

The council’s Rules and Elections Committee will take up Martinez’s report Wednesday.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said the report addressed some of her concerns, but she will propose that the clerk notify the public six months before future elections about the methods for running the election and counting the vote.

“There could have been better communication with the secretary of state and the City Council about the InkaVote procedures,” said Greuel, vice chairwoman of the committee.

The original request for a report came from council members frustrated that the unofficial results of the election were not released until 3:49 a.m. March 9, or nearly eight hours after the polls closed.

Martinez said that election was the first time his office had used an InkaVote system in which voters press a special black pen on an oval next to the candidate’s name and the resulting mark is read by a vote-counting machine that processes 1,000 ballots a minute.

The clerk said in his report that he wanted to make sure every vote was counted, so he had election workers inspect each ballot and use a light blue pen to mark the ovals where voters’ ink marks might have been too small to be read by the machine.

In defending the decision, Martinez cited testimony to a state voting panel in which a representative of the secretary of state said the review of every ballot and over-marking is a critical procedure used by other jurisdictions.

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Martinez said the Los Angeles County registrar over-marks ballots after election night in cases where it appears the inked votes may not be machine-readable.

However, the clerk said he plans a new, simpler ballot for the May 17 runoff in which voters will use regular pens to mark ballots.

And Martinez said the county and city are required to use a new system by 2006 that will allow voters to check at the polling place whether their ballot was properly marked and “will virtually eliminate the need for central elections staff to re-check ballots received from polling sites.”


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