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Harris widens lead over Cooley in attorney general’s race

San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris’ lead in the race for California attorney general continued to grow Tuesday, making a possible comeback appear increasingly difficult for her rival, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.

Harris, the Democratic nominee, led by 31,000 votes Tuesday evening, with more than 555,000 uncounted ballots left to be processed across California, according to a Times review of updated vote counts in all 58 counties. Working against Cooley, the Republican, is the fact that about 350,000 of the remaining ballots are in counties Harris carried on election day.

Perhaps as an indication of the vote trend, Cooley’s campaign aides over the last five days have been filing complaints about what they allege is bias toward Harris on the part of Los Angeles County elections officials.

Cooley aides have accused county officials of holding private meeting with Harris campaign representatives. Cooley’s campaign attorney also criticized procedures for reviewing ballots, saying election workers are not taking adequate time to verify voter signatures on the unprocessed ballots.

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Cooley has called Dean Logan, L.A. County’s registrar-recorder twice, Logan confirmed Tuesday.

Harris campaign spokesman Brian Brokaw called the allegations an attempt by the Cooley campaign to disqualify voters in Los Angeles County, where Harris has a 14% advantage in the vote.

“It’s pretty transparent what they are trying to do. They are doing everything they can to reduce the number of provisional ballots in L.A,” Brokaw said. “We just want to make sure that every voter who made a clear effort to exercise their constitutional right to vote is respected, and that their vote be counted.”

Cooley spokesman Kevin Spillane denied that accusation, saying the campaign is trying to ensure that Harris and her team of monitors at the county registrar of voters, including government employee union representatives, don’t have an undue influence on the vote tally.

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Logan said no private meetings have been held, and elections workers have followed all state laws when it comes to verifying ballots. In response to the Cooley campaign’s concerns, he said he reminded staff to make thorough checks on all ballots and to keep the process transparent.

“We recognize that there’s a lot of tension and emotion when you have a contest this close,” Logan said.

The race has been one of the closest statewide contests in decades, with the lead switching between Harris and Cooley since the Nov. 2 election as county workers throughout California started the laborious process of verifying and tallying an estimated 2.3 million late-arriving vote-by-mail and provisional ballots.

Cooley would have to win the pool of remaining votes by a margin of about 6% to overcome Harris’ lead, a difficult task in a race where the vote tallies for the two candidates have been separated by just tenths of a percentage point since election day.

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The spokesman for the Cooley campaign said it was far too early to know who will end up on top, noting that Cooley had been up by 28,000 votes less than a week ago. Spillane said that counties such as San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Fresno — where Cooley leads by wide margins — have tens of thousands of ballots left to tally.

“It could be easily 30,000 votes one way or the other,” Spillane said. “There are still hundreds of thousands of votes left to count.”

The state’s final vote tally is not likely to be known until near the end of the month, when counties are required by law to certify their counts.

“I don’t ever recall a major race this close. We’re talking 9 million votes out there,” said San Jose State political scientist Larry Gerston. “It’ll certainly be decided by less than a percentage point.”

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Most of the remaining votes statewide are so-called provisional ballots, which are given to voters when polling places do not have a record of their registration, often because a voter has moved since registering.

Before a provisional ballot can be counted, election officials must verify that the voter was registered and that the signature on the ballot matches voter registration records. Provisional ballots must also be checked to make sure that votes were not cast in local elections outside the jurisdiction in which the voter lived. About 80% to 85% of provisional ballots are usually deemed valid, Logan said.

phil.willon@latimes.com


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