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Stoaks backers want a recount in photo-finish Newport council race

Stoaks backers want a recount in photo-finish Newport council race
Tim Stoaks, left, and incumbent Marshall “Duffy” Duffield finished only 36 votes apart in the race for the District 3 seat on the Newport Beach City Council, with Duffield coming out ahead. (File Photos)

Supporters of defeated Newport Beach City Council candidate Tim Stoaks plan to request a recount on his behalf in his exceptionally close race with Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, and they’re trying to raise $25,000 to do it.

Duffield edged Stoaks by 36 votes, 18,458 to 18,422, according to the final count the Orange County registrar of voters office certified Friday night. That’s a difference of 0.19%.

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Recount proponent Susan Skinner, a Newport Beach activist, said Monday that she doesn’t suspect fraud but that with nearly 37,000 ballots cast and only a sliver separating the candidates, “there’s a component, potentially, of human error.”

Skinner is coordinating fundraising on behalf of a group organizing the potential recount request. She said she is confident the group will raise the count’s estimated $25,000 cost. The proponents have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to collect the money. Counting could start within a week.

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California does not automatically do recounts in close races, but losing candidates or any voter can request one if they bear the cost.

According to the registrar’s office, the person requesting the new tally must put down a daily deposit as the count is underway by a four-member counting board. If the recount changes the outcome, the county will refund the payment.

Stoaks said Monday that he is not seeking the recount himself but is aware of the effort.

“With a race this close, it’s not uncommon for voters vested in an election to seek a recount,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how this plays out.”

Stoaks had said over the weekend that “I wish Duffy well and hope he hears the voices in this community who want honesty and transparency in City Hall moving forward.”

Duffield could not be reached for comment this week.

Councilman Jeff Herdman jumped into the fray Tuesday afternoon with an email to constituents asking them to donate to the recount cause.

“I was most hopeful for a new day in Newport Beach when the initial results were first broadcast on Election Night [when Stoaks was in the lead],” Herdman wrote. “But when I saw that Tim’s lead was beginning to erode, my hopes started to take the same direction. So, this final effort being launched ... with less than a 1% vote difference between Duffy and Tim is warranted and justified.”

He added that he had pledged $500.

Herdman openly supported Stoaks during the campaign, and in April he sent constituents emails advocating the November election defeat of Duffield and fellow council colleagues Kevin Muldoon and Scott Peotter, all of whom Herdman and others believe forced then-City Manager Dave Kiff to leave his job months before his contract was to expire. Muldoon won reelection; Peotter was defeated by Joy Brenner.

Skinner said the recount would start with provisional ballots, which were among the last counted in the initial tally. According to registrar data, those ballots — which are counted after elections officials have confirmed the voter is eligible — are where the race broke for Duffield, who pulled ahead last week after Stoaks had led by 250 to 350 votes after most daily updates since Election Day on Nov. 6.

“We are all aware that going through a recount may not change the outcome of the election but feel strongly that we have to try,” Skinner wrote Sunday night in an email appealing for donations from Stoaks supporters.

She said donations would be refunded proportionally if the group decides to pull the plug early on the recount or it raises a surplus.

4:40 p.m. Dec. 4: This article was updated with Jeff Herdman’s email.

This article was originally published at 6:55 p.m. Dec. 3.

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