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Stoaks backers file papers for recount in Newport council race, saying they'll have the money to fund it

Stoaks backers file papers for recount in Newport council race, saying they'll have the money to fund it
Incumbent Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, left, and challenger Tim Stoaks 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)

Proponents of a recount in the Newport Beach City Council race between Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield and challenger Tim Stoaks filed paperwork Wednesday asking the county for the new tally, saying they have enough money on hand to begin the count and thousands more dollars in pledges.

According to the Orange County registrar of voters office, it has a week after receiving the request to begin double-checking the ballots from the Nov. 6 election, which saw Duffield edge out a win by just 36 votes after 3½ weeks of counting the nearly 37,000 votes cast.

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Local activist Susan Skinner, one of the recount organizers, said that after about three days of crowdfunding, she had $10,000 of the $25,000 goal in hand, with the balance in pledges that recount backers are following up on. She said she expects the count to begin next week.

Stoaks is not seeking the recount himself, though he said Monday that “with a race this close, it’s not uncommon for voters vested in an election to seek a recount. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.”

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Neither Duffield nor Stoaks immediately responded to requests for comment Wednesday.

California does not automatically do recounts in close races, but losing candidates or any voter can request one if they bear the cost. The county charges for recounts by the day; it’s unclear how many days the process will take.

The city, meanwhile, is prepared to swear in Duffield on Tuesday for his second term along with reelected incumbents Diane Dixon and Kevin Muldoon and newcomer Joy Brenner.

City Clerk Leilani Brown, the city’s elections officer, said Wednesday that Newport will swear in the winners per the certified results. Currently, that includes Duffield.

The recount process will be incremental. After yet-to-be-determined start-up costs, the county will charge about $1,800 per day, Skinner said. The fees are collected daily. If the recount changes the outcome, the county will refund the payments.

A four-member counting board will process ballots daily — except weekends and holidays — for at least six hours a day.

Skinner said the recount will 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 voters are eligible — broke the race for Duffield, who pulled ahead last week after Stoaks had led by 250 to 350 votes after most daily updates since Election Day. The initial analysis also will include discarded ballots.

Elections officials and lawyers for both candidates will then scrutinize any challenged ballots one by one.

Skinner said they will pay special attention to quirks such as undervotes, in which voters selected candidates in other races but apparently not in the Duffield-Stoaks race. For example, Skinner said, a voter using a mail-in ballot may have filled in the bubble for Stoaks but an errant pen stroke in or near the bubble by Duffield’s name caused the ballot-scanning machine to detect too many selections and cancel out the vote in that race. Closer analysis by human eyes could determine a clear intention.

Though she’s optimistic, Skinner said recount backers could end it after the first phase if the scales don’t tip much in Stoaks’ favor. In that event, donors would receive proportional refunds.

“We were all ready for Tim to win, and for it to be snatched out at the very last minute — we need closure,” she said.

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