Vote count scheduled for Friday, off-year election turnout faulted

by Rachel Reeves

City Clerk Eleanor Manzano announced at this week’s Redondo Beach City Council meeting that results from the Mar. 2 municipal election will be tabulated on Friday. 

Manzano said her team of 10 people has been working “non-stop” since the election to verify signatures on ballots postmarked by election day. 

“We were inundated,” she said of this election, which was conducted entirely by mail because of restrictions designed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. “Normally we have a lot more ballots by the time the election comes around.” 

Just over 5,100 ballots were received before election day. A count of those showed incumbents leading the races for mayor and city attorney, as well as for council members in Districts 1, 2, and 4. 

The day after the election, Councilmember Nils Nehrenheim, who is running for re-election, cautioned that the first count usually skews toward incumbents, and the second count toward challengers.

“We track this stuff,” he said.

More than 9,036 ballots remain uncounted, or 63 percent of the total mailed to the city. Estimates show 1,961 of these came from District 1, 1,910 from District 2, 1,644 come from District 3, 1,746 from District 4, and 1,559 from District 5. These estimates do not include the approximately 200 ballots that were missing signatures.

After a ballot is received and opened, its signature must be verified and cross-checked against a database compiled by the L.A. County Registrar. If a signature is missing from a ballot, a letter must be sent to the voter requesting a signature, which must then be approved by county officials before the ballot can be counted. 

Letters must also go out when voters mistakenly sign a ballot addressed to another member of their household, which happens frequently.

“So then we have to go through the process of trying to find those two or three ballots from that same household to make sure everyone’s signed and that it’s all correct,” Manzano said. Sometimes, someone will receive two ballots, one addressed to a maiden name and another addressed to a married name, for example, so these must also be cross-referenced.

“We have to check on that, too, to make sure people don’t vote twice,” she said. 

On Friday, ballots have been opened and verified by Manzano’s team will be fed into a scanner. The scanner will pick up on “undervotes and overvotes,” or ballots on which voters vote in only some races or select too many candidates. The results will be announced once this process is complete. The tabulation will begin at 2 p.m. Friday, and will be broadcasted on Channel 8 and Channel 41. 

Manzano said if the process cannot be completed on Friday, a final tabulation will be conducted on Wednesday, Mar. 17. 

Several residents wrote letters to the city council because they took issue with the election process.  

Kate Korman-Sooper wrote that she was “left with so many questions” about how the election could “go so horribly wrong.” She did not elaborate on her questions. Candace Nafissi also wrote that she had “more questions than answers” about this election, but also did not elaborate. Both accused the clerk’s office of incompetency.

Manzano explained that because the city chose to handle its own election rather than folding it into a larger election, the process is both quicker and more labor-intensive. Collaborating with the county to handle the count could mean it would take 28 days for the count to be completed. Doing it alone means not receiving outside assistance.

“The one thing that’s been different compared to the prior standalone elections is that we do not have a full service company to help us through the whole process,” Manzano said. 

Responding to complaints from residents about the counts being delayed, she said: “I don’t know if we can [move] any faster.”

Mayor Bill Brand thanked her team for their dedication.

“The biggest problem,” he said, “was that you got so many ballots on the last couple of days.”

There was some discussion at Tuesday’s meeting about the voter turnout of 27 percent. Some believe Redondo Beach should have aligned its elections with the national election, in which 88 percent of registered Redondo Beach voters participated. 

Paul Moses, a contender for the District 2 seat, wrote that the election was “an unmitigated disaster” because the city chose not to make it concurrent with a larger election.

“It is the duty of our elected officials in Redondo Beach to raise awareness and maximize voter participation,” he wrote. “This odd-year election railed at both of these tenets of democracy.” 

Councilmember John Gran said after the preliminary count on Mar. 2 that while he was pleased to be ahead in his race, he also lamented the turnout, which at that point was at 10 percent.

“I’m just really disappointed in our city having an off-cycle election because I don’t think that our citizens were represented well,” he said at the time.

Councilmember Todd Loewenstein pointed out at Tuesday’s meeting that the voter turnout in this election is nearly 90 percent what it was in 2017, the year Measure C was on the ballot and voters were being asked to weigh in on the future of the city’s waterfront. 

“Those people who are saying this was a low turnout election and criticizing the decision to keep [the election] in March are wrong,” he said. “This was in a pandemic. Having these kinds of numbers is phenomenal, as far as I’m concerned.”

Gran replied that he stood by his assessment, because despite a figure gleaned from a comparison to another municipal election, the turnout was still 27 percent. Resident Lezlie Campeggi wrote to the council that voter turnout is “always low” and called Gran’s view “ridiculous.”

Loewenstein said at the council meeting that he had been receiving questions and complaints from voters about the rigor and confidentiality about the counting process. 

“There are things being said online about the insecurity of the ballots,” he said. “I want to make sure people understand there are cameras, there are always people watching, it’s segregated from everything else, and it’s very protected.”

Manzano confirmed that all ballots are kept in a dedicated vault, on which cameras are trained. Each time an election worker enters the vault, he or she must be accompanied by someone else.

Zein Obagi, a contender for the District 4 seat, phoned into Tuesday’s meeting and reported that someone had “walked in front of the camera” in the vault as he watched it and should be “admonished.” ER

 

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Written by: Rachel Reeves

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