It's an awfully powerful word when you're talking about something as important as an election:
When Riverbank Mayor Virginia Madueño formally requested a recount last week after losing to Councilman Richard O'Brien by 53 votes in the November election, it was both her right and her risk. When the recount begins Monday, she'll have to pay the cost about $2,500 per day if the result ultimately isn't reversed.
It is the second recount request filed in Stanislaus County since Lee Lundrigan became clerk-recorder and registrar of voters in January 2003.
In 2008, Measure S supporters demanded a recount when the transportation tax measure failed to gain the 66.7 percent needed for passage. They abandoned the effort when the results failed to change after just one day.
Madueño's camp wants more than a recount, though. Amber Maltbie, Madueño's Sacramento-based attorney, also announced an investigation into the election processes. She cited "irregularities" and voters who may have been "disenfranchised." Those are vague terms unless or until they can be supported with facts and evidence.
In doing so, they've cast aspersions upon the honesty, integrity or competency of the county's elections officials. They stopped just short of comparing them to officials in heaven help us Florida.
The flip side is that without specifics, such broad-brushed accusations make Madueño seem like, well, a sore loser.
That's a shame. I like Madueño. I've never for a moment doubted her commitment to Riverbank and its residents.
Still, I can't remember her questioning election officials when she overcame O'Brien's election-night lead to win on mail votes in 2009. Of course, she didn't. She won.
O'Brien didn't demand a recount despite losing by 110 votes, albeit in a race with much lower turnout. Nor did he claim irregularities, disenfranchisement or anything else that reeked of funny business. No investigation, either. He accepted the result. He regrouped, won a City Council seat a year later and then beat Madueño for mayor this time around.
In her news release Wednesday, Maltbie said Madueño "has been made aware of many voting- related irregularities reported on Election Day in Riverbank and an ongoing investigation ensues."
California's secretary of state accepts and investigates such complaints, but refuses to confirm or discuss cases publicly. The office lacks prosecutorial powers, spokeswoman Shannan Velayas said.
The local district attorney's office can prosecute voter fraud. So far, Birgit Fladager's office has received no complaint.
Madueño no longer returns calls to The Bee hardly what you'd expect from someone who owns a public-relations firm. Trying to reach her through a mutual acquaintance, I was referred to her campaign spokesman, Angel Picon.
"I cannot comment on specifics," he said. "I do not want to do anything to jeopardize the investigation."
So do they have solid, concrete information to support accusations of irregularities and disenfranchisement? Or are they flinging innuendo with hopes that mistakes or problems will surface? Is it akin to appellate attorneys combing through trial transcripts and evidence hoping to find judicial error that could overturn a verdict?
As first reported Wednesday, election workers disqualified 73 provisional ballots from Riverbank for a variety of reasons. Provisionals allow you to vote if you've lost your by-mail ballot, your eligibility can't be verified at the polling place, or you've moved and didn't reregister in time for the election. Instead of being inserted into the voting machines, these ballots are placed into pink envelopes. The voter must sign the outside of envelope, not the ballot itself.
The rejected envelopes are never opened, Lundrigan said, to ensure the disqualified ballots aren't accidentally added to the stacks of qualified ballots. Voters who submit provisionals have 40 days after the election to ask whether their ballot was counted and if not, why.
Lundrigan said some provisionals were disqualified because the signatures didn't match what is on record for the particular voter. Others already had voted by mail or staff determined the voters weren't registered after checking the state registration database.
Lundrigan said she already has personally double-checked the ballots in the Riverbank race and communicated this to Madueño. Even so, she received the request for the recount at 4:59 p.m. Tuesday. And that account is under dispute, as well, even though it is moot because the request was, indeed, accepted and filed.
A friend of Madueño's (who didn't want her name used) told me she was supposed to turn in the request that day, but ended up needing the day off work. So a friend of that friend volunteered to submit the request for her. When that person arrived at the voting office about 4:30 p.m., she claimed she was told by a staff member to come back Monday.
Friend 2 apparently didn't emphasize she had a recount request that needed to reach Lundrigan before 5 p.m. So she called Friend 1, who understood the magnitude of the situation, rushed down to the office and submitted the request in the nick of time. Friend 1 called the instance a "miscommun- ication" and said she doesn't believe Lundrigan or anyone in the voting office would purposely try to deny Madueño her right to a recount.
Which leaves us intrigued. What are these alleged "irregularities?" What happened at the polls to "disenfranchise" some voters?
Whatever they think they have, they should explain it now.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.