December 10, 2012

Riverbank's Madueño ends recount process as tally holds

The vote recount in the Riverbank mayor's race ended Monday, less than five hours after it began, when losing candidate Virginia Madueño called it off after no results had changed.

The vote recount in the Riverbank mayor's race ended Monday, less than five hours after it began, when losing candidate Virginia Madueño called it off after no results had changed.

Madueño, the three-year incumbent, was 53 votes short of Richard O'Brien in the certified results announced Nov. 29.

Monday evening, she called her last City Council meeting to order and joined in the unanimous vote to accept the election results. She then received a plaque and bouquet for her service and told the crowd it was "a bittersweet moment" for her.

"And although it was only 53 votes that separated myself from my opponent, it was still for me a victory in so many ways," Madueño said.

She had cited unspecified "voting-related irregularities" in asking for a recount Dec. 4.

Because the results didn't change, the law requires Madueño to pay for the recount. A deposit of about $2,500 to cover the first day's cost was made Monday.

O'Brien said he did not expect the recount to change the outcome because Stanislaus County Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan had done a recount of the Riverbankvotes before Madueño's request. "We have to move forward," O'Brien said shortly after being sworn in as mayor.

For a few hours Monday, the county got a glimpse of electoral theater reminiscent of the Bush vs. Gore presidential race in 2000. That year, the nation watched well into December as Florida election workers counted and recounted ballots — a saga ending with the Supreme Court awarding the Electoral College votes that made George W. Bush president.

Monday morning, about 20 people watched as county election workers pored over ballots in the Riverbank race, which O'Brien won 3,098 to 3,045.

The process began, as the Madueño campaign requested, with an effort to determine how many of the nearly 9,000 provisional ballots cast in the county came from Riverbank. Those ballots were counted only if the voter's eligibility was confirmed in the days after the Nov. 6 election. The ones that were counted were combined with ballots from all over the county.

73 provisional votes tossed

Lundrigan said there were 73 provisional ballots from Riverbank that were disqualified for various reasons — all but 10 because the people who tried to vote simply weren't registered. None of the 73 ballots was deemed eligible Monday.

After that, staff begun to run ballots cast at one of the six Riverbank precincts through the same machine that counted them on election night. By that time, it was about 2:30 p.m. Monday. "The numbers were exact," Lundrigan said. "Not a single ballot changed."

It was then that the Madueño side called for a halt to the recount.

Neither candidate was present, but each got to appoint one representative who could watch over election workers' shoulders as they examined ballots.

Chip Langman, a political consultant who worked on O'Brien's campaign, was his designated observer.

"We have every confidence in the world in Lee Lundrigan and the voting process," Langman said during a lunch break. "We're confident that the numbers will stay and Richard O'Brien is the mayor-elect."

Madueño said Sunday night that the number of provisional ballots had to be determined to assure that the total vote count was right. She said 24 voters had signed affidavits about voting-related problems, to be turned over to agencies that deal with such issues.

"We are very concerned that some of the voters were disenfranchised, very concerned," said Angel Picon, field director for Madueño's campaign, who represented her at the recount.

Details of the allegations have not been disclosed.

People who wanted to watch the recount had to follow the rules, which ran three pages in a handout everyone received upon entering the office at 11th and I streets in Modesto. Observers could not have backpacks, briefcases or large purses. The office issued red felt pens because blue or black ink conceivably could have tainted the ballots.

The designated observers could ask questions of Lundrigan, but everyone else had to take the conversation outside.

"This is a neutral office," one rule reads. "No discussion of politics, campaigns or candidates is allowed among observers within the facility."

Observers were not allowed physical contact with ballots, other "relevant material" or election workers.

"If staff can hear you breathe, back up, you're too close," says one of the "helpful hints" in the handout.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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