SANTA FE SPRINGS — The unofficial results of the second recount in the flip-flop municipal election show City Councilman Al Fuentes ahead of candidate Ruben Elizalde by seven votes.
But Fuentes will not know if he is actually the winner of the April 8 election until a Superior Court Judge rules within the next two weeks on about 350 contested ballots. The court-ordered second recount was completed Tuesday.
A ruling was expected early this week from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Philip M. Saeta, but he told attorneys Tuesday that he could not proceed with the case after Wednesday because of a scheduled vacation. The case will be assigned to another judge.
Elizalde, who lost the election by two votes after a recount in April, went to court in May seeking a second recount, which was granted last week.
Fuentes Given 7-Vote Lead
The second recount--which cost $951 and was conducted over a period of four days--was finished Tuesday and showed Fuentes ahead of Elizalde, 681 to 674. However, Julia Sylva, Elizalde's attorney, said that a judge must rule on the contested ballots before a winner can be determined.
The election has seen the winner change three times. Fuentes was the unofficial winner election night, with two votes more than Elizalde. After the official canvass the next day, however, Elizalde was declared the winner by one vote. Fuentes paid for a recount two days later and won, with 688 votes to Elizalde's 686 after several ballots were invalidated because of improper markings. Fuentes was installed as a councilman on April 15.
When the court conducts its recount, the ballots will be put in various categories. A properly marked ballot would have an X in a box next to the candidate's name. However, the contested ballots are marked differently, some with checks, some with circles, some have the box completely filled in, and some are smudged. Sylva said she will argue that the voter's intent is clear in the rejected ballots.
Confident of Elizalde Victory
"I'm very confident we're going to win this election," Sylva said, noting that there were some ballots that "should not have been challenged."
"We will wait and get our day in court," she said.
Elizalde maintains in his May 12 suit that some ballots should not have been counted and that some ballots that were counted should have been rejected. He is seeking a court ruling declaring him the winner.
The second recount, which began last week, was halted Friday after a misunderstanding about procedures. It resumed Monday.
Peter M. Thorson, an attorney representing City Clerk Hazel Thomas and the city, said the bulk of testimony in the case will center on whether the ballots eliminated by the clerk should be counted based on voter intent.
"The city clerk acted in strict accordance with election law," Thorson said. The law "says exactly how the ballot should be marked. You can't go on voter intent."
He said the procedures used by Thomas have been followed in past Santa Fe Springs elections.
Until the judge makes a ruling, Fuentes will continue to hold office.