Citing what he termed "irregularities" by poll workers, write-in candidate Bruce Sumner on Tuesday formally requested a recount of ballots in the 40th Congressional District Democratic primary, which he lost by a mere 267 votes to Lyndon R. LaRouche follower Art Hoffmann.
Sumner, Orange County Democratic Party chairman and a former judge, ran a well-financed write-in campaign to prevent Hoffmann from winning the right to oppose Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach) in November's general election.
The request for a recount came within hours of Orange County Registrar of Voters Al Olson's certifying the results of the June 3 primary. The final reported count was Hoffmann's 15,143 votes to Sumner's 14,876.
The recount is expected to begin Thursday. Sumner expressed confidence that he will win but said that should he lose, he may challenge the findings in court or seek a special election. Those decisions will depend on his margin of defeat and the kind of irregularities that "show up when we go through the ballots themselves."
Hoffmann could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but last week said he probably would not challenge the results in the event that he loses the recount.
In the two weeks since the election, some 40th District precinct workers have admitted that they blocked voters from casting write-in ballots or gave incorrect directions on how to write in a candidate's name.
In other cases, some voters said they overheard precinct workers give incorrect directions about the write-in process. Some workers said they received incorrect instructions from the registrar's office.
However, Olson on Tuesday downplayed the apparent snafu, saying it affected only about 1% of the 705 precincts in the 40th District and that the vast majority of poll workers had performed their jobs well.
Hoffmann Pulled Ahead
After the first unofficial machine tally of the June 3 balloting, Sumner appeared to have won. But a subsequent hand count of the ballots put Hoffmann in first place.
"The extent of the irregularities and the real nature of them is something we won't know until we actually look at the ballots," said Sumner, who will pay $500 a day for the recount, which is expected to last more than a week.
The registrar's office will assign two four-person teams of workers to the recount, and Sumner will have representatives on hand to view the proceedings.
"The real issue here is what is the intention of the voters," Sumner said. "The process is not to keep people from being able to cast their vote but to encourage people to vote.
"If the people at the polls tell (voters) that you just have to write in the name and don't have to punch it, shouldn't you have that vote counted?"
Sumner said, for example, that the registrar of voters' hand count in one precinct showed that Sumner received no votes, but the machine count showed that 35 write-in votes had been cast in the precinct. Sumner was the only authorized write-in candidate in the race.
"Either the people at the precinct did tell the voters they could not write in the names and the people went ahead and punched in the (write-in) place, which would give us grounds on a court proceeding, or they didn't count the votes that they should have."