More than a month after the election and three weeks after a tedious recount began, Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Bruce Sumner emerged as the winner Friday over LaRouche Democrat Art Hoffmann in the 40th Congressional District's Democratic primary.
Although Sumner won by 1,228 votes, 16,401 to 15,173, the county registrar of voters does not plan to certify the recount until Monday. A spokesman for Hoffmann said the candidate and political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche's National Democratic Campaign Committee on Monday will seek a court order barring the certification because of "election fraud." The spokesman, Jim Duree in Los Angeles, did not elaborate.
County Registrar A. E. Olson declined to comment on the Hoffmann charges, but said, "We don't have any history of fraudulent elections in Orange County."
The Sumner-Hoffmann race has been a roller-coaster ride all the way, with Sumner declared the winner on election night, then Hoffmann declared the winner several days later and now Sumner again.
Sumner, a 61-year-old retired judge, began his long-shot write-in campaign against Hoffmann, a 30-year-old technical writer, in late March after Democratic leaders discovered to their embarrassment that the LaRouche follower was the only Democrat to have filed for the seat now held by Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach).
Rather than let Hoffman become the party's standard-bearer by default, Sumner launched a $30,000 write-in effort that many party leaders said was a waste of money and bound to fail.
But with phone banks, mailers and several hundred volunteers, Sumner tried to educate Democrats in the two-part process of writing in his name on the ballot and then using a punch device to vote for him.
On election night, June 3, an unofficial machine tally of votes showed Sumner the winner by a 1,459-vote margin. Several days later, however, after a hand count from each precinct, Hoffmann was declared the winner by 267 votes, with 15,143 votes to a reported 14,876 for Sumner.
County elections officials initially could not explain the discrepancy. But over the next few days, two precinct workers told the Los Angeles Times that they had been instructed not to count any write-in votes on election night, and several voters said they had been prevented from writing in their votes. Hoffmann and Sumner's supporters have also theorized that some election workers were either confused or too tired to count the write-in votes correctly.
Citing "voting irregularities," Sumner on June 9 called for a recount. The new hand count of all Democratic congressional ballots by the registrar's most experienced precinct workers began June 19 and has cost Sumner $500 a day. The money will be refunded to him if the certified results show him the winner.
Throughout the recount, observers for both Hoffmann and Sumner complained of problems with the write in. In some precincts, ballots were not sealed, and sometimes more Democrats apparently voted than were listed on the roster sheet for that precinct, Hoffmann observer Maureen Pike said.
Sumner, meanwhile, has claimed that perhaps 2,000 votes clearly meant for him were not allowed to be counted. Some of those involved ballots where the name Bruce Sumner was written in the proper place but the voter had failed to punch the ballot by machine and either did not punch it at all or poked a hole in the proper place with a pencil.
Sumner plans a victory celebration Monday night. Even though the votes have not been certified, he has already begun campaigning for Congress, he said.