Six weeks after Election Day, Bruce Sumner toppled his last barrier to becoming the Democratic nominee in Orange County's 40th Congressional District race when a Superior Court commissioner Monday rejected a Lyndon H. LaRouche candidate's attempt to block Sumner's win.
Superior Court Commissioner Ronald L. Bauer said he was not convinced by an attorney for Democrat Art Hoffmann, a follower of political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche, that "ballot stuffing" had occurred after the June 3 election.
Bauer also ruled on a 16-day recount, concluded Friday, that reversed the election night results showing that Hoffmann had won and gave the nomination to Sumner.
"The question we have here was whether the process (of the recount) has been followed, and I have no evidence that the process has not been followed," Bauer said.
Badham Is Next Foe
Bauer then refused to issue a temporary restraining order preventing Sumner from becoming the official Democratic nominee for the 40th District against five-term Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach).
A dozen Sumner supporters applauded as court recessed. Sumner said later, "I hope a lot of Republicans are watching, observing the forcefulness and the unrelenting attacking we've enjoyed in this process" of gaining the Democratic nomination. In the fight against Hoffmann, both Republicans and Democrats in the 40th District "have had the chance to see Congressman Sumner in action," Sumner said.
Outside the courtroom, a grim Hoffmann and his supporters vowed to continue their legal challenge by seeking an "election contest," a complex procedure in which every ballot can be challenged.
Hoffmann, 30, a technical writer, said briefly of the hearing, "I guess it was as fair as we could get--right now."
Despite the rebuff in court, Hoffmann attorney Robert M. Levy said he will ask the county grand jury, the district attorney and the U.S. attorney to investigate whether fraud occurred after the election. "The Democrats have a right to have their votes properly counted," Levy said.
Sumner, 61, a retired judge and Orange County's outgoing Democratic Party chairman, called Levy's claim of fraud "preposterous." He noted that the number of ballots counted by computer on election night was almost the same as the total from the recount.
"If they have any evidence (of fraud), why, they should bring it forth, Sumner said. "This is a typical LaRouche tactic--to delay, to confuse."
Sumner late Monday was still not the 40th District's official Democratic nominee because the paper work had not yet been processed, but he will be as soon as the secretary of state signs the documents. Within an hour after the court hearing, county Registrar of Voters Al E. Olson signed and sent to the secretary of state a certification that Sumner had defeated Hoffmann, 16,401 votes to 15,173, based on the completion of the recount Friday.
Awaiting the documents was Ricardo Nieto, assistant chief of election for the secretary of state, who said late Monday, "Within a couple of days we will issue the certification of nomination to Judge Sumner."
For Sumner, Monday's court hearing ended one stage of a congressional campaign, waging a long shot, write-in bid to become his party's nominee, and began the next, presenting himself as a serious candidate against Badham in November.
Sumner has already been raising money, gathering volunteers and trying to convince Democrats around the state and nationally that his race against Badham should be "targeted" for significant financial support.
The retired Superior Court judge and former state assemblyman actually had been expecting to spend the summer practicing law and taking a vacation to China. Those plans changed in mid-March, when he and other Democratic activists discovered to their embarrassment that LaRouche follower Hoffmann was the only Democrat to have filed for the 40th Congressional seat.
Hoping to prevent Hoffmann from becoming his party's standard-bearer, Sumner began a write-in campaign that some county and state party leaders considered hopeless and a waste of money.
But with mailers, 200 volunteers and $53,000, Sumner waged a tough campaign against Hoffmann, whose campaign consisted largely of circulating a petition against AIDS and claiming that Sumner's campaign workers had ties to drug traffickers.
In his arguments that the Sumner-Hoffmann election was fatally flawed, Levy had claimed that there were "new votes (for Sumner) all of a sudden coming to light" between a hand count of ballots by precinct workers on election night and the recount.
In an unofficial computer count of votes on June 3, Sumner appeared to have won the election by a 1,459-vote margin. But several days later, a hand count from each of the 705 precincts showed Hoffmann the winner by 267 votes.
Arguing that tired or confused precinct workers failed to count legitimate write-in votes, Sumner demanded the recount. It lasted 16 days and showed Hoffmann 1,228 votes behind Sumner.
But Levy claimed that the final tally showed fraud. There were "massive irregularities in over half of the precincts," with some ballot boxes not sealed and ballots "found" after the June 3 election outside ballot boxes. If Sumner's election were certified, "we would be certifying fraud," Levy asserted.
Sumner's attorney, Frank P. Barbaro, Deputy County Counsel Stefen Weiss and finally court Commissioner Bauer rejected those arguments. Said Bauer, "I'm not surprised that the numbers changed" among the three tallies, but Bauer noted that he could find no problem with the recount process and that both Sumner and Hoffmann advocates had been present throughout the recount to challenge each step.
Sumner paid the $8,000 cost of the recount. But because the final tally is in his favor, he will receive his money back once the vote is certified, county officials said.