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Recount Fails to Change Inglewood Election; D.A. Begins Investigation

June 25, 1987|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

A recount of last week's Inglewood City Council runoff election ballots confirmed the election-night outcome.

But the district attorney's office is investigating alleged improprieties in one of the contests, and the losing candidate said he may ask a court to invalidate the election.

Investigators are looking into charges by Garland L. Hardeman about improprieties in both absentee ballots and votes cast at polling places, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Sowders of the Special Investigations Unit.

'Allegations of Fraud'

"We have opened an investigation into the allegations of fraud concerning absentee ballots," Sowders said.

In a complaint to the district attorney's office, Hardeman accused his opponent in the District 4 race, Ervin (Tony) Thomas, and Mayor Edward Vincent of coercing voters into casting absentee ballots for Thomas. Both denied the allegation.

Until absentee ballots were counted last week, Hardeman had a 544-233 lead over Thomas, but the 450 absentees favored Thomas by a 6-1 margin, giving him a nine-vote victory. In the recount Thomas picked up nine votes and Hardeman gained two, for a final count of 626 to 610.

In the other race, the recount showed District 3 incumbent Bruce U. Smith picking up two absentee ballots, but he remained 19 votes behind Ann Wilk's 571-vote total.

Hardeman also has alleged that there may have been tampering with votes at polling places, saying that election officials' routine hand canvass of votes at Precinct 146 disclosed a "highly unusual" pattern indicating that the votes may have been counted beforehand.

City Clerk Hermanita Harris said the pattern of votes, which turned up in large bunches for one candidate and then for the other, was unusual but did not indicate any illegal activity.

Hardeman is also cross-checking signatures on absentee ballot applications against signatures on the actual ballots.

Falsifying a signature on an absentee ballot is a felony punishable by 16 months to 3 years in prison, Sowders said. Punching a ballot or turning one in for a voter is a procedural violation that can cause the ballot to be thrown out.

The recount, conducted in a small conference room at City Hall, was done by a four-woman board appointed by the city clerk. Two of the women on the board checked each ballot and called out the candidate's name while the other two recorded the count.

Wilk and Smith both attended as the ballots in their race were recounted in the morning session. When the District 4 ballots were recounted in the afternoon, only Hardeman and a supporter attended, as did Caroline Coleman, a school board member representing Thomas.

$500 for Recount

Each losing candidate paid about $500 for the recount.

After the recount, Hardeman said he would discuss with his attorney whether to seek court action to invalidate the election.

Smith congratulated Wilk at the end of the recount, but said he had not yet given up hope.

"Mr. Hardeman's actions might invalidate the whole election," Smith said. "I don't know that I'm dead yet. Strange how miracles do happen."

Smith repeated his charge that Wilk used "lies and half-truths" in her campaign to unseat him, but said he had no allegations regarding illegal actions during the election. He said he had not retained an attorney and is awaiting Hardeman's next move before deciding what to do.

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