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Metropolitan Digest / LOS ANGELES COUNTY NEWS IN BRIEF

Election Ordered to Resolve Long Beach Council Race

October 06, 1994|JOHN POPE

A Superior Court judge has ordered a special election in Long Beach to resolve a seesaw City Council race in which the apparent loser emerged with a two-vote victory in June after several uncounted ballots were discovered during a recount.

Mike Donelon, a contractor who was declared the winner, will step down, leaving the seat vacant until the special election determines whether he or community activist Tonia Reyes Uranga should represent the city's 7th Council District.

The City Council will decide Tuesday on the election date, which by law must be in late January or early February, attorneys said.

It is the first time that an election has been voided in the city, officials said.

"This is certainly a victory, not just for me but for the voters," said Uranga, who filed the lawsuit challenging the outcome. "This was a fight for truth in the election process."

As part of the agreement, Long Beach officials acknowledged that the city clerk's office made errors on election night, including mistakenly allowing some improper votes to be tallied, said Assistant City Atty. Robert E. Shannon. Therefore, he said, the city will pay the candidates' legal fees as well as the expense of a special election, expected to be about $65,000.

"The fact that we're being forced to have a new election is ludicrous," Donelon said. "The election process, both on the state and local levels, is so flawed that it's easy for improper votes to be counted. I feel I won the election, but illegal votes were cast by unknowing people."

Uranga, former president of the Long Beach Children's Museum, had seemed the victor by a 29-vote margin on election night. But her lead was wiped out during a June 22 recount, when previously uncounted ballots were found.

Uranga challenged Donelon's narrow victory in court, contending among other things that ballots were improperly tallied and improper votes accepted. The case went to trial last week, but Superior Court Judge Judith C. Chirlin halted proceedings Thursday to allow attorneys and the city to try to work out an agreement.

On Wednesday, Chirlin accepted the agreement to schedule a special election. The Long Beach City Council had voted unanimously in closed session Friday to support the new election.

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