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Long Beach Write-Ins Lose in Court

Elections: Judge denies requests to put them on the mayoral runoff ballot, leaving only one name voters will face.


The unprecedented Long Beach mayor's race landed in court Thursday, and the end result may make the upcoming election all the more peculiar: The June runoff ballot will carry only one name, but there are two additional candidates--both write-ins.

"It's a very interesting case," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs said after the Thursday morning hearing, at which she heard arguments from attorneys for the city of Long Beach and the top three vote-getters in the April 9 mayoral primary.

The judge denied the requests of the first- and third-place finishers--termed-out Beverly O'Neill and Norm Ryan, who initiated the proceedings--to have their names on the June ballot.

Voters in this city of 461,500 who approved term limits, Janavs observed, clearly did not envision "this glitch that nobody anticipated."

Incumbent O'Neill pulled off a rare feat in placing first as a write-in candidate in the primary. Vice Mayor Dan Baker placed second, and Ryan, who previously wrote a utility tax cut proposition, placed third among six candidates. A runoff election was forced because no candidate won more than 50% of the vote.

Ryan said he will run as a write-in candidate should he decide not to appeal Janavs' ruling. "One way or the other," he said, "I'm in the race."

Long Beach's election law includes a voter-approved ordinance limiting any elected city official to two terms. But the ordinance does allow a termed-out politician to run as a write-in candidate.

At Thursday's hearing, attorneys offered contrary interpretations of that ordinance and other election code subsections.

There was ample invoking of the voters' intent, the will of the voters, the rights of the voters. More than one attorney used the word "absurd" to describe an outcome that would leave one candidate on the ballot in a runoff election.

Ryan's lawyer argued essentially that, by virtue of being a termed-out incumbent, O'Neill is not a qualified candidate, as required of the two finalists for the general election. As a result, he said, Baker and Ryan would be the top two finishers, and thus Ryan's name should join Baker's on the ballot.

But the judge disagreed, saying that to do so "leaves out a whole batch of voters who voted for O'Neill."

Janavs said she saw no grounds for, or the fairness in, a third-place finisher from the primary competing in a runoff meant for two. That, she said, is "the biggest problem I see you have.... It just doesn't make sense."

O'Neill filed a cross-complaint in Ryan's case, seeking to have her own name placed on the ballot were the judge to decide the ballot needed two names.

Her attorney argued that voters might think that there was only one candidate in the race if O'Neill's name was not added to the ballot.

But her success in the primary belied that, the judge said.

Janavs ruled that Long Beach's term limits law clearly does not allow "a maxed-out candidate" on the ballot.

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