Riverside County officials have postponed certification of the June 8 primary election results until they decide what, if anything, can be done about some 12,500 mail-in ballots that arrived a day late after being forwarded from one post office to another.
With several close races possibly in the balance, activists have been putting pressure on elections officials to count the 12,563 ballots, which were collected the day after the election, and are planning legal action.
"Our main concern is that people's votes should be counted, so we decided to take the lead on this," Nina Ramos Hiers, president of the Democratic Club of Moreno Valley, said Thursday. "But it's really a nonpartisan thing."
Hiers added that the club has retained Los Angeles-based attorney Fredric Woocher, an elections expert, and is asking voters who believe their ballots may be among those in the disputed group to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Raymond Smith, a spokesman for Riverside County, said county Executive Officer Bill Luna has directed the registrar's office to delay certification "while legal options are reviewed." Smith added that county officials would welcome having a judge resolve the matter and would like to be able to count the ballots.
But a spokeswoman for California Secretary of State Debra Bowen said the state law is clear: To be counted, a ballot must be in the possession of elections officials by the times the polls close election day. Spokeswoman Shannan Velayas said that the secretary does not have the authority to make exceptions and that it is not unusual for mail-in ballots to arrive late and be disqualified.
Smith said the ballots were originally sent to a post office in Moreno Valley, where the registrar has never collected mail. They were collected on June 9 after postal officials forwarded them to a post office in Riverside, where the registrar's staff picks up mail daily. He said the county is working with the Postal Service to improve the ballot collection system.
The deadline for counties to complete the count of mail-in, provisional and other ballots not tallied on election night is July 6. They must report their election results by July 9 to the secretary of state's office, which has until July 16 to certify the results.