Harris photo Steve Rhodes/FlickrSteven Cooley and Kamala Harris
As Republican Steve Cooley slips behind Democrat Kamala Harris in the still-undecided race for attorney general, the GOP is calling for "more bodies" to monitor Los Angeles County election officials as about 150,000 provisional ballots are counted.
Cooley's campaign claims to have “seen example after example" in which the names on ballots were not being matched to the voter's registration card. An e-mail plea sent out Sunday evening by Jane Barnett, chairwoman of the the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, put it plainly:
The Cooley campaign needs more bodies ... it's that simple. Provisional ballots were being checked throughout the day today, and will be for days to come, at about 100 different stations at the LA County Registrar's Office in Norwalk. Harris' campaign had about a dozen people there today, Cooley had about half that. We need more bodies.
The latest plea for vote-counting monitors prompted Harris to warn Cooley against crossing the line, saying Cooley officials have crowded election workers “and aggressively attempt(ed) to have ballots disqualified.” Harris said "any systematic effort to disqualify votes is morally wrong and unbefitting California's next attorney general."
Joe Hall/FlickrProvisional and absentee ballots
Cooley has sent multiple letters to the County Registar-Recorder, complaining that election workers are being too careless when counting votes, the LA Weekly reports. The Cooley campaign reiterated these concerns to their supporters, while pointing out that Harris’ monitoring presence has doubled their own in recent days.
Both Harris and Cooley have beefed up their monitoring with help from the public employees sector: the powerful SEIU public employee union helping Harris, and members of the Professional Peace Officers Association siding with Cooley, the Weekly reported.
The Harris campaign said Cooley is clearly targeted very specific voters - those who showed up on Election Day in Los Angeles, where Harris holds an edge over Cooley.
"They ended up challenging the process," said Brian Brokaw, Harris' campaign manager. "They wanted an extra signature check. Sure. But the issue is kind of obvious what they are trying to do – they didn't show up until the provisional ballots were starting to be counted and they didn't ask in any other county except Los Angeles."
Barnett, the GOP chairwoman, outlined what needed to be done for Cooley:
The process isn't particularly complicated. In a nutshell, stacks and stacks of ballots are brought to each registrar employee's desk, where they are supposed to check to make sure the signature on the ballot matches the signature on the person's voter registration card, as well as other information. The problem is, the Cooley campaign has seen example after example where that just isn't being done ... but it is only being caught when we have the manpower there to check it.
Under state law, vote-counting observers can make sure signatures and addresses are compared to voter registration information, but otherwise the law requires "extraordinary proof" before making a challenge to the validity of a ballot.
The LA Weekly reported about activity in office: "One Cooley monitor was seen jotting down ballot ID numbers, presumably for a later challenge. But so far no individual ballot challenges have been made, said Efrain Escobedo, the elections official who has been dealing with the campaigns."
Shannon Velayas, spokeswoman to Secretary of State Debra Bowen, said the L.A. County elections office "is staffed with professionals who know and understand California elections law and Secretary Bowen is confident that county officials will complete their canvass in accordance with the law."
Currently Cooley trails Harris by about 30,000 votes in a contest that has seen both candidates take the lead at numerous times. The attorney general’s race is the last undecided statewide race in a year when Democrats have taken every other state seat.
In order to prevent the sweep, Cooley will probably have to make big gains in LA where currently he’s the county district attorney. With 700,000 ballots left to count [PDF] statewide, and 150,000 in LA County, it’s still anyone’s game.
Results must be certified by Nov. 30. Then the candidates have five days to ask any particular county to do a recount. Both sides seem to be gearing up their legal teams for a protracted battle.
“This is a fairly common occurrence," Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles told the Bay Citizen. "When it’s very close, people start lawyering up and look to get an advantage.”