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County Wins Election Case Over Secretary of State

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The County of San Diego -- joined by Kern, Riverside and San Bernardino counties -- challenged an election directive issued in October 2007 by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen requiring counties to manually count 10 percent of all ballots in counties with close election contests.

The County argued that the directive failed to comply with the requirements of state law. The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, agreed.

On Friday, Aug. 29, it granted the County’s request to reverse a lower court decision and to declare Bowen’s directive null and void.

“We are relieved that we will not have to comply with a directive that could have threatened our ability to complete our post-election canvass in a timely manner,” said County Registrar of Voters Deborah Seiler.

“The directive needed to be scrutinized through the regulatory process and now it will be.”

Existing state law, which counties will continue to follow, requires local election officials to manually tally 1 percent of all precincts, chosen at random, to compare a hand count with the voting machine count within 28 days of the election. Under Bowen’s plan, local election officials would have been required to manually count the ballots cast in an additional 10 percent of the precincts when a contest, based on election night results, was within one half of 1 percent.

If required to perform the 10 percent manual tally within the 28-day statutory deadline, San Diego County would have had to substantially increase its temporary workers and their hourly wages – at a significant expense to County taxpayers.

The counties also argued that the 10 percent manual tally requirement jeopardized local elections officials’ ability to complete the final certification of election results within 28 days after the election, as required by state law.

Bowen’s directive did not provide funding for the extra costs. Bowen asserted that she would force the private voting equipment vendors to bear the costs, but the vendors pointed to their existing contracts, which have no requirement to pay for Secretary of State directives.