Local activists the Long Beach Reform Coalition (LBRC) hired Los Angeles election-law specialists Strumwasser & Woocher to file suit in the LA County Superior Court against LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk (RR/CC) Dean Logan on Monday, May 11.
“Our litigation seeks a writ of mandate and injunctive relief to force Mr. Logan to restart the recount of Long Beach Measure A as a traditional, paper-ballot recount at a reasonable cost,” LBRC said in a May 11 statement.
Measure A had passed by a thin margin of 16 votes in the March 3 election, according to results certified by Logan’s office on March 27, with 49,676 voting in favor and 49,660 against.
The measure’s passing extends an extra 1% Long Beach sales tax imposed in 2017 beyond its previous sunset date of 2027. The additional revenue bolsters public safety and improve infrastructure, including fire stations, libraries and parks, the City says.
Given Measure A’s very narrow approval margin, LBRC requested a recount of the ballots beginning April 8, raising $26,000 from community supporters, according to its website.
However, because the county’s new electronic voting system, VSAP (Voting Solutions for All People), created a higher number of polling places across the county than before, RR/CC increased its charges for the recount, LBRC said.
“To retrieve these physical ballots, the County Clerk’s office estimates that 16 workers would have to work for 16 full days,” LBRC said, adding that the County gave them a cost estimate of more than $11,000 per day.
LBRC further suggested that the County’s fees included paying its IT department to develop a new ballot-scanning interface to use in future recounts.
With the recount already underway on April 13, LBRC requested that the County continue recounting manually for $10,854.50, as per the state Election Code cited in RR/CC’s “Requesting a Recount 2020” handbook. However, Logan’s office responded by halting the recount, which LBRC said it had already paid $21,000 to initiate.
The lawsuit clarifies that Logan agreed to a manual recount but only if LBRC paid its per-day fee of $11,694.49 for the first of 16 anticipated days of ballot-retrieval, which LBRC did not do.
LBRC then announced on April 27 that it would file suit against the RR/CC within the legal timeframe using a $20,000 grant from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association.
“If successful, our litigation effectively will return to the public its right to verify election outcomes, rather than relying purely on non-transparent computerized tabulation,” LBRC said after filing suit on May 11.
Mike Sanchez, a spokesperson for RR/CC, told the Signal Tribune in a May 12 email that the agency does not comment on active litigation.
However, Sanchez did say that the new voting system, authorized by the Voter’s Choice Act, does change the way ballots must be retrieved for a recount. Since voters can now vote at any of 1,000 county locations, ballots are stored in batches rather than at polling precincts, making retrieval more time consuming.
“A record is maintained that allows for identifying the specific box and storage location for a given ballot or set of ballots,” Sanchez said. “However, retrieval does require identifying each applicable box and then going through the boxes to retrieve specific ballots.”
LBRC’s lawsuit alleges that relevant ballots ended up in 5,000 different boxes, none of which were sorted by precinct. It accuses Logan of obstructing the recount in order to, as LBRC states, “cover up the flaws in his new VSAP system.”
“VSAP is now being used as an excuse to eliminate presorting of ballots altogether and instead burden the individual making the recount request with that cost,” LBRC said.
LBRC further contends that the partial recount the County completed between April 8 and 11 shows that VSAP’s machine vote-counting is not accurate.
“Half a dozen votes that the computer recorded as ‘over-votes’ (both a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ vote, spoiling the ballot for the particular race) were, in fact, clear votes for either a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No,’” LBRC asserts.
Sanchez told the Signal Tribune shortly after the County certified the election results in March that it followed the Election Code’s required “1% manual tally” by hand-counting votes in a random selection of 1% of voting precincts, plus in one precinct not in that selection. Officials then compared the manual tally with the machine’s tally to verify both were the same.
“The legally required 1% post-election manual tally, which included all contests and ballot measures, validated the accuracy of the count of those ballots– which included Measure A– with no variances,” Sanchez said.
However, LBRC’s lawsuit contends that the RR/CC did not conduct a manual tally of precincts but rather of batches.
“It is uncertain whether any ballots cast in the Measure A election were included in, and subject to verification, through the one-percent tally that the Registrar conducted,” the petition states.
Measure A has generated over $167 million in revenue since its implementation in 2017, according to the Long Beach city manager’s office. The City has used the funds to restore three public-safety vehicles, 41 public-safety positions, staff its police academy and initiate or complete dozens of infrastructure projects in fire stations, libraries and parks across the city.
Mayor Robert Garcia and the fire and police chiefs said in arguments supporting the March ballot measure that besides ensuring public safety, the city still needs $2.6 billion to repair streets, sidewalks and alleys as well as upgrade its water system.
Nevertheless, LBRC’s lawsuit questions the method by which the Measure A extension passed, with ramifications for future elections.
“Given that most vote-counting errors arise from the computer misreading scanned images of vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots,” LBRC says, “the recent decision that all voters receive ballots by mail due to the pandemic makes this litigation all the more urgent.”