Steve Cooley's campaign is engaged in an escalating war of words with elections officials in L.A., where 150,000 provisional ballots could tip the balance in the razor-close race for attorney general.
Cooley's attorney has fired off three letters to the L.A. County Registar-Recorder in the last three days, alleging that election workers are being too lax in allowing provisional ballots to be counted.
The Cooley campaign has also mobilized a corps of election monitors -- many of them from the Professional Peace Officers Association -- to go toe-to-toe with the monitors working for the Kamala Harris campaign, many of whom are SEIU members.
So, basically, you have two groups of public employees -- the PPOA and the SEIU -- who seem to have plenty of time in the middle of the day to keep an eye on another group of public employees -- the ballot counters -- and on each other. Democracy!
As of this morning, Cooley trails Harris by about 15,000 votes statewide, or two-tenths of a percent. *See update below. Since the Election Day result showed Harris leading by a similarly narrow margin, nearly 1.8 million ballots have been tallied. Among the ballots added to the count after Election Day, Harris leads Cooley by a tally of 807,820 to 807,459. There are still several hundred thousand ballots left to count.
The Harris campaign complained on Sunday that the Cooley monitors were crowding election workers' terminals and trying to intimidate them.
That wasn't happening on Monday morning. In a counting room with about 90 work stations, a half-dozen Cooley monitors wandered up and down the cubicle rows, looking over the counters' shoulders. Another three or four Harris monitors were doing the same thing. Monitors from both sides were advised not to talk to the ballot counters or impede their work, and they stuck to that rule.
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.
"They're welcome to challenge the procedure and how we're handling or reviewing ballots," Escobedo said. But in order to challenge individual ballots, he said a campaign would have to present "extraordinary evidence" of a mistake or of fraud.
The 150,000 uncounted provisionals in L.A. are likely to tilt strongly in Harris' direction. The Harris side seems eager to have as many ballots counted as possible, while the Cooley side is taking the opposite approach. Neither campaign, however, seems to have succeeded so far in affecting the count either way.
On Saturday, the Cooley monitors questioned whether signatures had actually been verified on a batch of provisional ballots that election workers had deemed valid. A supervisor reviewed the ballots a second time to demonstrate that all the signatures matched.
On two occasions, the Harris campaign asked to review a batch provisional ballots that had been disqualified. The Registrar's office provided an estimate of the number of disqualified ballots and the reasons they were not counted, but did not re-review the ballots or add any back into the count.
In a letter on Saturday to Registar-Recorder Dean Logan, Cooley attorney Charles Bell alleged that election workers were not reviewing signatures in some cases, and in other cases were reviewing them for less than a second. Bell asked that workers provide a minimum 10-second review for each signature.
Logan responded on Sunday that signatures are being reviewed in compliance with the law.
Bell wrote back on Monday to insist on a 10-second review period so that Cooley's monitors could decide for themselves whether the signatures match. Logan responded that Cooley's monitors are not entitled to challenge signature matches.
Logan also wrote that his office has been in direct communication with Cooley to address concerns related to the ballot count.
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On Sunday, the L.A. County Republican Party sent a memo to supporters pleading for more volunteers to monitor the count on Cooley's behalf.
"We just need bodies to help make sure the folks at the Registrar's aren't just speeding through this process, errantly letting through what should be invalid ballots," wrote Jane Barnett, chair of the county party.
As of now, it seems that in order to affect the process the Cooley campaign is going to have to seek an injunction. No word yet on whether they plan to take it that far.
Update: The afternoon update shows Harris leading by 31,000 votes, or .4%.