Campaigns for Cooley, Harris bicker as votes are counted

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Nov 15, 2010


SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - The chief strategist for California attorney general candidate Kamala Harris is accusing her Republican opponent, Steve Cooley, and his campaign of attempting to disqualify "as many provisional ballots as possible" in Los Angeles County.

In a statement released by the Democrat's campaign on Sunday, Ace Smith said, "We call on the Cooley campaign to immediately cease any tactics designed to disenfranchise voters."

He continued, "This weekend the Los Angeles Times correctly editorialized that the statewide count in the Attorney General's race should be a model of civility and due process befitting the state's top legal officer. Kamala Harris agrees wholeheartedly and believes the people of California deserve nothing less than a full and fair vote count."

In the Saturday editorial, the Times wrote that, so far, the ongoing vote-count "has been followed diligently but respectfully by the candidates. They should resolve to keep it that way."

The opinion piece pointed to similar situations in the past -- i.e. George W. Bush versus Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election -- that "have brought out the worst in candidates."

According to the editorial, for the most part, the ongoing Cooley-Harris contest "has skirted those depressing trends."

"Our campaigns must steadfastly respect the procedures of each county while allowing the professionals in our county registrars' offices to do their jobs -- which is to count every vote transparently without fear or intimidation," Smith said.

Smith contends Cooley's campaign -- having fallen behind in the statewide count as of Friday -- were seen "crowding" the computer terminals of Los Angeles election workers and "aggressively attempting to have ballots disqualified."

Cooley's campaign, Smith said, then fired off a letter to the L.A. County Registrar, objecting to its procedures for counting provisional ballots and requested a second review of signatures on provisional ballots.

Smith said of the Los Angeles District Attorney's actions, "This behavior is especially troubling given the Cooley campaign's baseless accusation that the Harris campaign might resort to legal challenges and Cooley's pledge to 'fight any such manipulations of the ballot counting process by the Harris campaign.'

Kevin Spillane, the senior consultant for Cooley's campaign, said the statement was "typical campaign hyperbole."

"Harris' election monitoring staff have engaged in inappropriate contacts with county staff who are counting ballots," Spillane said.

"County staff has also held private meetings regarding ballot counting with members of the Harris staff that the Cooley election monitors were not aware of or invited to participate in until after they raised questions.

"In addition, there are serious concerns about the signature verification process and the verification of provisional ballots by county staff. These issues go to the heart of preventing voter fraud and ensuring the integrity of the ballot counting."

As of late Friday, Harris took a slight lead in the race, moving ahead by 3,609 votes, according to the Times' blog L.A. Now.

The numbers give Harris 4,131,847 votes to Cooley's 4,128,238, according to the blog post.

Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan told the Times that Cooley's campaign had expressed broad concerns but had not issued any specific complaints about the vote-counting process. He said he believed his workers had followed the law.

According to state law, the vote counting must be complete by Nov. 30 and all counts must be submitted to the Secretary of State's Office by Dec. 3.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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