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November 12, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, November 12, 2004

City's elections closer to being finalized City's elections closer to being finalized (November 12, 2004)

Council challengers still within a few hundred votes of each other

By Jon Wiener

With the incumbents all but assured of victory, four hopefuls for the final two seats on the Mountain View City Council still can not relax, as thousands of new votes have made the race even tighter than it was.

Candidates Laura Macias and Tom Means were cautious about declaring victory on election night, waiting until around midnight, when 100 percents of precincts had reported their results. But the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters announced the following day that approximately 150,000 votes, or nearly one-fourth of the countywide total, had not been factored into the outcome.

"If I'd have known how many votes were uncounted, I wouldn't have been confident at all," said Means. Despite being in fourth place as of Wednesday morning, with 95 percent of the votes tallied, Means said he wasn't declaring victory until the results were final.

While the stacks of votes were being counted after Election Day, incumbent Matt Pear and Nick Galiotto remained well ahead of the pack.

Macias had moved ahead of Means into third place, putting her in line to serve as mayor before he does, according to city tradition. Means held slim leads over Margaret Abe-Koga (97 votes) and Stephanie Schaaf (160) for the fourth and final open seat on the council.

Assistant Registrar Elaine Larson said the delay stemmed from a large increase in absentee voter registration, particularly permanent absentee voters, and the use of optical scan paper ballots instead of the banned punch-card style.

About 100 workers spent the weekend sifting through the mountains of uncounted ballots from last Tuesday's election at the Registrar's office.

More than 125,000 ballots have since been factored into the election results countywide, adding an additional 16,200 votes in the Mountain View City Council race and 9,400 to the Mountain View-Whisman school board election.

There were still about 25,000 ballots in the county left to be counted as of the Voice's Wednesday press time, but it was unclear how many were from the city of Mountain View. The county must submit certified results to the state by Nov. 30.

Confusion over the finality of the results posted on election night prompted Abe-Koga to call the four apparent city council winners to congratulate them.

Schaaf sent an e-mail early on Nov. 3 to supporters recapping the campaign and thanking them for their help. She later said she would not have done that if she had known that only three-quarters of the vote had been counted at that time.

Despite the added votes, no candidates in the school board race saw a major change in percentage of votes or swapped places with each other. The winners on Nov. 2, Gloria Higgins, Fiona Walter and RoseMary Sias Roquero, still lead the pack by a significant margin.

The uncounted ballots included 7,000 absentee ballots and 18,000 provisional ballots -- for newly registered voters and others who did not appear on the rolls -- and hundreds of stray ballots, which turned up randomly in envelopes or unsecured in voting equipment returned from the precincts, according to Larson.

"It's a long road. Things appear, so we have to make sure they're valid votes and make sure they're counted," she said.

The next update was scheduled to be posted on the Registrar's Web site on Friday afternoon. Larson said she expected to be done with the vote counting by Sunday.

Larson was expecting to meet with representatives from document company Pitney Bowes on Nov. 11 to discuss automating the time-consuming process of checking signatures on paper ballots. Larson estimated the machinery that could accomplish this would cost $250,000 to $500,000.

E-mail Jon Wiener at jwiener@mv-voice.com


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