By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A pair of local attorneys representing incumbent County Supervisor Lynn Compton is demanding that the San Luis Obispo County clerk-recorder stop counting a batch of disputed ballots in the still undecided District 4 supervisorial race, arguing the top local election official would be violating the law by continuing to tally the contested votes. County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong is not heeding the warning.
In the District 4 race, Compton leads challenger Jimmy Paulding by a total of 81 votes. It is unclear how many ballots remain uncounted.
The outcome of the District 4 race will determine whether conservatives keep the board of supervisors majority or liberals gain control of the board. Compton is a conservative Republican, while Paulding is a liberal Democrat.
Controversy in the vote count currently surrounds 31 mail-in ballots with signatures that do not match the voters’ signatures on their registration forms.
After elections officials found ballots with signatures that did not match, they provided the Compton and Paulding campaigns with lists of voters to whom the ballots belonged. Both campaigns then contacted the voters and managed to resolve some of the mismatching signatures.
By the deadline of 5 p.m. Wednesday, 31 ballots still contained signatures that were mismatches. County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong then decided to extend the deadline for reconciling the mismatching signatures until 5 p.m. Friday.
Compton’s attorneys, Charles Bell and Stew Jenkins, argue that Gong did not have the legal grounds to extend the deadline for cleaning up the ballots. Bell and Jenkins cite California Elections Code as stating voters have until 5 p.m. on the eighth day following to election to clean up their signatures.
The eighth day following the election was Wednesday.
In a letter to Gong, Bell and Jenkins demand that the clerk-recorder stop processing vote-by-mail ballots with signatures that do not match the voter’s signature on file.
Gong, in turn, refused to stop processing the contested ballots, arguing that the eight-day rule applies to ballots with no signature at all, not mismatching signatures. Gong also says he is trying to enfranchise the voters who cast the contested ballots.
At the heart of the dispute is California Elections Code Section 3019(a). The code section states an elections official should give a voter until 5 p.m. on the eighth day following the election to provide a signature if it is determined that the voter “failed to sign the identification envelope.”
While it is unclear how the 31 ballots would tally if counted, there is suspicion in the county that the votes would trend Democratic, or in favor of Paulding. Some critics are alleging Gong is providing undue assistance to Paulding and local Democrats by continuing to process the contested ballots.