Battle over 11th District winds up in court

November 8, 2010 7:29:50 PM PST
The battle for votes in an East Bay congressional race wound up in court Monday morning. The race between incumbent Congressman Jerry McNerney and his Republican challenger David Harmer is still too close to call, nearly a week after the election.

The battle over votes moved to the courthouse as the GOP pressed for the right to closely observe and challenge the signatures on vote-by-mail ballots.

Outside the courthouse Monday afternoon, both sides declared victory.

"This was a significant victory for access today," said GOP attorney Charles Bell.

Bell said his side has won the right to have observers stand closer to election workers as they check the signatures on mail in ballot envelopes. But Contra Costa County Clerk Steve Weir says he was vindicated because those observers will not be permitted to challenge.

"They don't get to say 'I don't think that matches' because that's a challenge and they do not have the right to challenge," said Weir.

Weir said allowing challenges of the signatures wouldn't be fair to voters.

"That voter is not present to defend themselves against a spurious challenge," said Weir.

Bell had argued that observers should have the right to challenge, but the judge didn't agree. He ordered both sides to come up with a solution. Weir agreed to greater access.

"We've agreed that we will bring people behind the folks that are checking the signatures for this case. I mean, if I had to do this for 250,000 signatures, it would be impossible," said Weir.

Weir says the closer access will be only for the 1,700 mail-in-ballots that remain to be verified -- the GOP is calling that a victory.

"Gallery access from back in the deep peanut gallery is not sufficient access, so we're going to have close access," said Bell.

Interesting to note that in some counties signature verification of mail-in-ballots is done with machines and computers. There is no observation of the process possible.

Contra Costa County has the machine, but they have not yet implemented the computer software to make the comparisons.

The race between Harmer and McNerney is razor thin. Harmer's support is concentrated in the eastern portion of the district and San Joaquin County has by far the greatest number of registered voters and San Joaquin is the only one of the four that has yet to update its election night returns.

San Joaquin County plans to update its vote count on Wednesday and when that happens, there could be a dramatic change in this contest. Right now McNerney leads by 624 votes, but with thousands of ballots yet to be counted, that lead could evaporate.


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