A civic group and several Riverside County residents filed a lawsuit today seeking an injunction to bar the Registrar of Voters from certifying the results of the June 8 primary election without including 12,563 misplaced ballots.
The Riverside County Democratic Central Committee and three residents are asking the Superior Court to prohibit certification, which is due Tuesday, on the grounds that the absentee voters whose ballots were lost have effectively been disenfranchised, in violation of the state constitution.
A hearing is set at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the Riverside Historic Courthouse to determine whether a temporary restraining order should be issued to prevent the registrar from proceeding with certification.
“Obviously we want this resolved as soon as possible,” said Karen Getman, an attorney for the San Leandro-based firm of Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, which represents the plaintiffs.
“The hearing will decide when the court will hear the merits of the case and decide whether the ballots should be counted.”
Getman said the state Elections Code has a provision allowing for a delay in certification based on extenuating circumstances. The plaintiffs are hoping the judge recognizes this as one of those occasions.
“Following the 2000 presidential election, California voters amended the constitution to ensure that voters who follow the law have the right to have their votes counted,” the plaintiffs’ filing states.
“The more than 12,500 voters who cast their ballots by mail did everything required of them by the Elections Code … Under the California Constitution, they have the right to have their votes counted.”
The misplaced mail-in ballots, which bore postmarks from all over Riverside County, were discovered the morning after the June 8 primary.
The ballots were apparently routed to a Moreno Valley post office that the registrar’s office had never visited, and then sent on to a post office in Riverside, where they were retrieved too late to be tabulated.
Under state law, ballots cannot be processed unless they are received by 8 p.m. on election night.
The lawsuit names Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore as the defendant. Beside the central committee, the named plaintiffs are Naomi Ingram, Sherry Lynn Riegel and Jennifer Christina Riegel — all of Moreno Valley.
The petition also lists “Does 1 through 12,560” for the residents whose votes were not tallied.
County Executive Officer Bill Luna, at the direction of the Board of Supervisors, last week ordered Dunmore to postpone certification until it was clear whether there would be any legal action, and whether the county might join in.
“It’s certainly welcome because this gives a judge the opportunity to decide if there is any way at all these ballots can be counted, and our highest priority is counting every valid ballot in every election,” Luna said in response to the lawsuit.
The Office of the County Counsel assisted the plaintiffs in their filing of the lawsuit, Luna said.
Dunmore has drawn criticism for the slow pace of the election tally, which took more than five days and left Riverside County last among California’s 58 counties to report results.
The registrar has blamed the ballot mix-up on the postal service. She told City News Service earlier that her staff has routinely gone to retrieve late-arriving ballots directly from the post office’s Redlands distribution center and could not understand how those ballots ended up in Moreno Valley.
Riverside County officials have met with U.S. Postal Service District Manager Dallas Keck, who attributed the ballot snafu to an unplanned “change of process,” according to the Executive Office.
Keck told county officials communication should have been better between the postal service and the county, prompting both sides to agree to new “protocols” that prevent future foul-ups, according to county spokesman Ray Smith.
An Executive Office report on the reasons for the slow vote tally and ballot confusion is expected July 13.