Measure A heads to recount after opponents file request with the county

The March 3 election results were certified Friday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that county workers are done tallying votes as  Measure A will now move to an official recount.

Measure A—which would indefinitely extend a 1% sales tax increase adopted in 2016—was losing in the polls on election night and continued to lag behind by dozens, then hundreds of votes. On the last count Friday, county officials announced the official results: It had passed by a meager 16 votes.

Now, an effort to have those votes recounted was made official Wednesday after a request was filed with the county by opponents of Measure A.

“Perception is everything in democracy, whether [county Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan] is confident in his process or not the public perception is that something really stinks here,” said Ian Patton, executive director of the Long Beach Reform Coalition, which filed the request for a recount Wednesday.

Patton said that the group waited until Wednesday to file its official request with the county to initiate a recount so the group could fundraise. The recount is likely to cost the group tens of thousands of dollars.

While the Long Beach City Clerk’s office estimated last week that a recount would cost between $63,000 and $84,000, Patton thinks it could cost the group much less. He’s hopeful the recount will be closer to $15,000 to $25,000—an amount he said his group is confident it can raise through a fundraising effort launched in the past few days.

Per the city charter, automatic recounts are only triggered in close elections for candidates, not ballot measures. The county also lacks an automatic recount trigger for ballot measure contests.

The group challenging the outcome of the election is responsible for paying for the recount costs, but if the results were to flip, Patton said his group would be eligible for a refund.

A deposit to begin the recount is due on the day it begins and daily rates in the thousands of dollars per count team would be assessed as long as the count goes on. But Patton was confident it could be done in a day.

“Our fundraising right now it looks like we’re going to be able to handle that,” Patton said. “I hope they won’t come to us with a curveball that raises the cost because of all the changes.”

In just 48 hours, the group has raised about $13,000, he said, with another $14,000 in pledged contributions to help fund the effort. That’s in addition to unspecified monetary support from outside parties like the Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Association that have have shown interest in supporting the recount, he said.

Curveballs, however, could come in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic that is forcing nearly every business entity, including the county, into new protocols to conform with social distancing guidelines that state officials put in place to slow the spread of the virus.

Looking over the shoulder of counters, count teams seated closely together pouring over ballots, even having those count teams in the same room, could be out of the question.

Patton said he’s been told that count teams that typically consist of four people will be limited to three, but that he’s received assurances that the cost of each team will be prorated.

He’s expecting that each team will cost the coalition about $4,200 per day and he’s hopeful that the recount of the over 99,000 votes can be completed in one day.

However, he said that in his conversations with county officials that they are unsure how a recount will be conducted because of the need to implement social distancing to keep workers and volunteers safe.

There are number of ballot issues the coalition will be seeking to get counted or have thrown out, Patton said.

Ballots that may have an “X” or a checkmark instead of a filled-in bubble that may have prevented the county’s machines from counting them are ones they’d like to be added. Ballots that may have been disqualified for non-matching signatures or other deficiencies that landed them in the hundreds of rejected ballots could help close the 16-vote gap.

The recount could conclude as soon as next week. According to the county’s guidelines for recounts, the count must be initiated within seven days of the request. However many teams Patton’s group pay for will start counting in six-hour shifts until all of the votes cast are recounted or until the group calls off the recount.

In an email, a county spokesperson said that they did not anticipate COVID-19 to impact the ability to carry out the recounting process but said social distancing would be practiced.

They added that because two other jurisdictions also requested recounts, it could impact when the Long Beach one starts depending on if the county decides to process the three recounts consecutively instead of simultaneously. That has yet to be decided.

Loss of Measure A funding in 2026—which the city has depended on for the past three years to buffer the city’s police and fire departments as well as fixing city streets and buildings—could have catastrophic results, officials have said.

The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously last summer to place the measure on the ballot again in what it said was an attempt to have Long Beach taxpayer money stay in Long Beach. The city is currently at the limit for local sales tax but other local agencies’ long-term tax proposals could replace Measure A after it phased out in 2027.

The tax has brought in roughly $70 million annually, and city officials said losing it could result in budget cuts across the board. Projects scheduled to be completed before 2027 could still be in place but anything beyond the sunset-date would have to be budgeted with less funding.

The city did not immediately respond to request for further comment on the recount.

Mayor Robert Garcia said Friday in a statement that Measure A’s passage would be critical in the years ahead to keep police and firefighter staffing

“We are incredibly grateful to all who voted,” Garcia wrote. “Every vote counts.”

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.