Melissa Hurtado was sworn in as state Senator representing the Central Valley on Saturday. This came two days after all four counties in the district certified the election, giving the Bakersfield Democrat a 20-vote victory over David Shepard, and a second term in Sacramento.
Shepard, R-Porterville, is now asking for a recount in Senate District 16.
“Yesterday afternoon, we officially filed the necessary paperwork with the county elections offices in each of the four Senate District 16 counties needed to trigger a recount. Given some procedural irregularities that our campaign has observed, I believe that a recount is necessary. This is a historically close election and it is imperative that every legally cast vote be counted,” Shepard said in a news release Wednesday.
It was my honor to be sworn in today as California’s State Senator representing the 16th District.
Thank you to the voters who have put their trust in me. I look forward to continuing my work fighting for the Valley. Together, we can make our Valley strong. pic.twitter.com/zUelakqrWp
— Melissa Hurtado (@MHurtadoCA) December 11, 2022
Election Officials Confirm Request
The four counties in SD 16 — Fresno, Kings and Tulare and Kern —confirmed the request.
Kern County said the requested order would be Tulare, Kings, Kern and Fresno.
Fresno County Clerk James Kus says a cost estimate on his end is expected later today.
“We are discussing with counsel and the other counties how we will approach this request and what affect it will have on local timing of the recount processes,” Kus said.
Kings County Registrar of Voters Lupe Villa said they are reviewing the request.
Said Michelle Baldwin, Tulare County’s election clerk, “We are in process of notifying the parties so that we can begin tomorrow. Mr. Shepard has provided a list of how he would like us to proceed. We are putting together those costs.”
Kern County Finds More Votes
The Bakersfield Californian reported that Kern County filed a petition in court on Monday, “after discovering unopened 10 mail-in ballots they say are eligible for counting.”
Five of those ballots are from SD 16, Kern County elections head Mary Bedard said. Her office is asking for an extension of the certification deadline to provide a supplemental report. The state deadline for certification is Friday.
Shepard Critical of Kern Election Count
A weekend news release from Shepard heavily criticized the counting process, especially from Kern County.
“Kern County Elections misreported to the Secretary of State that they were in possession of 10,000 fewer ballots than what they ended up counting. This raises questions about the procedures Kern County Elections chooses to implement. Ensuring the ability of the Kern County Elections Office to accurately count and report results should be a bipartisan issue,” Shepard said.
Kern County elections chief Mary Bedard responded to criticism at a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, the Bakersfield Californian reported.
“While this is not a contest to see who can finish first, differences in resources, staffing and equipment can impact the speed of counting,” Bedard said.
She said new state laws sending mail-in ballots to every registered voter increases the time it takes to count. Staffing and workspace shortages were also a problem.
Regarding the issue of underestimating ballots remaining, Bedard said that practice was not uncommon. Voters correcting ballots because of signature issues add to the total, she said.
Bedard did say a sorting machine did break down, but they were able to get parts to fix the system “fairly easily, and the breakdown didn’t play a significant role.” She did refute a CNN report that a voting machine was down.
Senate Leaders Wanted Hurtado Not to Be Seated
Last week, two GOP state Senate leaders asked that Hurtado not be seated because of the close vote — to no avail.
Among the claims from Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Brian Jones, R-Santee, was that 14 cured ballots were not counted in Fresno County and that 600-800 uncounted ballots remained in Tulare County.
Kus said that 11 cured ballots — ballots returned by voters to fix signature problems — came in after the certification date. Ballots returned by mail must include a signature that matches what the county election office has on file.
Baldwin, Tulare County’s registrar, said they had 722 ballots they could not process — 148 for no signature and 574 for no signature match.
“The Elections Code states that if two elections officials each find beyond a reasonable doubt that the signature on the vote by mail identification envelope possesses multiple, significant, and obvious differing characteristics when compared to all signatures in the voter’s registration record, the identification envelope shall not be opened and the ballot shall not be counted. Characteristics include the slant of the signature, letter formation, and whether the signature is printed or written in cursive,” Baldwin said.
How a Recount Works
Anyone in California may request a recount — though none are automatic. The requester is responsible for the costs. However, if a recount overturns a result, the money would be refunded.
As of his latest financial disclosure form through Oct. 27, Shepard reported $22,872 cash on hand.
Kus explained how a recount would work.
“The recount itself must begin within seven days of the receipt of the official request to recount by the county. The recount will continue each day after the start date, not including weekends or holidays, until the recount is complete or the requestor ends the recount.
“The recount will be an open, publicly observable process and notice will be provided to the public and to the interested parties prior to the start of the recount. All ballots and materials relevant to the recount will be gathered on day one (and following days as required by volume). The recount of ballots will occur once all ballots have been collected and continue until the recount is complete. The recount may either be manual tally or electronic tally, as chosen by the requestor.”
There is precedent for a member of the Legislature being sworn in, only to be removed after a recount, says state historian Alex Vassar.
In 1980, Republican Adrian Fondse from Ripon appeared to win an Assembly seat over Democrat Patrick Johnston. He took office in December. He only lasted a month in the role.
A recount gave Johnston the lead. He was sworn in when the Assembly returned in January.