Recount is Possible in Tight Costa Mesa Council Race

Jim Righeimer (p)
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Update: As of the registrar’s 5 p.m. update Thursday, the mayor’s lead widened to 112 votes.

A recount could be take place in Costa Mesa’s tight city council race, where the fate of one of the region’s most controversial city council majorities hangs in the balance.

Mayor Jim Righeimer was barely clinging on to his council seat as of Wednesday night, with thousands of votes yet to be tallied.

He was leading an opponent, Jay Humphrey, by just 18 votes, out of over 25,000 counted so far in the council race.

That’s a difference of just 0.07% – or less than a tenth of one percent.

The final outcome is far from determined.

“There’s 4,700 votes still that haven’t been counted, approximately,” Righeimer said Wednesday.

Recounts can be requested after the election results are certified, which is expected to take place about 9 days from now, or roughly next Saturday.

When asked by Voice of OC, Humphrey didn’t rule out the possibility of a recount, if he ends up down narrowly in the certified results.

“Depending on how close the end vote is, [that] will make that determination,” Humphrey said.

The tight results are keeping him on the edge of his seat.

“It’s waiting on pins and needles,” Humphrey said. “It’s a little nerve-racking, but the truth of the matter is, I’m real comfortable with where we are and I’m pleased we’re in the position we’re in.”

Righeimer declined to say if he would request a recount if he ends up below Humphrey in the certified results.

The council majority was dealt a series of blows by voters on Election Night, including a strong showing by their opponent Katrina Foley.

Foley, who is a frequent critic of the council majority, took a strong lead in the council race, with several thousand votes more than the mayor.

Voters also rejected a council majority-backed city charter proposal by over 60 percent.

And Righeimer was locked in a neck-and-neck battle to retain his seat.

That has left the council majority’s very control of Costa Mesa an open question.

Humphrey said the election results overall show that a majority of residents disagree with the direction the council majority has taken the city.

“Certainly there are people that support the council majority, but the truth is the rest of the city seems to not,” said Humphrey, who previously served on the council from 1990 to 1994.

“Katrina has handily won out front,” he added. “The mayor, who has the obvious benefit of being the mayor, and [making] numerous connections to the public that way, was not able to overcome that campaign. And I think that’s great.”

When asked for his thoughts on Humphrey’s analysis, Righeimer replied: “I want to congratulate Katrina Foley for running a great campaign,” along with Jay Humphrey.

He then abruptly ended the interview.

At stake is control over city government, with Righeimer’s seat being the tipping point of the three-member council majority, which has sought to outsource numerous city services in recent years.

Costa Mesa attracted national headlines in 2011, when the newly-elected council majority issued layoff notices to nearly half of the city’s employees.

Court rulings and other limitations, however, have blocked the vast majority of that outsourcing from taking place.

The council majority responded by asking voters to approve a city charter in 2012, which could have allowed them to outsource a broader set of city services than currently allowed.

But that charter proposal was rejected, with voters rejecting a second charter attempt on Tuesday.

Humphrey said the main criticism of the council majority this election has centered on the re-surfaced charter proposal, a lack of respect for public commenters, growing legal fees, high-density development efforts and a perceived attack on open space at Fairview Park.

The charter vote, he said, “should tell some people that this community is not ready for a change in its form of government, and that they should let that die.”

And on the development side, he said the council majority has been “pushing high density development in areas that overburden it with traffic and parking problems and infrastructure demands that have not been addressed or talked about.”

While electronic voting results are available from 100 percent of Costa Mesa’s precincts, numerous paper and provisional ballots remain to be counted.

Across Orange County, about 22 percent of ballots had not yet been counted as of Wednesday evening, according to the county Registrar of Voters office, which oversees elections.

There’s no way to break down those figures by city until the ballots are scanned in for counting, said Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.

As for a recount, state law allows any voter to trigger the process within five days of the election results being certified.

The recount itself would start within seven days of the request, and would continue every day for at least six hours per day, except for weekends and holidays.

Every single vote in the city would be recounted under Kelley’s supervision and conducted publicly.

It would be paid for by the person requesting the recount, at a rate of $600 per day for each four-person counting panel.

If the recount results change who wins the election, those new figures become the official election results. And the person requesting the recount would get their money back.

(Click here for a short summary of how the recount process works.)

Humphrey, meanwhile, said he’s not jumping to any conclusions yet about how the race will turn out, but remains hopeful.

“Patience is a virtue,” he said. “It does work. And waiting patiently helps [you] not get too crazy until the time is right.”

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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