While final election tallies Monday showed Bao Nguyen beating incumbent Garden Grove mayor Bruce Broadwater by 15 votes, and Costa Mesa’s Jim Righeimer re-elected by just 47 votes, the battle for these two seats may not be over yet, as the losing candidates have yet to decide whether they will seek a recount.
After County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley certifies the election results Tuesday, candidates have five days to submit a request for a recount.
Broadwater, 76, did not say Monday night whether he would seek a recount. Costa Mesa candidate Jay Humphrey, who was challenging Righeimer for the second council slot available on the ballot, said he was weighing his options.
Any voter can request a recount, but they are also responsible for paying the cost. Kelley estimated a recount in Garden Grove or Costa Mesa would cost $1200 per day for 8 people to count votes, over five to seven days.
During a recount, two panels of four people tally votes separately and compare their counts.
According to Kelley, prior to 2008, candidates were more likely to pick up extra votes in a recount because of laws on ballot irregularities at the time.
The county has conducted a dozen recounts since 2004, Kelley said.
“The difference was, if you marked your ballot with your name or phone number it would invalidate your vote. In a recount, you would physically see [the marks], and you invalidate that vote.
After those standards changed, candidates are now less likely to pick up additional votes in a recount, Kelley said.
Still, the election can still be contested based on how one interprets a ballot. Many candidates who request a recount often hire a lawyer to supervise the process.
“Let’s say you have a situation where a voter circles a name, crosses it out, puts an arrow, then circles again — that’s where you have to make those interpretation calls, but those are few and far between,” Kelley said.
The Registrar of Voters has final call on election results, although after a complete recount is done, candidates can challenge the results in court.
“We do everything we can to err on the side on the voter,” Kelley said.
Garden Grove: Six-Term Mayor Defeated
The close race in Garden Grove seemingly speaks to a political upheaval that has been unfolding over the past year as Broadwater faced blistering criticism over the hiring of his son Jeremy as a firefighter.
While Broadwater, a 22-year councilman and mayor, has touted his experience and chops as a fiscal guardian for the city, that message was largely overshadowed in the campaign by the allegations of nepotism and favoritism.
Although Garden Grove has had several Vietnamese American councilmembers — including GOP heavyweight Van Tran and soon-to-be State Senator Janet Nguyen, Bao Nguyen will be the city’s first Vietnamese American mayor.
Nguyen, a Garden Grove school board trustee who works for a home care workers union, also marks a generational shift in city politics. The 35-year-old progressive campaigned on generating more jobs for recent college graduates, among other issues.
“I hope that [my election] inspires the next generation of leaders to see politics as a vehicle for change, and to participate in elections, especially local elections,” Nguyen said Monday night.
In a press release issued shortly after the final tally was posted, Nguyen thanked Broadwater for his service and said he would focus on “instituting common sense reforms and changing the culture at City Hall to be more transparent, efficient, and inclusive.”
Costa Mesa: Embattled Mayor Survives By A Hair
In Costa Mesa, Righeimer was re-elected by just 47 votes, coming in second to candidate Katrina Foley.
Righeimer’s first term in office was controversial and often acrimonious, as he led a newly-elected council majority sought to outsource 18 city services to reduce the city’s spending on public employee compensation and pensions.
This year, Righeimer ran as the incumbent mayor – a slot that is rotated among council members and usually comes in handy during election years.
Yet Monday night, a thin lead in votes had Righeimer somewhat sobered.
“This was clearly a 50-50 election. The voters are very split and as an elected official who is a leader in the community you have to listen to that and adjust accordingly,” Righeimer said. “I’m very open to working with Katrina Foley. I think the first thing you do is find out what you agree on, and get that done.”
Humphrey, his opponent, said he would decide over the next few days whether a recount would be “serve the best interests of the public.”
“I’ll be relieved when it’s finally certified,” Righeimer said.