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Hertzberg Attorney to Inspect Ballots

An attorney for failed Los Angeles mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg said Thursday that he plans to inspect ballots from the March 8 election before deciding whether to request a recount.

Fred Woocher, an attorney for Hertzberg, said he accepted an invitation by City Clerk Frank Martinez to look today at the ballots that city workers "over-marked" to fill in incompletely inked circles. Hertzberg finished with 5,800 fewer votes than Mayor James K. Hahn, who is scheduled to be in a May 17 runoff with Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, the top vote-getter.

City election workers used pens on election night to place "over-markings" on thousands of ballots where ink marks made by voters might not have been clear or large enough to be read by vote-counting machines. Martinez said workers followed state guidelines in making marks in light blue that allows the original black mark to be seen but also makes sure a vote-scanning machine records the vote.

Woocher said he had no evidence of ballot tampering, but with such a slim margin between the second- and third-place finishers, he wants to make sure the count was accurate.

"We are going to take a look at the ballots to see how accurate the counting by the machines was," Woocher said. If there are discrepancies, "the ultimate test would be to have the ballots themselves manually inspected and counted again."

Campaign officials for Hahn and Villaraigosa said they also will have representatives at the clerk's office during the inspection today. The attorneys will also observe city workers tallying about 10,000 mail-in ballots that have not been counted.

Meanwhile, the California secretary of state's office has asked Martinez's office for information to determine whether the city's change in the computer code for a vote-scanner should have been submitted to the state for certification before the March 8 election.

Because the city vote-scanning equipment was certified by the state, any modification should be submitted to the state to make sure it does not impair the counting of votes, said Caren Daniels-Meade, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

"We are collecting facts," Daniels-Meade said. "This agency could well have said it is OK, but we were not notified."

Martinez, who was already under fire for taking nearly eight hours to count the votes on election night and for overmarking the ballots, said a line of computer code was changed at his direction by a city software vendor to make sure the scanner would be able to read new ink-marked ballots used by the city for the first time.

"We believe the change we made was very minor and was an enhancement to allow us to make sure the votes were counted properly," Martinez said.

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