Tuesday, August 27, 2002
St. George Seeks Recount in Board of Governors Race
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Matthew St. George has requested a recount in the State Bar Board of Governors election he lost by 27 votes and criticized the vote process as sloppy and unnecessarily secretive.
The District Seven candidate, who was bested by Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Steven Ipsen in an election process that lasted for more than two months, said he did not expect to emerge the winner but wanted to bring some “honesty” to the process.
He said he was especially concerned about how ballots deemed invalid were handled. He said he was told that invalid ballots from all the districts around the state were thrown into a single pile, and there is no way of checking whether they should have been counted.
“I’m not a sore loser,” St. George said. “I’m an annoyed loser. It annoys me that they are handling this like some high school election.”
In election results announced July 11, Ipsen garnered 3,082 votes to St. George’s 3,055. Ipsen did virtually no campaigning aside from a statement on the State Bar website and a single line in another candidate’s newspaper ad. St. George spent thousands of dollars and boasted the backing of a virtual who’s-who of local legal community leaders.
St. George said from the beginning he would ask for a recount, given the small margin that separated him from Ipsen. But he said he has become more adamant about pursuing the process since learning that the State Bar has no recount rules and that the firm that handled the paper-and-mail balloting, Internet vote specialists election.com, demanded $14,000 to $21,000 to conduct a recount.
St. George said he would not pay it, even though the State Bar’s contract with election.com calls for the fee. Since State Bar elections rules do not provide for recounts, he said, he should not be required to pay any fee. He added that he should not be obligated under a contract to which he is not a party.
The State Bar could pay the fee. But St. George suggested that instead State Bar officials count the ballots one by one while observers, including representatives of himself and of Ipsen, observe.
State Bar board member Nancy Zamora, who is on the elections task force, said Saturday that in the absence of recall rules the State Bar was looking to the state Elections Code by analogy. That code requires the losing candidate to pay the costs of recounts. It also provides for reimbursement if the outcome changes.
The State Bar paid election.com $91,000 to handle the Board of Governors elections, which included contested voting in several other districts around the state, and two in Los Angeles County, including the Ipsen-St. George race.
St. George brought his request for a recount to a State Bar elections task force meeting Friday, but was told he had to make his request in writing. He said he intended to send a letter to the organization’s chief counsel, Marie Moffat, today.
The task force met to review proposed election rules changes, spurred in part by St. George’s complaints about his election. In addition to considering recount rules, the panel is looking at eliminated the regulations regarding special elections so that costly balloting need not take place every time a board member resigns.
Elected members of the Board of Governors generally serve their entire three-year terms. But two members recently have left after Gov. Gray Davis appointed them to the bench.
In each case, former board member Anne Ravel was appointed to fill the seat until a special election could be held. Ravel was back on the board Saturday at its meeting in Los Angeles.
One of the candidates in the special election is Boalt Hall School of Law Professor Stephen Barnett—an outspoken critic of various State Bar elections practices.
The task force is expected to present recommendations to the Board of Governors when it meets in September, and the board ultimately will decide whether to have a recount, how to conduct it, and who will pay.
Meanwhile, St. George said he would press for his recount.
He said irregularities included the fact that confidentiality was lost when lawyers had to sign the envelopes that contained the ballots. He said elections rules require lawyers to be sent two envelopes, so that a blank one containing the ballot could be put inside the signed envelope.
He also said he was told several different versions of the final vote count, and that he had heard “from sources” that the vote would show an even greater margin against him if there was a recount.
State Bar official Starr Babcock said yesterday that there were 627 ballots cast without valid signatures. There were 37 that were invalidated because both candidates were marked, and there were 404 “unexercised” ballots-ballots that were counted because they had valid votes for the other District Seven race, but not in the St. George/Ipsen race.
Zamora said the State Bar plans to move to an Internet voting system soon. She said she and others hoped such a system would get more people to vote, but she acknowledged that experience in other jurisdictions has not yet borne that out.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company