December 13-20, 2006

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Too Close to Call

Numerous races are still undecided across the state and the nation due to close elections, including two right here in Santa Cruz County.

In the first, that between Daniel Dodge and Greg Caput, candidates for Watsonville City Council's District 5, the difference is six votes. Caput, the apparent victor, is taking the seat; Dodge, meanwhile, has requested a recount.

In the second, Capitola City Council candidate Maureen O'Malley Moore appeared to have nabbed the seat by three votes, but final county results, which included absentee ballots, reversed that, and now former Councilmember Ron Graves leads by three. Moore has requested a recount.

Eager to learn how everyone was holding up, Nūz spoke to county elections and managed to track down both Capitola candidates before deadline.

So when will the recounts be done? "It's difficult to tell," Jaime Young of the Santa Cruz County Elections Department told us. Why? Because the recount process involves four elections staff members: one reading ballot results out loud, one at a time, another marking down those results, and two others verifying. "If, at the end of the process, there are any differences, the process starts again."

There are also ballots that need to be "remade," and they're of two kinds. The first is where the ballot is marked perfectly but a physical defect--"someone spills something on the ballot, or it gets wrinkled or crumpled," Young told Nūz--prevents its successful slalom through the complex counting machine. The second kind is where the ballot is marked imperfectly despite clear voter intent: "The voter might have drawn an arrow from the candidate's name to the box, and the eye can read it, but the machine can't." These, too, are remade, and then recounted.

So this recount could go on for a while.

Ron Graves, longtime former Capitola councilmember and planning commissioner and the current three-vote victor, hews to a historical and philosophical view of all this. "When we moved our local elections from April to the national election day, I opposed it," Graves recalls, in part because of the complexity of counting all the races at the same time. "But I have all confidence in the county elections department." Still, says Graves, "You can't help being on pins and needles."

Maureen O'Malley Moore, the prior apparent three-vote victor, is also keeping a big-picture view: "It has really been exciting to be part of democracy in action. For anyone who feels like his or her vote won't make a difference, I am here to tell you that it most certainly does. As soon as I saw the three-vote difference, I knew that the race was too close to call."

With several large development plans facing Capitola, what do the candidates look forward to working on if victory is theirs? O'Malley Moore cites "the new hotel in the village and parking structure, the Rispin Project, and the General Plan update. ... My hope is that the plan will include an emphasis on sustainable energy efficient building practices and enforcement."

For his part, Graves says that "the No. 1 issue to me has always been the whole gamut of public safety, from police services all the way to whether we have safe crosswalks." He also wants to "get some kind of timeline on the Rispin project"--the plan to restore the long-dilapidated former mansion/hotel property the city has been seeking to improve for decades--and to bring some "institutional memory of what's worked in the past, and what hasn't," to the City Council.

And if they don't win? O'Malley Moore, a public policy analyst for the Santa Clara County supervisor for the past 10 years and the force behind much of its affordable housing policy, says, "I will be watching all of the issues with great interest, and weighing in when appropriate."

Graves has a specific issue he'll be watching: "As you know, there's a movement to produce fewer cars in Capitola Village. But we have a lot of senior citizens and other locals who can only get there by driving. We need a balance. I'd like to be a voice of reason on that issue." And in what Nūz would guess represents the view of all four candidates now in recount, Graves offered, "I'm not going away."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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