City Council election marred by ballot controversy
Whitt Mayor.jpg

Voting for the Whittier City Council elections concluded on April 10. Joe Vinatieri was re-elected mayor, beating the second place mayoral candidate, Raquel McLeod, by over 3,000 votes. 

It would appear, from the semi-official results released this morning, that Henry Bouchot is leading the race for District 2 City Council chair, receiving, as of last night’s count, 990 votes. This is 101 votes more than incumbent candidate Bob Henderson, however, there remains roughly 350 uncounted provisional and vote-by-mail ballots. Fernando Dutra is leading in the District 4 election, having received, as of the semi-final results, 1,235 votes, 105 votes more than Lizette Escobedo. That being said, there remain about 300 vote by mail and provisional votes left uncounted in the District 4 election.  The election has been far from uncontroversial, with questions raised in its final hours as to the legibility of the ballot.

On April 9, Lizette Escobedo’s campaign posted concerns on their Facebook page regarding the layout of the City of Whittier Election ballot. In their letter to City Clerk Lisa Pope, they describe their issue with the ballot, writing, “The write-in vote position for write-in candidates is unclear and will confuse voters.” 

henry.jpg

Specifically, the campaign takes issue with the layout of the ballot, the position of the write-in candidate space, and the sizing of the write-in candidate space. The write-in candidate space is placed directly beneath the last candidate’s designated space, with no label to differentiate it from the running candidates. In addition to the placement, the space designated to write-in a candidate’s name is noticeably smaller than those dedicated to a listed candidate. City Clerk Pope said in an interview with ABC News, “If I made [the write-in candidate space]  the same size as [the listed candidate space, some candidates names] would carry over to the other side, which is unfair to those few candidates that might fall over.”  

Next to each candidate’s name on the ballot was a bubble for voters to fill in, indicating their vote for the corresponding candidate. Escobedo’s campaign argued that voters can mistake the bubble next to the last candidate listed with the bubble for the write-in candidate, a problem exacerbated by the size of the write-in candidate space and its lack of identification. “People are voting incorrectly because they see the last name, and they just immediately go to the last bubble thinking that they match up,” said second-year Madison White, a student of Whittier College who also works as Escobedo’s campaign manager.

Other candidates have responded to these claims made by Escobedo’s campaign with varying levels of intensity. Raquel McLeod, mayoral candidate, feels that the timing in which Escobedo’s campaign made these claims was inappropriate, writing, “The interesting and frustrating thing regarding this last minute attempt to bash our process is that we received the ballots weeks ago and not one campaign addressed this issue.”

District 2 City Council candidate Vince McLeod likewise questions the campaign’s intentions. He believes the campaign is attempting to create issues where none exist, and views Escobedo’s campaign’s comments as a last-minute ploy to disrupt the voting process. “These tactics are nothing short of trying to convince people that the process is indeed somehow un-Democratic … let’s be honest, the Ballot is very simple to understand, especially if you simply read the instructions!” McLeod ended his message, writing, “Personally and professionally, I am just flat out embarrassed at the tactic, and those behind it should be ashamed of their nonsensical behavior.”

fernando.jpg

Some candidates do agree that voters must be careful when filling out their ballots. Mayoral candidate Rolando Cano posted the ABC News report covering the ballot layout on his Facebook page. He wrote, “Be vigilant and make sure you mark the right placements on your ballot.” 

  Incumbent District 2 City Council candidate Bob Henderson believes, even if the layout of the ballots is confusing voters, it is only confusing a small number of them. “I will bet that a very small number, if any, ballots [would] be pulled for examination,” said Henderson. He went on to say if he were delegating the election, he would reexamine all ballots marked with a write-in candidate bubble filled, but without a candidate’s name given, to determine which candidate the vote should go to. 

To prevent any further voting confusion, the City of Whittier put up poster board-sized ballots highlighting the write-in candidate space and corresponding bubbles in front of voting sites. It remains unclear what, if any, effect the layout of the ballot had on a very close race for the District 2 and District 4 seats on the Whittier Council.