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Palo Alto school board election to be recounted

Local race one of 10 subject to county's pilot recount program

UPDATE: On Monday, Dec. 5, the Registrar announced that it would continue to conduct automatic recounts past the deadline for certification of election results. State law requires election results to be certified by Dec. Because the 10 Santa Clara County races subject to the automatic recount will not be completed by that date, the Registrar will certify the machine-tabulated election results on Dec. 8, according to a press release.

The results of this month's Palo Alto Board of Education election will be automatically recounted by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters due to a narrow margin between two incumbents vying for the third open seat.

The school board race is one of 10 contests countywide that are subject to the automatic recount, which begins Monday morning, the Registrar said in a press release.

In any election within Santa Clara County boundaries that is not for any state or federal office where the margin of victory for a candidate or measure is within 0.5 percent of the total number of ballots cast or fewer than 25 votes a recount was triggered.

In the Palo Alto race, incumbent Heidi Emberling lost to three-term trustee Melissa Baten Caswell by 198 votes, just barely less than 0.5 percent of total ballots cast (41,057). Emberling conceded to Baten Caswell.

Baten Caswell wrote in an email to the Weekly that she supports "having accurate vote counts.

"My focus, however, is not on the recount, but on what we can continue to do to provide an excellent learning experience for each of our students," she wrote.

Emberling said she doesn't expect the outcome to change. The board did, however, reschedule its Dec. 6 meeting, when the three new trustees were set to be sworn in, to Dec. 13, after the Registrar will have certified the final results.

The other races to be recounted are Los Altos City Council, Los Altos Hills Town Council, Monte Sereno City Council, Cupertino Union School District board, San Jose City Council District 8, Santa Clara chief of police, Gilroy City Council, Gilroy Unified School District board and a San Jose Unified School District parcel tax, Measure Y.

A pilot automatic recount program was approved by the county Board of Supervisors in May at the urging of Supervisors Joe Simitian and Cindy Chavez. The Board of Supervisors voted in September to extend the program for the Nov. 8 election, to ensure votes are counted accurately and to prevent any individual candidate or concerned community member from covering the exorbitant cost of a recount.

"As things now stand," Simitian said in a February statement, "even if it comes down to a couple of votes, a candidate is obliged to pick up the very substantial cost of a recount to make sure everyone's vote is counted correctly. It shouldn't be up to an individual candidate or voter to cover the tab for making sure we get it right at the County."

The statement notes that Santa Clara County had four contests in the last half-dozen years with either less than 0.5 percent or less than 25 votes difference between candidates, including a 2014 Cambrian school board race that was decided by only two votes.

The pilot program began with the June 7 primary election and only resulted in one recount, in a San Jose City Council election. The recount did not change the ultimate outcome of that race.

The losing council candidate, however, filed a lawsuit to overturn the results, alleging the county's recount was mismanaged. The attorney for Manh Nguyen, who also paid for a separate recount, told the San Jose Mercury News that the total number of ballots changed with each recount.

Philip Chiantri, the Registrar's election division coordinator and spokesman, declined to comment on whether the Registrar had changed practices in response to Nguyen's allegations "due to the active litigation."

The automatic recounts began Monday at 8 a.m. at the Registrar of Voters' Office. More than 150 staff members will work on the automatic recounts from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, until all of the recounts have been completed, the Registrar said in a press release. The recounts are expected to last between seven and eight days. The Registar anticipates to finish recounting the Palo Alto school board race by Wednesday, according to an online schedule, though it is subject to change.

All costs incurred in the automatic recounts will be paid for by the county, according to the Registrar.

The Registrar will certify the final results for the Nov. 8 election on Dec. 8, after all manual recounts and audits have been completed, as required by state law, the Registrar's release states. The certified results will be posted online at sccvote.org. The recounts are being conducted prior to certification of the election, but after all polling place, provisional, and vote-by-mail ballots have been counted, the Registrar said.

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