Marin IJ

All About Marin: Signed ballots in Ross Valley flood fee election to be recounted

Brad Breithaupt
Marin Independent Journal
Article Launched:07/18/2007 11:38:52 PM PDT

A recount of the controversial mail-in Ross Valley flood fee election tally is in the works.

Political waters are roiling and residents are protesting, in large part because 21 percent of the ballots cast were disqualified - and left uncounted.

On Monday, county elections workers will begin a recount, paid for San Anselmo attorney Ford Greene and others. The recount is costing them more than $1,200 the first day, and $500 each day thereafter.

The winning margin for the flood fee - just 65 votes out of 6,351 counted - is tight enough to make a recount worth it, Greene said.

He also wants the 1,700 disqualified ballots tallied. "That would be a proper start," he said.

But county lawyers say case law forbids the tallying of invalid votes.

Greene questions the validity of the vote administered by the county public works department, noting that unlike traditional elections run by elections officials, there was no opportunity to submit pro and con arguments.

Supervisor Hal Brown, who headed the push for the flood fee, said he has confidence in the count, noting the tally has already been double-checked.

But, he noted, Greene is welcome to ask for a recount.

"I don't think it's going to change any numbers, very few numbers in any," he said. "This thing was counted very well."

Members of the county's elections advisory committee are also getting into the act. They will get a briefing Friday morning on the Ross Valley flood fee election, which was endorsed this week by the Board of Supervisors despite protests over the ballots since 21 percent of the votes were invalidated. In a typical election, less than 1 percent are tossed out.

One of the gripes raised repeatedly is why voters had to sign their ballots, contrary to the tradition of keeping one's vote private.

County officials say the election was run under Proposition 218's rules and it hired a state expert who reviewed every facet of the vote.

But the county could have preserved voters' privacy by having them sign the mail-back envelope, instead of the ballot itself. Once the envelope was validated, it could be opened and cast aside and the ballot counted separately.

In the Ross Valley vote, each ballot had the property owner's name printed on it - and required it be signed as well.

Corte Madera Councilman Michael Lappert was in political hot water Tuesday night when a room full of solar-power advocates urged the council to roll back city fees for the installation of solar panels.

Last month, Mayor Melissa Gill asked that the city follow other Marin towns and eliminate Corte Madera's solar fees. But she couldn't get any support from her colleagues, and Lappert questioned whether converting to solar power was an answer to global warming.

His comments set off a tempest among solar activists and they crowded the council's tiny chambers Tuesday night when Lappert announced that he could support a fee reduction.

Speaker after speaker rose, stressing the need for the town's leadership in encouraging residents and businesses to convert to solar power.

The town had rolled back its building fee for installing solar panels, but not its street tax, a levy on construction projects aimed at paying for the wear and tear truck traffic has on roads.

That fee - an average of about $600 for installing solar panels - is enough to discourage some homeowners from converting, many said.

The Sierra Club has had success persuading other Marin towns to eliminate their solar fees altogether.

The county actually gives a rebate for its permit.

"Global warming and the point of no return is expected to be in 10 years or less," Vickie Cardellini warned.

Another held up a newspaper photograph of a polar bear on a melting glacier.

One accused Lappert of making "a George Bush-type of comment" on global warming.

But the mayor quickly stepped in. "We are going to stop the personal attacks."

"That could be a positive comment," muttered a man in the audience.

Lappert said he would support reviewing the issue, but didn't say he would back reducing or scrubbing the fee. He did say he supports alternative energy.

"I hope you don't hate me too much," he said to the audience. "One guy threatened not to eat any more ice cream," said the councilman, president of a family-run ice cream company.

You would expect Lionel Gambill, a friend of SMART, to be seated, front and center, at Thursday's Novato forum on restoration of freight train traffic.

But he's booked.

Gambill will be in San Rafael, giving a 7:30 p.m. presentation at Whistlestop on the elimination of local rail transit 50 or more years ago.

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