[Updated 4:54 p.m. with additional comment from the Registrar]
Nearly 15,000 people voted in last Tuesday's election in Mission Viejo, but it was only 19 votes that separated the victorious "yes" side from the "no" side on the question of whether to recall Mayor Lance MacLean.
Now, MacLean's asking for a recount to determine whether those 19 votes were the result of a glitch--or potentially, in his words to the Weekly, "shenanigans" on the part of recall proponents. He's also pondering whether to file a lawsuit against the Registrar of Voters and others.
"I wouldn't put anything past this group," said MacLean of the political faction that iniated, bankrolled and campaigned for his removal from office. "They live by their own rules."
MacLean said that he sent a fax to the Registrar of Voters earlier today asking for a recall. The request came hours before the legal deadline to do so: 5 p.m. today.
"Nineteen lousy votes," MacLean said. "I'd have rather lost by a thousand. That tells me there's no overall mandate, that the public was conflicted and didn't know what the truth was."
Business owner and former planning commissioner Dave Leckness, an opponent of the recall, was elected to replace MacLean last Tuesday. Even though MacLean sees Leckness as the "lesser evil" compared to council candidate and recall leader Dale Tyler, MacLean said he's by no means thrilled about his likely replacement.
"[Leckness] thinks himself to be quite the jokester," MacLean said. "He's flippant, he's comical. That's going to wear real thin after a few meetings in which you're talking about affordable housing, staff raises, pensions."
Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley confirmed that he had received MacLean's fax requesting a recount. His office has even already set up a website to allow the public to monitor the recount process. Speaking to the Weekly, Kelley said that MacLean hasn't yet specified exactly which precincts nor how many ballots he wants recounted. A recount of all the ballots could take weeks--and the election's results, which have already been certified, can't officially be revised unless every single ballot is recounted. MacLean will have to cover the cost of the recount at approximately $600 per day for each four-person board counting ballots.
Over the phone, MacLean said he wasn't happy to see that the Mission Viejo Dispatch--a pro-recall city blog run by Brad Morton--had posted news of a recount mere minutes after MacLean had faxed his original request to Kelley. He says he thinks there's a "leak" in the Registrar's office.
"I don't trust this process one bit," MacLean said. "The fix is in... I've called Neal Kelley four times today and he's too busy to talk with me. All I'm getting is the runaround."
Morton, speaking with the Weekly, said he had asked the Registrar's office a few days earlier to let him know when and whether MacLean requests a recount. When MacLean sent his fax today, Morton says, someone from the Registrar's office called him back--as Morton had asked.
But MacLean sees today's developments as part of a larger pattern. The recall effort has been dogged for months by accusations--some seemingly corroborated by the recall proponents themselves--that they violated campaign law by hiring out-of-town workers to gather signatures and paid them in cash. The District Attorney's office opened an investigation into the recall, but MacLean is frustrated that neither the DA, the Registrar of Voters nor the City of Mission Viejo has taken action to prevent him from being removed from office. To that end, MacLean says, he's considering filing a lawsuit against all three agencies.
"It looks like I may have to sue all three of em," MacLean says, referring to the DA, the Registrar of Voters and the City of Mission Viejo. "It's wrong, just wrong. Someone's gonna pay for this [recall]. I want my reputation back and I want my money back. I didn't buy into this when I was elected to do public service."
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His letter to the Registrar today (posted in PDF at the Dispatch) mentions legal action as well:
Please be on notice that I intend to avail myself to all legal remedies including civil suits in the event your office certifies the election and it is later determined that recall proponents unlawfully perjured themselves and submitted signatures collected illegally to qualify what would then constitute a fraudulent election.
Kelley says he won't comment on pending or potential litigation, but he isn't shocked to hear MacLean isn't happy.
"It doesn't surprise me," Kelley said of the MacLean's dissatisfaction. "It's part of the process. Recall elections are an emotional thing, but we stand by our process 100 percent."