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Sarega overtakes Keithly in technically plagued La Mirada City Council ballot counting

Political newcomer Andrew Saraga during Wednesday's counting and recounting of ballots at La Mirada City Hall.

Political newcomer Andrew Sarega during Wednesday’s counting and recounting of ballots at La Mirada City Hall.

By Randy Economy

Political newcomer Andrew Sarega appears to have won a seat on the La Mirada City Council more than 24 hours after the polls officially closed and in a campaign that will be remembered for how the votes were counted that resulted in two different outcomes.

On Tuesday night, election officials in La Mirada ran into difficulties with the vote tabulating machines that were provided by a well known election company Martin and Chapman that is based in nearby Anaheim.

After the votes were tallied on Tuesday night, appointed incumbent Pauline Deal captured her first full four year term on the La Mirada City Council while challenger Steve Keithly trailed in second place with a razor over Sarega by nine votes.

However, it was announced on Wednesday morning by city officials that all ballots would be recounted, including late absentee ballots as well as provisional ballots that were dropped off at polling places on Tuesday.

As Keithly sat nervously in the city council chambers on Wednesday afternoon along with several other residents including Sarega sat and watched the ballot tabulation machines malfunction at least three additional times.

Deputy City Manager Anne Haraksin and officials from Martin and Chapman were having what they said were “electrical issues” with the vote tabulation machines.  “We don’t have enough power wattage in our system here this part of city hall to properly operate the machines,” Haraksin said.

Then city officials literally unplugged the machines and tried additional outlets in a room that is normally used for a city conference room.  But, within minutes, election officials ran into the same set of circumstances.

“This is crazy,” said Keithly.  “I had no idea that counting ballots could be so difficult in this day and age,” Keithly said.

After several hours of waiting, city officials resorted to a hand count of all the city ballots and when all the dust settled, Sarega had eked out an 11 vote win over Keithly.

Saraga told the La Mirada Lamplighter and Los Cerritos Community Newspaper that he was “hopeful” that he would eventually win the heated campaign/

“I worked very hard, and no one really gave me a chance,” Sarega said.

Going down to defeat was incumbent Mayor Gabe Garcia who was dogged on the campaign trail for the past three months after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence after he was involved in an auto accident in December.

Garcia came in fifth place after the votes were counted on Wednesday night and was a no-show at La Mirada City Hall during the tense afternoon of counting and recounting.

Here are the results as of Wednesday night:

Pauline Deal  1,903

Andrew Sarega 1,451

Steve Keithly  1,440

Gabe Garcia 980

Randy Gray 795

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