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Harris, Cooley Closely Monitor Vote Tally In AG Race

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California Attorney General candidates Steve Cooley (left) and Kamala Harris (Kevork Djansezian/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Attorney General candidates Steve Cooley (left) and Kamala Harris (Kevork Djansezian/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) ― Both candidates in California’s only uncalled statewide race accused the other of trying to exert improper influence over the counting of hundreds of thousands of remaining ballots.

Democrat Kamala Harris of San Francisco retained a 30,000-vote lead Tuesday over Republican Steve Cooley of Los Angeles in the race for state attorney general. That was a lead of four-tenths of a percentage point, with nine million votes counted.

Fewer than 800,000 ballots remained to be counted before Nov. 30.

The greatest scrutiny was being placed on Los Angeles County, which has 93,000 uncounted ballots. Both campaigns had election monitors watching as county officials compared voters’ signatures and addresses with voter rolls.

Each side asserted the other was trying to unfairly pressure officials as they decide whether a ballot will be counted or discarded. The complaints evoked the bruising campaign between Harris, who is San Francisco County’s district attorney, and Cooley, who holds the same post in Los Angeles County.

“This is sniping as usual that only comes around when the votes are close enough that the race could be affected by the qualification or disqualification of ballots,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause and a member of the Election Protection watchdog network.

Cooley’s campaign sent three complaint letters since last Friday to Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters Dean Logan. The first and second asserted that county employees were meeting privately with Harris’ monitors and being lax in comparing signatures on ballot envelopes with voter registration cards.

The third said some employees were spending less than one second comparing signatures, and asked that they be required to spend at least 10 seconds making sure signatures match between ballots and registration rolls.

Harris’ campaign sent no letters, but alleged in statements released Sunday and Monday that Cooley’s monitors were being too aggressive with county employees in an attempt to toss out as many ballots as possible.

Cooley trails in the Democratic-leaning county by a margin of 53 percent to 39 percent.

Logan denied in his response letters and a telephone interview that there was biased conduct by his employees, improper meetings, or intimidation by election watchers from either party.

Candidates in close elections can be expected to push for procedures that aid their candidate, Logan said in the interview. He said he was confident his employees aren’t letting either side unfairly influence the process.

Spokesmen for both candidates said procedures had improved this week since the complaints began flying.

Private meetings stopped and signatures were getting closer scrutiny, said Cooley spokesman Kevin Spillane.

“They deny basically everything that we say, but they have modified their procedures without admitting there were problems,” he said.

Cooley’s monitors weren’t behaving so aggressively, said Harris spokesman Brian Brokaw.

Each campaign had about a dozen volunteer monitors taking shifts watching the ballot counting, which was to continue seven days a week until the tally is completed. Harris was relying heavily on volunteers from labor unions, while Cooley’s camp put out a weekend call for more volunteers through local Republican party officials.

Both spokesmen predicted it would be at least next week, and possibly next month, before enough votes were counted to declare a winner.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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