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Harris takes slim lead in attorney general's race [Updated]

November 12, 2010 |  7:51 pm

San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris took the slenderest of leads in the race for California attorney general late Friday, moving ahead by 303 votes out of more than 8 million cast in one of the closest statewide races in decades.

[Updated at 8:25 p.m.: Updated numbers from several counties put Harris ahead by 3,609 votes.]

Harris, the Democratic candidate, was buoyed by updated vote counts from several counties where she had outpolled Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, the Republican, on election day, including Los Angeles, Contra Costa, Marin and Santa Clara.

As of 6:30 p.m. Friday, Harris had 4,117,728 votes compared to 4,117,425 for Cooley, according to a Times review of website updates by all 58 counties.

[Updated at 8:25 p.m.: The numbers give Harris 4,131,847 votes to Cooley's 4,128,238.]

The secretary of state reported late Friday that Harris was leading by about 5,500 votes, but its count lagged more than 150,000 votes behind the most recent figures provided by each county.

Both campaigns said the lead probably would trade hands in future days as more votes are counted throughout the state.

Kevin Spillane, a Cooley political strategist, said his campaign had grown concerned that Los Angeles County workers have not been following proper procedures for counting ballots. Campaign officials had sought legal advice and complained to the county registrar, he said.

Some vote counters have responded to complaints about individual ballots by placing them back in a pile of votes to be counted later, he said.

"It’s very important … that the process be utterly transparent and beyond question," Spillane said.

Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan said Cooley’s campaign had expressed broad concerns but had not issued any specific complaints about the vote-counting process. He said he believed his workers had followed the law.

"I don’t believe there’s been anything raised at this point that is a significant concern," Logan said.

The state’s final vote tally is not likely to be known until near the end of the month, when counties are required by law to certify their counts.

After election night, more than 2.3 million ballots still needed to be counted statewide. Since Nov. 3, armies of county workers have whittled that number to about 900,000, counting most of the mail-in ballots that arrived too late to be tallied on election day.

The majority of the remaining votes -- about 500,000 statewide -- are so-called provisional ballots, which are given to voters when polling places do not have a record of their registration, often because a voter has moved since registering.

Before a provisional ballot can be counted, election officials must verify that the voter was registered and that the signature on the ballot matches voter registration records. Provisional ballots also must be checked to make sure that votes were not cast in local elections outside of the jurisdiction in which the voter lived.

About 80% to 85% of provisional ballots are usually deemed to be valid, Logan said.

Although the outcome of most races is usually clear on election night, Logan said it generally takes weeks before all of the ballots are counted.

"That is the case in virtually every election," he said. "I think there’s just a greater awareness of it in this election because of the close margin of votes in the attorney general’s race."

-- Jack Leonard

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