San Gabriel Council Seat Might Be Up to Chance After Tied Race

The race between incumbent Juli Costanzo and challenger Denise Menchaca ended in an exact tie of 1,276 votes.

UPDATE: The San Gabriel city staff finished the manual recount on March 19, 2015, and found a winner by two votes: Incumbent Juli Costanzo with 1,279 votes. Denise Menchaca finished with 1,277.

A San Gabriel City Council seat may come down to a game of chance.

But before that can be determined, a manual recount of votes will take place Thursday morning in the City Council Chambers.

The race between incumbent Juli Costanzo and challenger Denise Menchaca ended in an exact tie of 1,276 votes after the Tuesday, March 3 elections, according to the City Clerk's Office.

The candidates (or voters) had up to five days after the clerk's office certified the results to request a manual recount. Both Constanzo and Menchaca, as well as several residents sought one.

"There are so many emotions when you're a candidate in an election and you just hope that on Election Day you know something," Costanzo said. "But not knowing until three days later and then it's a tie, made it all the more stressful."

If there is still a tie after the recount, the city will use a lot to break it - a random selection process that is outlined in an obscure state election code. The city council will choose the type of lot to be used, like a coin toss or the roll of dice, at the meeting.

Costanzo and Menchaca were shocked.

"After six months of hard work, meeting and greeting everyone on the streets of San Gabriel, and then it comes down to a coin toss or however else our council decides to do it," Costanzo said.

Manual recounts are usually paid for by the requesting party but in this case, the city chose to bear the $4,000 cost.

"The city will also absorb the cost of the recount as part of its continuing commitment to a transparent and accurate election process," City Clerk Eleanor K. Andrews said in a statement. "It’s just the right thing to do.”

The ballot directed voters to choose two of three candidates for city council. The first-place incumbent candidate, John Harrington, received 1,747 votes, according to the clerk's office. The council will certify Harrington's results at an evening meeting the same day and select a mayor and vice-mayor.

"It just doesn't seem like the right way to legitimize any election," said Menchaca, who also wondered about other possibilities.

"A runoff would at least give voters a chance to have a voice," Menchaca said.

But the city discovered a runoff was not even an option because it would've had to go up for a vote before the election, said city spokesperson Lauren Gold.

"It reinforces the idea that every single vote counts," Gold said. "If somebody didn't vote in this election, they could've decided the race. So get out and vote in the next election is the moral of the story."

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