Biola alum elected to city council after voting mishap

After vote tabulation machines broke down on election day, La Mirada City volunteers hand counted votes and declared Biola alum Andrew Sarega winner of the city council seat.

Grant+Walter%2FTHE+CHIMES
Grant Walter/THE CHIMES

Grant Walter/THE CHIMES

Grant Walter/THE CHIMES

Matt Norman, Writer

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Walking distance from Biola, La Mirada City Hall sits along La Mirada Boulevard. Former Biola student Andrew Sarega was recently sworn in as a Council Member.  | Grant Walter/THE CHIMES

 

Correction: Andrew Sarega was incorrectly identified as coming in first during the La Mirada city council elections. Pauline Deal came in first. The story has been altered to reflect the correction. The Chimes regrets this error.

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La Mirada’s March 5 municipal election was the subject of controversy after candidate and former Biola student Andrew Sarega finished second in the city council race, beating out competitor Steve Keithly by 11 votes, as reported by the city’s election results webpage. The controversy accompanying this election was the result of malfunctions with the machines used to count the votes.

Equipment Failure Causes Delay in Vote Counting

The city contracted a private company to provide vote tabulation machines. The devices were plagued with electrical trouble during the voting times.

“The machines broke down that night and there were a couple hundred votes that still needed to be counted,” Sarega said. “Wednesday, they brought two more machines in, but they didn’t work so they counted every vote by hand.”

The failures from the machinery that night were not something that would have been expected, Sarega explained.

“The firm that did the ballot counting had elections in Manhattan Beach and Rosemead, where they didn’t have any issues whatsoever, so I think it was more of a freak accident, not something the city [could] really prepare for,” he said.

However, the workers involved in the recount went above and beyond in correcting the mishap, Sarega said.

“I have to commend the city for the work that they did; a lot of those city workers stayed well past their regular hours to count the votes. They volunteered and sacrificed to get that done,” he said.

Reports circulated during the following week that Keithly would request a recount, but his campaign announced that this would not be sought, as reported by the Whittier Daily News on March 13.

The Victor’s Experience

The new councilman went into the election night with measured confidence.

“I felt that I had a chance, and the rest I left in God’s hands, because I feel that whatever the outcome might have been, it would have been toward his glory; it was a test of my faith,” Sarega explained, later mentioning that he considers himself a Baptist.

A Change for La Mirada

Dave Peters, a professor in the political science department and the former mayor of La Mirada, said that this is not the first time an election has caused controversy, and that one particular election involved a win that was even closer than the 11-vote margin of victory in this year’s.

This election may be considered a milestone for some. Zurich Lewis, a sophomore political science major, has worked on several campaigns and was the field director for Pauline Deal — the La Mirada city councilwoman who won the second spot alongside Sarega in this past election. La Mirada has previously had a reputation for “good ol’ boy” politics, according to Lewis.

“In La Mirada, [political office] is more of a village kind of thing; it’s more about who you know,” he said. “I think with this last election, that precedent has been overturned, and there is a transition so that you can now win with a textbook campaign.”

Lewis then said the election this year had seen an increase in traditional strategies such as mail-outs and door-to-door campaigning.

Running for office in La Mirada in previous years could also be called a popularity contest because candidates do not differ much on their positions from one another, Peters added.

Sarega agreed with this perception of La Mirada politics.

“I think it has changed, not in this election, but in the election prior,” he said. “As a city changes, it needs a city council that adapts to those changes as well.”

Sarega was sworn in on March 19 and will begin attending council meetings starting Tuesday.

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