Livingston recall effort just shy of necessary signatures

Registrar of voter workers rechecking numbers.

April 6, 2010 

LIVINGSTON -- Merced County Registrar of Voters workers are rechecking three petitions to recall the city's mayor and two council members this week because all of them appear to have fallen just a few signatures short of qualifying for a recall.

The petition recalling Mayor Daniel Varela is the closest with 1,003 validated signatures -- just 14 names short of the required 1,017 names needed to spur a recall, said Stacey Cotter, Merced County's assistant registrar of voters.

A petition against Councilwoman Martha Nateras stood at 992 signatures as of Monday -- 25 short of the needed amount. And a petition to recall Councilman Frank Vierra tallied 985 signatures.

"It's really close and just because of that I want to be really careful," Cotter said.

Theresa Land, one of the organizers of the petition drive, said each petition held about 1,300 to 1,400 signatures. Varela, Nateras and Vierra were targeted in the recall because of their 2009 votes to increase the city's water rates.

"I don't believe it. I will tell you that," Land said of the news that the petitions may fail. "I am very disappointed that we are shy because we got the list from the county we needed and we went off that list. We had the numbers we needed to get them recalled."

Cotter noted a significant reason many signatures were invalidated was because the voter had moved and the addresses on the petition and in the registrar's database did not match up. She said she personally saw signatures on the petitions from people who are registered voters and the signatures on the petitions matched those on file, but the address on the petition did not match the address in the database.

Cotter said no matter what people might make of the intent of the voter in this situation, state law says if the addresses do not match the signature is invalid.

"We are very closely following the code, obviously," she said.

Both Land and fellow recall organizer Mario Mendoza claimed that a longtime friend of Nateras' was assisting in the signature counting.

"They talk about corruption in other countries, we are seeing it right here before our eyes," Mendoza said.

Cotter said she hadn't heard that rumor but to her knowledge none of her employees know the subjects of the recalls.

"I would expect my staff to notify me if that were the case," she said.

The Registrar of Voters has until April 12 to finish validating the signatures before declaring if any of the petitions achieved the number of signatures required to spur a recall. Cotter said she hopes to finalize the petitions by Thursday.

Reporter Amy Starnes can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or astarnes@mercedsun-star.com.