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Tracing Tracy Territory

Recounting contentious ‘64 election

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Vote recount

The recount process took place July 29 and 30, 1964, in a jury room in the San Joaquin County Courthouse in Stockton. Willard F. “Woody” Souza’s attorney, Bill Coats, was at left, back to camera, and Henry Buthmann’s legal counsel, Duane Martin, was at center across the table. The two candidates were seated in the rear.

There’s a lot of chatter these days in our country’s jumbled political world about the possibilities of election recounts. At least some of those possibilities could become realities if Donald J. Trump and associates have their way.

Which brings me to the question imbedded in today’s column: Did Tracy ever have a recount?

And the answer is yes, Tracy did. It was in the 1964 municipal election. Seven candidates, including one write-in, vied for two open seats on the City Council.

On election night, April 14, it became clear that retired Holly Sugar superintendent Clyde Abbott was the top vote-getter with 976 votes, and Willard F. “Woody” Souza was in second place with 912 votes — but only 20 votes ahead of former Mayor Henry Buthmann’s 892 votes. Woody was declared the winner, but . . .

Yes, it wasn’t more than a few days later that Walter Abbott (no relation to Clyde) filed a request for a recount on behalf of Buthmann supporters. It started a long, drawn-out process that lasted more than 3 months before it would be determined there would be a recount and if it would be successful. The headline in the photo is a clue.

“We feel the very closeness of the No. 2 and No. 3 positions with only 20 votes separating them justifies our action,” Abbott wrote to the City Council.

The council, on the advice of the city attorney, nevertheless proceeded to swear in both Clyde Abbott and Souza as new council members at the April 21 City Council meeting.

The next day, the recount request soon found its way to the San Joaquin County Superior Court in a petition filed by Buthmann’s attorney, Duane Martin of Manteca. He claimed the precinct election boards composed of volunteer poll workers “were guilty of malconduct by making errors sufficient to change the result of the election.”

The petition was passed around the county courthouse in Stockton for two months by nearly all of the superior judges, who apparently were either disinterested or unsure if state law authorized a recount. Finally, in mid-July, a Stockton municipal court judge, Chris Papas, was made a pro-tem superior court judge in order to preside over the recount. He scheduled ballot recounting to begin July 29 in the county courthouse and expected it to take two days to complete.

Two employees of the county counsel’s office were appointed to actually sort through the 2,631 ballots and recount the votes. The fact that Tracy’s mayor, W.E. “Brownie” Brown, was a write-in candidate who received 596 votes complicated the recounting in a superior court jury room, but didn’t delay it completion on July 30, the second day of counting.

I went over to Stockton that day and took some photos of the recount participants in action with Duane Martin representing Buthmann and Tracy attorney Bill Coats in the corner of Woody Souza.

The recount results showed Souza actually gained four additional votes, and Buthmann lost two, boosting Souza’s margin of victory by six votes, from 20 to 26. Several other questionable ballots were set aside to review if needed, but they weren’t sufficient in numbers to change the outcome and were never recounted.

Buthmann and Souza were in the jury room both days, seated next to each other in the audience section. On hearing the outcome, announced early in the evening of July 30, Buthmann congratulated Souza on securing his victory.

“I feel this since this recount is now an accomplished fact, the best interests of all the people who supported me have been served,” the former mayor told Roy Miller of the Tracy Press.

By today’s standards, the recount was not an expensive exercise. Buthmann had to pay the county $97.37 to pay the two ballot-counters and a court bailiff. He paid Souza $15, the cost of filing an answer to the petition requesting the recount.

Buthmann was indeed gracious, but he had more to worry about than the election. On April 28, 1964, two weeks after the election, a blazing fire gutted Buthmann’s Mid-City Motors building at the corner of 11th and E streets (where NAPA Auto Parts is now). By the time the recount had been completed, an arson investigation had been started, and Buthmann’s insurance carriers had started asking questions about the fire’s origin.

A few years later, Buthmann moved to northern San Diego County, where he died.

Souza said after the results were in, he was relieved the lengthy recount process had finally ended, commenting, “I feel I’m the only man that was ever elected twice at the same election.”

Woody, a retired employee of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is still alive and well at the age of 87, living in Tracy and wearing his signature Tilley cap everywhere he goes.

He told me Wednesday the recount may have been lengthy, but it provided him with all kinds of insights how politics and city government worked in Tracy. His try in 1968 for a second four-year City Council term failed when he and another incumbent were swept out of office.

He didn’t ask for a recount.

Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypess.com.

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