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N. Auburn evacuation halts Placer County vote count

County clerk says ballot security measures in place while building emptied
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County’s Nov. 4 election ballots were secure and safe during a two-hour evacuation Thursday of North Auburn’s Finance Administration Building caused by a ruptured gas line, elections chief Jim McCauley said. The evacuation order came shortly after a backhoe operator dug into a four-inch-diameter natural gas pipe during excavation work at a new parking lot at the Placer County Government Center. The gas-line leak was reported shortly after 8 a.m. by one of the workers on the site and about 200 occupants of the Larry Oddo Finance Administration Building and the nearby Child Welfare Building were evacuated, county spokesperson Anita Yoder said. Among the evacuees were county elections division employees and about 20 Republican and Democratic party observers watching over ballot-counting procedures in the tightly contested 4th congressional district election. Republican candidate Tom McClintock had less than a 1,000-vote margin over Brown, with both sides saying they’re confident of victory. McCauley said that the ballots and election equipment were secure after the building was evacuated. The ballots were locked down as the evacuation took place and county sheriff’s department personnel guarded the buildings to keep people out, he said. The building has a system of 18 cameras that keeps a continual visual record, 24 hours a day of activities inside, including what occurs in each elections division room, he said. “We can replay everything visually that happened in the building,” McCauley said. The building also has three separate alarm systems, he said. “Placer County residents can go to bed at night knowing their ballots and the integrity of the election are safe,” McCauley said. The buildings were cleared for re-entry shortly after 10 a.m. following a sweep by firefighters. Gas sensors were used to determine whether air quality was good enough to return. With a faint aroma of the “rotten-egg” mercapton chemical still in the air, county workers – and election volunteers – were soon back to their duties. Todd Stenhouse, spokesman for the Charlie Brown campaign, said he felt ballots had remained secure during the time of the evacuation. “I have every confidence in the elections department’s work and security measures at this time,” Stenhouse said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.