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Incumbents win disputed Calif. election

VERNON, Calif. --After months of legal wrangling and accusations of voter fraud, officials counted ballots from an April election that was the first contested race in this tiny city in 25 years.

The incumbent mayor and City Council members won easily Thursday, though the court fight might not be over.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the integrity of those ballots was compromised," said Albert Robles, an attorney who represents the challengers and is considering a legal challenge.

Mayor Leonis Malburg and Councilmen Thomas Ybarra and Michael McCormick each received 58 votes. The three challengers, Donald Huff, Alejandro Lopez and David Johnson, tallied 10 votes each.

City officials locked away the ballots in April while they sought to disqualify eight voters who moved into Vernon, a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles, earlier this year. Huff, Lopez and Johnson were among those residents.

City officials charged the challengers were linked to a corrupt politician from nearby South Gate who was trying to engineer a coup in Vernon. Attorneys for the challengers alleged they were harassed by private investigators and police and ultimately evicted, all to keep them off the ballot.

Malburg did not respond to a phone message left at his office Thursday.

The city has fewer than 100 residents and its five square miles are a maze of warehouses, fuel tanks and meatpacking plants, dotted by an occasional home. The mayor and council members have served for decades without opposition, and most voters hold municipal jobs while living in city-owned houses.

The legal dispute ended in August, when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Aurelio Munoz ruled that no voter fraud occurred. Earlier this week, a judge granted a request by city officials to count the ballots.

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