Friday, June 14, 2024

LA County election official defends Gascon recall signature invalidations

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Los Angeles County registrar officials have filed court papers disputing allegations that they improperly invalidated signatures on petitions seeking to force a recall election against District Attorney George Gascón, a process that ultimately killed the high-profile campaign.

Monica Flores, acting assistant registrar-recorder for the county’s Candidate and Voter Services Bureau, said in a 186-page sworn declaration filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court that her office followed proper protocols in reviewing the signatures in August.

“The registrar’s procedures for the petition examination, in this case, were consistent with prior petition examinations and are consistent with the policies and procedures implemented by elections officials across the state,” she said.

Flores filed the declaration in response to an October lawsuit from the Committee to Support the Recall of District Attorney George Gascón, which is seeking an injunction to bolster its efforts to review the disqualified petition signatures. Additionally, the committee is seeking an electronic copy of everyone who signed petitions, registrar training materials, and other data used to disqualify petition signers.

In August, the recall committee submitted 717,000 petition signatures, of which 520,050 signatures were found to be valid and 195,783 were deemed invalid, according to election officials. To qualify for the ballot, the petition required 566,857 valid signatures.

The recall committee has said it has found “obvious and legitimate challenges” for at least 39% of invalidated signatures it has reviewed. Purported problems with the tally include:

  • Signatures that were invalidated as “printed” even when the voter’s signature on file was itself printed.
  • Signatures rejected as “nonmatching” despite showing substantial similarities to the signature on file.
  • The invalidation of signatures as “not registered” when, in fact, the person was a registered voter who could easily be identified in the voter database.
  • Signatures that were invalidated as duplicates without election officials counting at least one of the alleged duplicates, as required by law.

“Throughout the counting and review process, the registrar of voters has fought tooth and nail against transparency and state constitutional rights to meaningfully review rejected signatures and the reasons for rejection,” Tim Lineberger, a spokesman for the Gascon recall committee, said Tuesday.

“While this has been frustrating, it comes as no surprise given the rampant errors and significant amount of wrongfully rejected signatures that have been discovered in the initial review. The people of Los Angeles should have the opportunity to recall George Gascon, and there is no doubt they will if given the chance.”

An initial attempt to recall Gascón fizzled in early 2021, when organizers apparently were hampered by the rapid spread of COVID-19. The second attempt, launched in October 2021, was bolstered by a no-confidence vote from officials in 36 cities.

Gascón, immediately after taking office in December 2020, issued nine directives that his critics maintain coddle criminal defendants. Among the most controversial were the elimination of cash bail and sentence enhancements and an end to the prosecution of juveniles in the adult court system, regardless of the seriousness of the crime. Gascón has since backpedaled on some of those blanket policies.

Many of the recall committee’s requests regarding petition signatures involve access to confidential voter information that is legally protected, Flores said in the declaration.

“The registrar could not accommodate these requests because they involved access to voter information that the law specifically makes confidential and not subject to disclosure, in order to safeguard voters’ privacy and to protect them from harassment,” Flores said.

Additionally, many of the recall committee’s questions to the registrar involve specific voters and information irrelevant to signature validation, according to Flores.

“Petitioner has requested voter registration data that goes far beyond the reason a signature was disqualified,” her declaration states. “Petitioner has been able to view the signature on each voter’s registration record, which the registrar is permitted to allow pursuant to the elections code.”

Signature reviewers from the recall committee have been in the registrar’s office for two months, occupying several work stations.

“The registrar has attempted to assist in order to expedite this process, but no amount of assistance appears to satisfy petitioner, and the representatives typically reject assistance or express skepticism about any explanation given,” Flores said in the declaration.

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