After leaving the election meeting, I reached out to several of the volunteers who had been working at the voter check-in that day for their side of the story.
Mary Fischer, one of those volunteers, told me that they were trained by Luis Lopez on how to verify voters online, “a simple process that took a couple of clicks.” According to Fischer, they were utilizing this process for the first 45 minutes and “most of us found people who were not registered in the district trying to vote.” She claims that the computer check process was abandoned when Gonzalez, in conversation with Horton, directed them to stop due to the heat and long lines. Fischer continued to use the computer periodically anyway to spot check voters and found a few non-eligible ones. They included a registered Republican, two people residing in district 43, and one residing in Pasadena.
I additionally spoke with volunteer David Lara. He too witnessed some discrepancies. Lara also confirmed that the process was abandoned due to being overwhelmed by so many voters. According to Lara, after abandoning the process, “I made the decision to get only zip codes for the people I checked. I felt that we either do a real check, or we just verify with the zip code that they were in our district.”
Lara shared an additional story in regards to a group of voters that were elderly and accompanied by chaperones. According to Lara, many of them seemed “unclear” as to what was occurring around them. “I did not see the handlers fill out ballots for the older people, but I can only assume that was happening due to their confused state.” He furthered noted that their arrival occurred at the same time as the volunteers being told to end the computer verification process. “I know that there was cheating going on” Lara stated, “so I quit signing in voters.”
Hsing I Bird, ADEM delegate candidate for The People’s Action slate and member of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council, says “Voter registration checking is a must, regardless of whether the line is longer or shorter. I hope they could have this system set-up with more volunteers to check and verify everyone from now on.”
I contacted Karen Bernal, Chair of the Progressive Caucus of the California State Democratic Party. She and others have been trying to reform these party issues since 2005. In her opinion, it is quite easy for elected officials to stack the delegate election meetings with friends and family. According to Bernal, “Their official procedures undermine their own rules- while their rules state that a voter must be a registered Democrat residing in the district, there is no process to verify the eligibility of any voter.”
Bernal began working with a group of activists on this issue around 2011. While checking voter files at the delegate election meetings, they quickly discovered that voters were voting who were not residents in the district or members of the Democratic Party. Often it wasn’t nefarious; it was simply voters who had moved and had not re-registered or had not disclosed a party affiliation when they initially registered.
Those resistant to change often claim that the verification process is unwieldy, but Karen doesn’t buy it. “We had approximately 1,000 voters in Sacramento a couple of years ago and it was fine.” To make her case, she took a team of volunteers down to Fresno this past weekend to assist the volunteers in the AD 23 delegate election. “The convener and several volunteers claimed it would slow them down, and that people would leave because they would not want to wait in line. But there were over 100 registration forms filled out.” Additionally, “at AD 7 and AD 9, there were approximately 1245 votes cast, and out of those, 280 new registration forms were completed. That’s around 20%.”
So there is an added bonus to verification. The party is actually increasing its number of registered voters when they do it.
Additionally, Bernal finds the process of challenging the legitimacy of voters during the caucus to be problematic. “The current challenge process is adversarial. Its wrong and its what you don’t want to do… You can be removed from the premises if you make too many challenges. Verification should be equal as a matter, of course, with the would-be voter being verified before being issued a ballot.”
As it turns out, AD 51 was not the only election meeting to suffer discrepancies. In AD 63, Maria Estrada’s name was left off the ballot. Estrada, the activist that challenged Anthony Rendon in the primary, was running as both a delegate and E-Board candidate. In AD 17, allegations that voters were paid 35 dollars to vote have emerged.
I contacted the Los Angeles County Democratic Party for comment and received the following response from Devin Osiri, Executive Director, “In regards to AD 51, Mark was helping out, but was not the convener. He did not instruct the registration volunteers. Also the CDP conducts these elections on good faith, and they do not check IDs.”
So what’s the punch line?