By Mary O’KEEFE
On Jan. 11, 2015 a Democratic caucus was held at Glendale Community College. As voters walked from the parking garage to the polling/voting room, several people were handing out flyers with names of delegates for the Democratic convention. Registered Democrat voters were to vote on individuals or they could follow a slate of suggested candidates. Unofficially, many delegates on the slate may have informally committed to specific candidates in each region. No voter was required to vote for a slate and could vote for any seven women or seven men totaling 14 on the ballot offered at GCC.
There was a line outside the polling room. As voters entered the room there was a sense of chaos. There were many people inside. Some voters checked in at a table and were given cards requesting their information, including name and address, and then a ballot with delegate names. Other voters were just handed a card and ballot. For many there was no place to sit and fill out the form, so some sat on the floor and others used the wall as a solid surface to write on. The ballots were then dropped into a ballot box, which at times had a volunteer present and at other times did not.
At one point, a voter, who could not be found on the register, was given a card and ballot. She was not certain if her address change had been registered in time with L.A. County. When she, along with others around her, asked if there was a separate ballot box for her vote, which is a standard practice at most elections, she was told by a volunteer that there was not a provisional box; however, the votes would be checked.
In addition, two people, who were actually registered Republicans, ballots and envelopes in hand, asked what they were to do. They had come in response to a general invitation not understanding the caucus procedure. They commented they could have easily filled out a ballot without being challenged.
At the time, Convener Thomas O’Shaughnessy said voters were challenged randomly, at about every 50 people, but with so many voters it was difficult to see who was being challenged.
The voter turn-out at GCC was very strong. O’Shaughnessy said last year there were 500 voters and this year he printed 1,000 ballots expecting to use almost all of them.
On Jan. 11, many voters interviewed by the CVW were concerned about the confusing procedure. On Jan. 15, some of the voters with concerns, along with delegates who had not won the vote, filed a challenge of the outcome.
The challengers made allegations “regarding the eligibility of voters to cast ballots with no specific information. In subsequent filings, they have submitted specific names of individual voters who were alleged to be ineligible to vote. In order to verify the challengers’ claims, the CDP staff checked and verified all participants and concluded that 117 ineligible voters participated while 107 could not be verified as eligible or ineligible,” according to the Decision of the Compliance Review Commission relating to the 2015 ADEM meeting for the 43rd Assembly District.
The CRC did find that the top two male candidates [delegates] Berdj Karapetian and Shant Sahakian would have been elected regardless of the ballots from the 117 ineligible voters.
These findings were reported by the CRC on Feb. 5.
Delegates had a right to appeal the decision, which some did on April 30. The appeal, made by four delegates, stipulated that “there were voters who were not eligible to vote in the 43rd ADEM elections on Jan. 11, and agree that more stringent oversight of all ADEM elections in the State should be put in place.” But they felt the blame for the confusion lay directly with the California Democratic Party and not with the candidates.
They allege that, “If 117 ineligible votes were rightly removed from the count of all the vote totals, the seven men and seven women top vote-getters and e-Board Rep. would still be the same.” However, the CRC found that the ballots cast by the 117 ineligible voters could be enough to [affect] the other 12 winners (seven female/five male) and the executive board winner.”
The CRC found the difference between the third place male and 14th place male was 111 votes, and the difference between the executive board winner and runner-up was 109 votes.
Although officially those delegates on specific slates had not necessarily declared their support for specific candidates, the race – for the most part –came down to two candidates for California State Senate, former Assemblymember Anthony Portantino and Assemblymember Mike Gatto. The delegates will have to consider more than the Senate race during the convention though.
There is no mention of voter “fraud” in either the CRC findings or the subsequent appeal; however, there have been some accusations by voters and others.
According to Michael Soller, California Democratic Party spokesman, both sides – Portantino and Gatto – now agree the number of ballots found by CRC were ineligible voters.
“There is a lot at stake for these two candidates,” Soller said. “We don’t see intent here. What we see is confusion.”
Soller added the volunteers who worked the caucus are committed workers.
Eric Bauman, chair of the L.A. County Democratic Party and vice chair of the California Democratic Party, has not been directly involved in any aspect of the CRC process, the caucus itself or challenges. However, he did answer some questions posed by CVW based on his general knowledge.
According to Bauman, there was no fraudulent vote linked to either Portantino or Gatto. The investigation into the ineligibility of some voters commenced because of a challenge filed by candidates who participated in the ADEM election and not by any Senate candidate, as has been mentioned in some publications.
At this point the appeal will be reviewed at the California State Democratic Convention held May 15-18. Whether there will be another caucus/election will depend on the appeal decision.