Steve Pappas has received some interesting responses from the hundreds of students who objected to his subpoena’s demand that the university release their personal information to be used as evidence in his suit against Doreen Farr.
Some students wrote obscenities when prompted to provide a reason for withholding their data. One made a middle finger out of text symbols. Another simply wrote “cuzz.”
And, significantly, a handful objected on the grounds that they did not vote in the November election, or that they registered in another county, and therefore felt that it was unnecessary to release their data for the sake of verifying local election records.
Pappas’ attorney Jeff Lake is thankful this last group of students took the time to write in.
Despite their claims, Lake says he has records of ballots cast under a number of these individual’s names in one of the 18 precincts that make up UCSB and Isla Vista.
“We have people responding saying ‘I didn’t vote’,” Lake said. “Wrong! According to the registrar, you voted.”
This instance of what Lake alleges is voter fraud was one of a number of examples the Daily Nexus reviewed on Friday, when the newspaper was given the opportunity to examine a sample of evidentiary documents – with names redacted to protect voter privacy – that Pappas’s legal team will be using in their suit to invalidate some 9,000 UCSB student votes.
Although both the county clerk and Farr’s legal team reject Lake’s allegations of endemic fraud and contend that the technical irregularities he has found do not justify invalidating student votes, Pappas’ attorneys are working overtime, cataloging instances of what they call fraud and abnormalities.
At stake is the 3rd District Supervisor seat – the crucial swing vote on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors – that Pappas lost to Doreen Farr in November by 806 votes.
Honest Mistakes Or Fraud?
Pappas and his legal team have not yet been allowed to see the entire cache of voter registration cards, but according to a sample of 600 cards they received a few weeks ago from the registrar’s office, Lake alleges a large majority of the cards from UCSB and I.V. contain an irregularity of one sort or another.
Among these irregularities – mostly technical errors on registration cards – Pappas’ attorneys have found a few startling cases, the most serious of which Lake claims constitute voter fraud.
“We know that people were registered to vote, whose vote got disenfranchised,” Lake said. “We know people were defrauded. We’re not splitting hairs. We know people are saying, ‘[Pappas] is just trying to win,’ but there’s a complete system breakdown here.”
One pair of documents reviewed by the Daily Nexus showed that one individual, whose records show registered to vote in July at the county registrar’s office, also registered in the voter drive a few months later. This by itself is legal, but when Lake examined this person’s ballot, he noticed an irregularity. The signature that appeared on the voter drive section of the registration card – which should have been signed by the person collecting the cards, not the voter – appeared to match that on the actual ballot.
This, Lake suggested, shows that a registration drive worker might actually have cast an illegal vote.
The Nexus also reviewed a sample of five registration cards collected at a registration drive run by Campus Democrats that Lake alleged demonstrated fraud.
On each card the name of a specific member of the Campus Democrats’ leadership was signed in the section reserved for registration drive workers, and although the name was the same on each card, the signature was dramatically different.
“We plan to bring in a handwriting specialist to determine whether the signatures are by the same individual,” Lake said. “But it doesn’t really take a specialist to see.”
This, Lake said, was just a small sample of the sorts of problems his team found with the cards from registration drives on and around campus.
The drives, organized by Associated Students and other campus groups, resulted in record-setting numbers of first-time voter registrations – more than on any other campus in the country.
“How did they get so many people to register all at once?” Lake said. “Maybe they have some special magic out there at UCSB that caused them to get more registered voters than anywhere else. Or maybe they just found a new way to clone people,” he said, referring to the dubious signatures on the Campus Democrats’ cards.
Christine Elles, President of the Campus Democrats, declined to comment on the registration drives, citing the “delicate” nature of the issue. Still, she said that her organization was aware of no wrongdoing on their part.
“The Campus Democrats and other groups involved followed guidelines honestly and in the best manner possible,” she said. “There was no fraud that I am aware of.”
Associated Students Vice President of External Affairs Corey Huber likewise stated that A.S. had done its best to follow the letter of the law during the registration drives. He says that should any students face legal repercussions as a result of errors on the cards, the university will provide them with legal council.
“We are most concerned with protecting the students, who were just trying to help get people out to vote,” Huber said. “If the cards get invalidated, it’s going to sting, but it’s more important to protect the election process. It was about pragmatism and being effective and efficient. We only had four weeks [to conduct the registration drives]; it was crunch time.”
Whether these charges will stand in court is unknown, but Pappas’ legal team will seek to show that widespread technical errors – though perhaps the result of honest mistakes by registration drive organizers – resulted in a deliberate corruption of the electoral process.
Of the sample of registration cards he viewed, Pappas said that roughly 70 percent contained one or more technical errors that, he argues, should invalidate them. Chief among these irregularities was a failure on the part of the registration drives to turn in the completed cards within three days of their completion as well as the failure complete all necessary portions of the form.
Of particular dispute is the question of whether or not the volunteers working at voter registration drives were required to fill out what is known as “Box 12.” According to the California Elections Code 2150, Box 12 should be signed by “any person that helps a citizen complete the registration form.” Lake said that Box 12 remained blank on a large portion of the cards that were collected at voter registration drives.
Associated Students Vice President Huber, who helped manage the registration effort on campus, said that he had not thought it necessary for volunteers to fill out this portion of the form.
“We were under the impression that Box 12 was related to people with disabilities that require assistance filling out the cards,” Huber said. “I think it’s possible there was a misunderstanding.”
A second point of contention focuses on the Three Day Rule, which stipulates that cards collected at registration drives must be turned in to the Registrar’s office within three days of completion. The Nexus reviewed evidence of cards collected at A.S. registration drives that were turned in nearly three weeks after they were originally filled out by the voters.
Joseph Holland, the county registrar, said that although drive organizers were required to turn cards in within three days – and that failure to do so is a crime – a late card is not an invalid vote.
“When you want to organize a voter registration drive, you sign a document saying that you need to return the cards within three days, or are subject to a misdemeanor offense,” Holland said. “If they turned them in late, we’d tell them that they need to get them in on time because it’s a crime. But they wouldn’t be invalid.”
Huber explained that during the months preceding the election, he had understood that A.S. leaders had made a prior arrangement with Holland that allowed campus groups to turn in cards after the three-day deadline.
Holland rebuffed this claim Friday, saying that at no point did he have any arrangement with campus groups that allowed them a time extension.
“It is absolutely not true,” Holland said. “We had no special agreement with voter registration drive organizers.”
Regardless of whether or not they had permission to exceed the legal deadline, Lake plans to argue that the violation of the voter code should render the cards invalid.
“These technical violations – incomplete addresses, failures to fill out Box 12, and failure to turn in the ballot within three days of its being filled out – invite fraud,” Lake said.
Taking it to Court
Throughout the suit, Pappas – who touted transparency and accessibility as the foundation of his election campaign last year – has maintained that his goal is not to disenfranchise or exploit the students, but rather to uphold the integrity of the electoral process. Moreover, he said, he does not want students to feel that he is targeting them.
“I didn’t want to create that atmosphere on campus,” Pappas said. “To ask students for their vote, and then have them feel that I’m taking their vote away. I knew I would draw heat to myself, but we have to defend the process.”
Sure enough, Pappas is getting considerable flak from some of the student body, who were informed via email last week that his lawyers had served the school with a subpoena for students’ personal information. Lake says he intends to use the data only to verify voter records, but already several Facebook groups have formed to advise students on how to protect their privacy in the suit.
On the first day alone, over 1,800 students submitted written objections to having their personal information released, someone close to the process said.
“They are worried about the rights of privacy, and so are we” Lake said. “We won’t be getting any information from the school until a protective order is in place; the public will not have access to these records.”
Under law, an educational institution is not allowed to release personal information about their students to anyone, including the parents of students. One exception, however, is a lawful subpoena.
The university has refused to give up any information without first receiving a protective order saying that the information will be used in the Pappas v. Farr legal case and nowhere else. That order is still pending but will almost assuredly be granted by the judge.
Huber said that Associated Students will also be holding educational meetings to inform students of their rights.
Meanwhile, Farr’s attorney Phillip Seymour is also preparing for the pre-trial hearing on Feb. 9. At the hearing, Superior Court Judge William McLafferty will determine what evidence will be allowed in the trial, which is set to begin on Feb. 17.
Farr’s legal team has submitted motions to exclude evidence involving the violation of the Three Day Rule and the failure of registration gatherers to fill in Box 12. In both cases, Farr’s attorney wrote that Pappas’ evidence “does not provide a legal basis for invalidating a voter registration.”
In a legal brief, Seymour wrote that Pappas’ case lacks a legal basis, and stated that his quest to change the outcome of the vote goes against the will of the electorate and the letter of the law.
“Pappas’ challenges ignore the fundamental principle that ‘courts are reluctant to defeat the fair expression of the poplar will in elections and will not do so unless required by plain mandate of the law’,” Seymour wrote, citing the 1953 case Simpson v City of Los Angeles.
If the case makes it to court, actual ballots will not be examined – any invalidated votes will be removed from both Pappas’ and Farr’s columns, based on voter percentages. Since Pappas took approximately 35 percent of the student vote, he will need to discount roughly 3,000 votes to overcome his 806-vote deficit.
In his legal brief, Seymour said this goal is both unprecedented and unrealistic.
“Having prevailed by a margin of over 800 votes – a margin far greater than any that has ever been overcome in any election contest in this State – Supervisor Farr is entitled to represent her constituents without the distraction or burdens of an unnecessary prolonged trial,” he wrote.