Steve Pappas’ election contest against Doreen Farr will begin its first day of trial today in the Santa Barbara Superior Court.
At 9 a.m., Judge William McLafferty will hear opening arguments from both councils, and is expected to hear testimony from county registrar Joe Holland and members of his staff. The suit will focus on Pappas’ claim of endemic fraud among newly registered voters at UCSB and in Isla Vista. At stake is the 3rd District supervisor seat, which Farr won by 806 votes last November, thanks in large part to strong student support.
Much of the evidence Pappas had planned to use focused on technicalities with voter registration forms. However, the majority of this evidence was ruled irrelevant by McLafferty last week and will not be heard at trial.
In the wake of McLaffferty’s ruling, Pappas’ legal team, led by attorney Jeff Lake, will argue that the outcome of the election was skewed by voter fraud.
Farr’s legal team, comprised of Frederic Woocher and Philip Seymour, contend that they have yet to see any evidence from the prosecution that fraud took place at all. Moreover, they argue that there is neither a legal foundation nor precedent for throwing out votes because of supposed technical errors on voter registration cards.
“I haven’t seen any evidence of fraud,” Seymour said. “In every election there are people that put the wrong address or misspell ‘Sabado Tarde,’ but that doesn’t mean the vote doesn’t count.”
Seymour added he is skeptical that Lake will be able to present evidence that true fraud took place on a wide enough scale to justify a mass-invalidation of votes.
“Legally, [Pappas’ lawyers] are required to give us a list of the names of every voter that they intend to challenge. They gave us 9,700 names, so that’s basically everyone who voted,” he said. “I think it’s a fishing expedition for them at this point.”
If the judge agrees that widespread fraud occurred, he may throw out votes from both Farr and Pappas’ columns based on the percentage of the vote they earned in the contested precincts. In order to overcome his Election Day deficit, Pappas’ council will have to convince the judge to throw out roughly 3,000 votes.
However, according to Seymour, invalidation of such a large number of votes is practically unheard of in legal history. He said the only legal precedent that remotely relates to this case is a ruling from 1905, in which a box of votes was stolen from a polling site and the votes were thrown out.
“There is no ‘rotten apple theory’ saying that if you find a few bad apples, you throw out the whole batch,” Seymour said, referring to the isolated cases of ballot irregularities that he expects will be the focus of the trial.
Despite several attempts, Pappas’ legal council could not be reached for comment.