As 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr gets comfortable in her new office, opponent Steve Pappas is continuing his legal effort to challenge the results of the election that seated her.
In an interview yesterday, Pappas’s attorney outlined his legal strategy – an approach that involves disqualifying more than half of UCSB and Isla Vista voters on registration technicalities.
Last week, Pappas – who lost the 3rd District Supervisor seat to Farr by 806 votes in November – filed a petition with the California Superior Court to challenge the ballots of thousands of new voters registered at voter drives in 18 UCSB and Isla Vista precincts. According to the suit, if all the contested votes from campus and I.V. are invalidated, Pappas would have won the supervisor seat by 2,250 votes.
According to Jeff Lake, Pappas’s attorney, the bulk of the legal suit focuses on problems with registration forms completed in the massive voter registration drives that took place on the UCSB campus in the months preceding the election. His client’s petition cites several issues with the completion and physical handling of the registration forms that may result in them being deemed technically invalid, and possibly even serving as evidence of potential fraud.
“Whoever conducts the registration drive is required to follow certain rules,” Lake said. “Since they are accepting that responsibility, they need to uphold the integrity of the process. We found a large number of registration ballots collected from the drives that had problems.”
Lake said the petition seeks to discount more than half of I.V. and UCSB’s 9,700 voter registrations based on two main issues: the failure of those registering new voters to turn in records on time and the failure to fill out registration forms correctly.
Lake said a good number of voter registrations were invalid simply because those operating the voter drives did not turn in the registration cards on time.
“If the circulator has the completed registration cards, he has to submit them within three days in order to preserve their authenticity,” Lake said. “We found large numbers of cards turned in that were in violation of the three-day rule.”
Associated Students External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Corey Huber helped organize the student-voter registration drives and argued that student groups had been in steady communication with the County Registrar during the drives and had received permission to take more than the allotted time to turn completed registration cards in.
“Because of our longstanding relationship with County Clerk’s office, they allowed us a few days extension,” Huber said. “They understood that to realistically meet that deadline was infeasible, and they worked with us. The only reason they let us do it was because these cards were checked, double-checked and already done, and it saved them a lot of work on their end.”
However, Lake said this massive last-minute influx of cards to the registrar’s office only served to allow greater opportunity for the mishandling of the documents.
“The voter registration drives resulted in thousands of cards getting turned in at the last minute,” Lake said. “The problem with this is that it jams up the registrar’s office; when they are burdened with having to process theses cards quickly, it opens the door for mistakes, and lots of cards that should have been declared invalid were processed.”
A second crucial point of contention regarding the registration drives is what Lake refers to as the “Box 12 Issue.”
“Whoever is assisting someone with the form must have their signature in box 12,” Lake explained. “In the samples of ballots from registration drives that we looked at, we found hundreds of cards where box 12 was not filled in.”
However, Amanda Wallner, Vice President of the UCSB Campus Democrats – who participated in the Voter Registration Volunteer Coalition – argued that those involved in on-campus voter registration drives were not required to fill out this portion of the registration card.
“We were a volunteer organization, so we didn’t have to sign that portion of the form,” Wallner said.
According to the California Registration Guide, Elections Code 2150 stipulates “if any person helps a citizen complete a registration form, that person must sign and date the form below the signature of the person registering.”
Still, Wallner maintained that she and the other volunteers thoroughly adhered to all registration guidelines.
“I can assure you that we followed the letter of the law quite literally,” she said. “When we did the dorm storming, we knew that we couldn’t fill out people’s forms for them. We showed them what the registration form should look like, how to do it, because students’ registration cards have gotten not approved in the past for being incomplete.”
On this point, registration organizers and Pappas’ legal team steadfastly disagree. Still, Lake maintains that the petition is not meant to disenfranchise student voters so much as to uphold the democratic process.
“We don’t want to accuse the student body – we just want to preserve the integrity, the election,” he said. “[Pappas] is trying to make sure that the voices of valid voters is heard and that those that are a result of fraud don’t count.”
According to Lake, if he and his team are able to convince the Superior Court judges that the contested votes are invalid, they can have the outcome of the race overturned and Farr’s election annulled.
“If we are successful, the judge has the power to certify the new results and annul the original outcome of the election,” he said. “I am virtually certain that I am going to present the evidence needed.”