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News Every Day |

County ordered to work with Gascón recall group reviewing invalid petition signatures

County ordered to work with Gascón recall group reviewing invalid petition signatures

Los Angeles County election officials must grant an organization seeking to oust District Attorney George Gascon access to about 10,000 signatures rejected from recall petitions due to a mismatch with voter registration records, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant partially granted The Committee to Support the Recall of District Attorney George Gascón a partial injunction challenging the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder/county clerk’s rejection of petition signatures in October.

“The registrar argues that government code … only requires disclosure of the current signatures,” Chalfant said in a written decision. “It acknowledged that prior signatures on file for voters whose signatures were denied because of a mismatch were reviewed by the registrar, but it cannot reveal them, separate from confidential information without pulling manually these records and redacting other information.”

The process to separate prior signatures from confidential information would involve about 3,080 staff hours at $15 per hour, the registrar has estimated.

State elections law provides that the signature of a voter may be inspected for the purpose of determining whether it matches the signature on the affidavit of registration or the petition, according to Chalfant.

“This means that all signatures of the voter on file may be reviewed by the committee,” he said in the ruling, adding the court assumes the signatures are readily available.

Dean Logan, who is Los Angeles County’s registrar-recorder/county clerk, said his office will comply with Chalfant’s orders.

“Today’s hearing and the petition for injunctive relief filed by the proponents of the recall are focused on interpreting state laws that seek to balance transparency, access, and privacy — and the ongoing legal obligations of the department to serve all voters in Los Angeles County,” he said in a statement.

“Our office has been and will continue to facilitate the recall proponents’ opportunity to review the petition as provided by law,” he said. “If the court orders additional access and/or provides a broader interpretation of the legal and privacy restrictions, we will comply or seek further review to ensure the integrity of the process.”

Tim Lineberger, a spokesman for the committee, said that without Chalfant’s ruling the signature review would have been “dead in the water.”

“Now the registrar is going to be dragged kicking and screaming into the sunlight, where they will face the transparency and oversight that the law intended,” he said. “It’s a total victory for Los Angeles voters and the volunteers working so hard to conduct this review.”

The committee is seeking to review the 10,000 mismatched signatures and about 180,000 more that have been rejected by the registrar’s office for various reasons.

In August, the recall committee submitted 717,000 petition signatures, of which 520,050 signatures were found to be valid and 195,783 were deemed invalid, according to election officials. To qualify for the ballot, the petition required 566,857 valid signatures.

The recall committee has said it has found “obvious and legitimate challenges” for at least 39% of invalidated signatures it has reviewed. Purported problems with the tally include:

  • Signatures that were invalidated as “printed” even when the voter’s signature on file was itself printed.
  • Signatures rejected as “nonmatching” despite showing substantial similarities to the signature on file.
  • The invalidation of signatures as “not registered” when, in fact, the person was a registered voter who could easily be identified in the voter database.
  • Signatures that were invalidated as duplicates without election officials counting at least one of the alleged duplicates, as required by law.

The recall committee also is seeking addresses and change of address notices for petition signers who were disqualified because their residence on the petition did not match voter registration records.

The registrar also was ordered to provide the committee, subject to a strict protective order, with electronic lists of voters whose signatures were confirmed as valid, invalidated as a duplicate or canceled because of death, as well as a hard copy of valid signatures.

Chalfant did not order the registrar to provide the recall committee with additional training materials or user manuals to interpret data contained in its election management system. The registrar and the committee are expected to complete the review of records by March 31, 2023, he said.

An initial attempt to recall Gascón fell through in early 2021, when organizers apparently were hampered by the rapid spread of COVID-19. The second attempt, launched in October 2021, was bolstered by a no-confidence vote from officials in 36 cities.

Gascón, immediately after taking office in December 2020, issued nine directives that his critics maintain coddle criminal defendants. Among the most controversial were the elimination of cash bail and sentence enhancements and an end to the prosecution of juveniles in the adult court system, regardless of the seriousness of the crime. Gascón has since backpedaled on some of those blanket policies.

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