Former district attorney questions signature validation process

Recall “L.A. County District Attorney George Gascon” campaign volunteers and supporters begin to unload the boxes of signatures from the back of a moving truck so that they may be submitted to the L.A. County Registrar of Voters office in this July file photo. July 6, 2022. Courtesy photo.

A former L.A. County district attorney openly challenged Monday the way in which the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office is validating signatures for the recall petition of current District Attorney George Gascón.  

In an open letter sent to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, Steve Cooley challenged the way in which the signatures are being validated for the petition, and objected to the fact that the Registrar’s Office has declined to allow observers into its counting rooms.  

The letter states that in the Nov. 6, 2018, general election, the RR/CC had a 2% rejection of vote-by-mail ballots, and that number had dropped to 0.354% by the September 2020 election. However, in the random sampling for the recall petition for George Gascón, the RR/CC had a reported 22% rejection rate.  

Cooley went on to allude to this being a form of “voter disenfranchisement” and demanded more transparency by allowing observers in to see how the signatures are being validated.   

While supporters of the recall contend they have a right to observe the process under the California Voter Bill of Rights, officials in the Registrar’s Office argued that L.A. County’s Election Observer Program pertains specifically to elections and not recall attempts, and therefore the closed-door count may continue.   

“Comparing observation-related activities of an election to a recall attempt is not an accurate comparison,” said Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the Registrar’s Office. “An election does allow for public observation, and Los Angeles County has an Election Observer Program where members of the public can watch election-related activities. A recall attempt and its verification/certification activities are not the same.”  

Sanchez said the decision made to exclude monitors for the recall is justified under California Government code 6253.5, which is also outlined L.A. County’s “Guide to Recall” publication.   

“Some voters may have concerns about possible harassment if they sign an initiative, a referendum, and/or a recall petition,” the L.A. County recall guide reads. “Government Code Sec. 6253.5 provides that such petitions (and any memoranda prepared by the elections official in examining the petitions) are not deemed to be public records and are not open to inspection.”   

Sanchez added that not allowing monitors has been the standard practice for all petition verifications – including statewide petitions and the 2021 California Gubernatorial Recall Petition. 

The Registrar’s Office has until Aug. 17 to determine whether the petition has enough signatures to cause a special election against Gascón. If the total number of valid signatures dips below the required number of 566,857, then the petitioners will have 21 days from the certification of insufficiency to examine which signatures were disqualified and why.

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