Committee to recall Gascón claims step toward victory

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 committee seeking to recall District Attorney George Gascón claimed a partial win its members hope can provide adequate time and access to audit Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office records, after a ruling issued Tuesday. 

L.A. County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant partially granted a preliminary injunction sought by the Committee to Support the Recall of DA George Gascón, which was seeking better access to county records in order to review signatures that had been rejected in its thus-far unsuccessful attempt at a recall election. 

In August, County Clerk Dean Logan’s office declared a second attempt to recall Gascón had fallen short of the 566,857-signature threshold declared necessary for the recall, after conducting a review of the 715,833 names submitted, according to court records. 

County officials ruled more than 195,783 of those signatures were invalid, prompting the lawsuit by Gascón’s opponents to try to determine if any were thrown out erroneously, which the group alleges has happened. 

Chalfant’s ruling Tuesday sped up the required timeline for both sides to come to a conclusion on the signature audit, with a date of March 31. He also ordered Logan’s office to allow the committee to review prior signatures on file for voters whose signatures were denied due to a mismatch, which was nearly 9,500 names. 

Chalfant also ruled that the clerk’s office will have to turn over addresses that were changed during the circulation period, as well as the notices of address changes that are on file. The county noted that there were about 32,187 signatures in total where the addresses the clerk’s office had on file didn’t match the petition. 

The court did not rule on the increase of access sought by the recall committee, which has been a major point of contention for the group, but ordered both sides to meet regularly in order to keep pace with the March deadline in Chalfant’s ruling. Chalfant did rule that electronic devices would be allowed by committee members in order to assist in their efforts. 

About 27% of signatures were tossed, and a spokesman for the recall committee, Tim Lineberger, contends that not only is that figure high for a margin of invalid signatures, but a also that a review thus far by the recall group is claiming an even higher margin of error for signatures that have been tossed improperly. 

“After I think, 4 (thousand) or 5,000 signatures, we were at about a 37% or 38% error rate (referring to signatures improperly rejected for reasons other than the voter was not registered),” Lineberger said, adding that the committee’s requirement of doing the verification by hand has made that process much more difficult, which was one of the reasons for the lawsuit seeking more access. 

The committee needs to prove the invalidation of approximately 46,000 of the 195,783 signatures was done so erroneously.  

“We don’t even have an updated number on (the percentage of error found by signature-checkers), part of the difficulty is the way that we’re supposed to take notes in a handwritten form,” Lineberger added, noting that, to date, Logan’s office has not allowed the signature-checkers to bring electronic devices into the county’s offices where the verifications must be completed.  

He referred to an effort by the county to limit the group’s checkers to seven people with access three days a week as an effort by the county to “play out the clock,” alleging the current situation makes it impossible to verify more than a half-million names even by the next election. The group sought access for 25 signature-checkers. 

In court filings, the petitioners noted that they can only verify about 400 signatures per day, under their current restraints, which means the audit of the names wouldn’t be complete until about May 2024 at the current pace. 

The county’s counsel countered in court filings that they don’t feel as though the elections code mandates the level of address verification sought by the committee, which would take staff about 10,700 hours at a cost of approximately $15 per hour (approximately $160,500) to manually pull confidential records of prior addresses for the signatories.  

“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,” wrote Mike Sanchez, spokesman for the LA County Registrar-Recorder/Clerk’s Office. “Our office has been, and will continue to, facilitate the recall proponents’ opportunity to review the petition review as provided by law. 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.” 

Data on invalid signatures from Ballotpedia indicates the bounce rate of the signatures is slightly higher than the national average for 2022.  

“The average signature validity rate for approved measures from 2017 to 2022 was 74.95%,” according to the website. “The average signature validity rate for defeated measures was 76.25%.” 

The website also indicated that over the past five years, the average number of signatures submitted for approved ballot measures, which the recall effort would be, is 140.58% of the required number. The committee submitted approximately 127% of the required number of signatures. 

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