Newly elected members of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council will officially take their seats next month after the Los Angeles city clerk recently dismissed the final challenge to the April election.

The June 11th decision will turn the board over to several newcomers in Del Rey just in time for the local council to consider its budget for fiscal year 2010-11.

The election, which was run for the first time by the city clerk since the citywide neighborhood council system was enacted in 1999, was a source of contention throughout certain pockets of Del Rey. Allegations of voter fraud and electioneering were two of seven charges filed by longtime resident Stephen Knight, who lost his seat as parliamentarian.

Knight, who has been with the local council since its inception in 2003 and was its first president, filed the challenges April 22nd. He claimed that voters in the public housing complex Mar Vista Gardens, which is part of Area G of the neighborhood council, had been disenfranchised because the polling location there ran out of ballots for 90 minutes to two hours.

“Without any Area G ballots, the stakeholders from that area could not vote for any office. Many Area G stakeholders returned home without voting at all and expressed a feeling of disenfranchisement,” Knight wrote in his election dispute charge. “This error should not have happened and amounts to a denial of civil rights.”

Knight, First Vice President Marlene Savage and Second Vice President Theresa Luo lost their races to three newcomers to the council in the contested election, and Will Nicholas, who was affiliated with the incoming slate of candidates, also lost his seat on the board.

The city clerk confirmed that the polling location ran out of ballots, but decided not to uphold Knight’s complaint.

“After investigating the matter, (our office) compiled a report and issued a recommendation stating that the challenge should be dismissed,” Areleen Taylor, chief of the city clerk’s election division, wrote to the Del Rey council June 11th. “The city clerk’s recommendation stated that although the claim was true, the matter was rectified by providing the two stakeholders who had left the polling place without voting the opportunity to vote.

“Corrective action was taken on election day by delivering the additional Area G ballots in a timely manner and providing accommodations for the two voters who had been unable to wait for the ballots to arrive,” Taylor continued. “This administrative solution ultimately allowed one of the two voters to be able to cast their vote on election day.”

The new members were not allowed to assume their places on the new council until the review was completed.

“I’m incredibly excited to get started with the new Del Rey NC board. The new members received overwhelming support from the community and, while the election challenge was well-intentioned by outgoing

parliamentarian Mr. Knight, it frustrated them and the rest of the

board that we had to delay the changeover,” Eric DeSobe, the newly elected president who ran unopposed, told The Argonaut. “Now we can get to work.”

Maria García, a spokeswoman in the city clerk’s office, said in May that the claims of electioneering, loitering and fraud regarding voters from outside Del Rey were not eligible to be challenged. One of the most heated accusations was voter fraud through the abuse of the “affirmation stakeholder.”

Some Del Rey residents alleged that voters who do not work, live or own property in Del Rey were allowed to vote, but that complaint was investigated and dismissed as well, García said.

“The council’s bylaws do not require documentation (that a voter is a Del Rey stakeholder),” she explained. “We also reviewed the Internet articles that were published and there was nothing that suggested that it was anything beyond outreach.”

The affirmation stakeholder status, which allows anyone who can show an “affirmative” interest in a neighborhood the right to vote in its local elections, has become a source of discontent among the Del Rey, Venice, Mar Vista and Westchester councils. All were opposed to it when the City Council decided last year to establish a process to allow more interested parties to vote in neighborhood elections.

Enrique Fernandez, who was elected as the Area G director on the Del Rey council, thinks the city clerk’s office could have done a better job with the election.

“To have an election and have the city clerk’s office that ran this election not being prepared by running out of ballots is not an election at all,” Fernandez asserted.

Fernandez said that many residents did not return to vote after learning that the polling center no longer had ballots and feels that Knight, Savage and Luo, who all campaigned heavily in Mar Vista Gardens, were adversely affected.

“They also lost votes by the city clerk running out of ballots,” the Area G director, who supported the three candidates that lost, claimed. “I believe that the residents’ privileges to vote was indeed disenfranchised.”

Jerry Kvasnicka, who was an independent election administrator in previous neighborhood council elections, said many of the charges are difficult to prove without a preponderance of evidence or witnesses to the allegation.

“It’s almost always an uphill battle,” Kvasnicka, who was involved in two Del Rey elections, said.

The new council members are scheduled to be sworn in Thursday, July 8th.

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