An original board member of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council has filed a series of election challenges with the Los Angeles City Clerk regarding alleged voting improprieties during the April 11th citywide neighborhood council elections.
Stephen Knight, who was the first president of the local council, filed the grievance April 28th. He was running for reelection as the board’s parliamentarian and lost to newcomer Roland Moe by 60 votes, 216 to 156.
“We received seven challenges, but we have not reviewed them as yet,” María García, a spokeswoman with the Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office, confirmed April 30th.
This is the first year that the city clerk’s office was in charge of neighborhood council elections on a grand scale. In the past, that task was held by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), the city agency that supervised the advisory councils.
Incumbents Knight, first vice president Marlene Savage and second vice president Theresa Luo were each defeated in their reelection bids, leading to a slew of potential new faces in three of the most high-profile seats on the neighborhood council. Out of the 13 members from 2008-2010, four incumbents lost, while three others did not seek reelection.
Elizabeth Zamora, a member of the Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Association, and Thomas Kielty unseated Savage and Luo, respectively.
The allegations include electioneering, loitering by a candidate at a polling location, election ballots printed in English only, disagreement with the new general election procedures, outreach via the Internet by a candidate’s slate, voting by non-Del Rey stakeholders and the lack of voting material at Area G, which includes Mar Vista Gardens.
The only challenge that will move forward to an independent election panel appears to be the last one regarding Area G, García said.
“We received a complaint that the polling place ran out of ballots for approximately an hour,” the city clerk spokeswoman explained. “The suggested remedy by the challenger is to hold a special election for Area G.”
Until the challenge is reviewed, the winners cannot be seated.
In an e-mail to the current members of the Del Rey council, Stella Yun of the city clerk’s election division advised them of this provision of the election code.
“Please be advised that there were challenges submitted for the Del Rey Neighborhood Council election, as such, you cannot seat the newly elected board until further notice,” Yun wrote. “Once the challenges are reviewed, we will notify you with more information.”
The Argonaut asked Eric DeSobe, whose slate won the contested election, his thoughts on the grievances filed by Knight.
“Since I don’t have specific information on the challenge I do not have a comment at this time,” DeSobe, who ran unopposed and won the race for council president, wrote in an e-mail reply on the election challenges.
Knight also declined to comment on his reasons for filing the election challenges.
Jerry Kvasnicka, who was an independent election administrator in previous neighborhood council elections, said it is not uncommon to see grievances filed after an election.
“What I saw were mostly disgruntled candidates or those who didn’t win,” Kvasnicka, who conducted elections in Del Rey when DONE was in charge of neighborhood council elections, told The Argonaut.
Kvasnicka, who said he conducted over 250 elections, recalled only two where winning candidates were found to have committed improprieties.
“They were disqualified in both instances for using the (neighborhood) council’s mailing list,” he recalled. “You can’t use anything that belongs to the city.”
On Tuesday, May 4th García said the other six complaints could not be successfully challenged for a variety of reasons.
“We did not provide non-English ballots because the Del Rey Neighborhood Council did not request them,” she said. “The Del Rey council also approved the general election procedures, and the electioneering and loitering complaints are not challengable as well.
“As for the factual or affirmation stakeholder, the council’s bylaws do not require documentation (that a voter is a Del Rey stakeholder,)” García continued. “We also reviewed the Internet articles that were published and there was nothing that suggested that it was anything beyond outreach.”
Kvasnicka 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,” he said.
The factual basis or affirmation stakeholder vote, which allows a person who does not live or work in a certain neighborhood to vote by offering evidence that they can “affirm” an interest or stake in any action on which a local council might take, remains a source of controversy since the City Council passed an ordinance establishing it in 2008.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Del Rey, feels the factual basis stakeholder designation can unduly cause concern in a neighborhood council election.
“I heard about (allegations) of people coming into Del Rey who do not live in the community and voting, as well as people being encouraged via Facebook to come from outside areas to vote. And that’s why I truly believe that this definition is wrong,” Rosendahl, who favors having only residents in a neighborhood vote, asserted. “There’s history on this that’s very clear, when Playa Vista bussed in their construction workers to vote for a particular slate several years ago.”
Kvasnicka agrees with the councilman.
“A lot of people don’t like it,” he said. “It’s very nebulous.”
Garcia said her office has until June 17th to notify the local council if there is merit to the grievance.