SLO County equal voter rights dispute headed to court

June 17, 2018

Tommy Gong

By KAREN VELIE

A dispute over equal voting rights has propelled San Luis Obispo County Clerk Recorder Tommy Gong into a legal battle with Supervisor Lynn Compton. On Monday morning, the county officials will appear in court to argue their positions. [Cal Coast Times]

Following the June 5 election, Gong discovered hundreds of ballots were either missing a signature or had a signature that did not match the voter signature on file. Gong then sent letters to both groups allowing them to correct the issues. At that time, Gong agreed to provide both groups until June 13 to validate their ballots.

However, on June 12, Gong decided to extend the deadline for those whose signatures did not match while he required voters who forgot to sign their ballots to abide by the June 13 deadline.

Stew Jenkins and Charles Bell, Compton’s attorneys, then asked Gong to abide by the date he previously gave voters with mismatched signatures to correct their ballots. Gong, however, said he had the authority to extend the deadline.

Jenkins and Bell then filed a lawsuit asking the court to order Gong to abide by the June 13 deadline because changing the deadline violated voters’ rights to equal protection under the law, and both the voters and Compton’s rights to due process.

Currently, the California Election Code requires clerk recorders to reject vote-by-mail ballots when the signatures do not match. The code does not provide for voters to correct their non-matching signatures

As a result, thousands of California voters have been disenfranchised.

Supervisor Lynn Compton

In an attempt to remedy the issue, in 2017, the ACLU filed a lawsuit arguing that the practice violates equal protection rights because it allows voters to correct missing signatures eight days after an election, while it does not give those with non-matching signatures the same right.

“Section 3019 violates equal protection because it treats signature-mismatch voters worse than it treats similarly situated voters,” the ACLU lawsuit states. “For one, under Section 3019(f), voters who fail to sign their envelopes altogether have until eight days after the election to cure their failure; if they do so, their votes will count. By failing to provide signature-mismatch voters this same opportunity to cure, Section 3019(c)(2) violates equal-protection guarantees.”

While a judge agreed with the ACLU, the decision has been appealed and placed on hold.

In a recent Tribune editorial, the paper’s editors accuse Compton of attempting to disenfranchise voters.

“Compton’s camp is essentially taking advantage of this window to disenfranchise voters — a case of one side opportunistically following the letter of the law, while trampling on its spirit,” according to the Tribune editorial board.

However, while Jenkins and Bell asked the court to provide voters with missing signatures and those with non-matching signatures an equal amount of time to correct their signatures, they did not ask Gong to automatically reject non-matching signature ballots as the Tribune suggested and as the law allows.







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5 Comments

  1. Mitch C says:

    I don’t understand the controversy. The law, while it may not be perfect, is the law and the administrator of any election does not have the authority to make up the rules as the election goes along. Can you imagine the chaos if a football referee made up the rules after the initial kickoff. Any and all rules (laws) need be settled before the contest begins, otherwise elections (and football games) would be called differently depending upon the will of the referee. The procedure to be followed in this case appears to be clear, if anyone (including the Tribune) feels the law unfair they need to address their concerns to the State Legislation who has the authority and responsibility to pass our laws.

    • shelworth says:

      Well, he had to do something! His guy was behind!!!

    • jimmy_me says:

      I always joke that it’s only against the law if you get caught. In this case, it’s only against the law, or any other rule, if some entity is going to provide meaningful enforcement. It happens with everyone in the position of power: sometimes it favors your side, sometimes it favor the other side. In the end, over time, the actions by our esteemed leaders and their lack of ethics and morals seems to balance out. Additionally, laws and rules limit options to those in power. As a result, they people who write the rules (the people in power), write them so they can conveniently be interpreted in creative manners. That allows them to use the rules against you but not follow the rules themselves.

  2. rukidding says:

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if the criminal justice system moved this quickly?

    • Jorge Estrada says:

      It used to be even quicker but we are now civilized and money provides the justice for those who can afford it. A speedy trial, why be in a hurry? ka ching.

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