April 10, 2012 - S.B. COUNTY: Testimony in city clerk case limited. A S.B. County Superior Court judge rejects efforts to hear from voters whose ballots were disqualified
Paper: The Press-Enterprise
Title: S.B. COUNTY: Testimony in city clerk case limited. A S.B. County Superior Court judge rejects efforts to hear from voters whose ballots were disqualified
Published: April 10, 2012
By: Imran Ghori, Staff Writer
A legal challenge to San Bernardino City Clerk Gigi Hanna’s election victory suffered a setback Tuesday when a judge ruled that voters whose ballots were disqualified cannot testify.
San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donna Ginnell Garza tentatively ruled in favor of a motion by attorneys for Hanna and the Registrar of Voters seeking to limit testimony in a hearing next week.
Hanna took office last month following a close election in February that led to a recount and a six-vote margin of victory.
Supporters of Amelia Sanchez-Lopez, Hanna’s opponent in the Feb. 7 election, filed suit seeking to force the registrar to accept declarations of voters swearing they cast ballots that were disqualified because signatures on their mail-in envelopes didn’t match signatures on their voter-registration cards.
A total of 64 such ballots were disqualified, according to the registrar.
The complaint represents 12 of those voters although attorney Sandra Garcia said she plans to challenge the disqualification of 33 ballots.
Hanna’s attorney, Stuart Leviton, said all 64 ballots should be examined and the plaintiffs can’t just “pick and choose.”
Garcia said her clients’ rights to vote and due process to challenge the registrar’s disqualification were violated.
“The voters were not given notice that their votes were going to be rejected,” she said, adding they should have been given a chance to authenticate their signatures.
Garcia said she planned to call five voters to testify about their ballots being disqualified.
Leviton said that testimony would not provide any new evidence to the case as it is not in dispute that those ballots were disqualified. The only question is whether Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello had the legal authority to do so.
He said the California Supreme Court and state appellate courts have ruled that election officials can disqualify ballots when the signatures don’t compare to those on file.
“The registrar did exactly what the election code requires,” he said, adding that it is voters’ responsibility to ensure that their registration is in order before an election.
Paymon Baidari, a deputy county counsel representing the registrar, compared the complaint to “Monday morning quarter-backing.” He said the registrar has no legal obligation to inform voters when their signatures don’t match.
Garza agreed that the question is a legal one and said she didn’t see what testimony from those voters would add. At this point, only Scarpello is likely to be called as a witness, Leviton said.
The plaintiffs plan to question Scarpello in a deposition Thursday. A request by Leviton and Baidari to limit the scope of that questioning was rejected by Garza.
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