Sunday, October 26, 2003

Last-minute push yields avalanche of DA recall signatures [Arcata Eye]

Last-minute push yields avalanche of DA recall signatures [Arcata Eye]

by Kevin L. Hoover, Eye Editor

A last-minute drive by the Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos (CRPB) helped garner a total of about 16,700 signatures on the petition calling for removal of Humboldt County’s embattled district attorney.

Recall organizer Rick Brazeau delivered stacks of completed petitions to county Elections Manager Lindsey McWilliams on the last possible day to file, Wednesday, Oct. 22.

McWilliams and his staff spent the rest of the week, including Saturday, on the methodical process of determining the validity of the signatures. For the recall to proceed, at least 11,138 of the signatures must be validated as coming from registered Humboldt County voters.

First, McWilliams said, the petitions are numbered and a total obtained. That process involves stamping each signature with a number - a labor-intensive procedure which must be done in shifts to spare election workers repetitive stress injuries. "If you do that 3,000 or 4,000 at a time, your arm falls off," McWilliams said.

Next, a random list of numbers is generated to create a representative sampling of signatures. That sample will number five percent of the total, or about 835 signatures. Each signature is then compared to the county’s database of registered voters. Complicating the validation is the inherently sloppy nature of petitions circulated in the field Many signatories have moved since last registering to vote or use an abbreviation of their registered name. Other times the signatures are difficult to read. "People are in a hurry," McWilliams observed. Nonetheless, elections staff make a thorough effort to ascertain the validity of each signature.

McWilliams expected to have the sample count verification completed early this week. Each signature in the sampled 835 is considered the equivalent of 20 signatures in the total 16,700 submitted. If valid signatures in the sample, multiplied by 20, amount to 110 percent of the required 11,138, the recall petitions will be found sufficient to proceed with an election. If the valid signatures in the sample multiply out to 90 percent of 11,138, the petition is presumed to have failed.

But if the sample yields between 90 and 110 percent of the required number, McWilliams and his staff will have to validate every signature. That, he said, would require the legally allowed 30 days to determine the sufficiency of the recall petitions.

McWilliams said he would likely have to bring in additional workers if all the signatures are to be verified, since his office is already swamped with work closing out the Oct. 7 gubernatorial recall election and preparing for the Nov. 4 school and special district elections.

McWilliams hopes to avoid a signature-by-signature count. "I hope they win clearly or lose clearly," he said.

The county elections office has 30 days, or until Nov. 21, to verify the signatures and the sufficiency of the petitions. The results would next be certified to the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 2. The supervisors then have two weeks, until Dec. 16, to issue an order for a recall election. Should they not do so, it falls to the elections official to schedule the election on Dec. 21. That would mean a special D.A. recall election would be held sometime between March 16 and April 13, well after the possible March 2 primary election.

Timeline information is available on the Humboldt County website, .

Regardless, McWilliams said he expected that any recall election could be processed in time to be added to March 2 election. That would save the county an estimated $150,000 in special election costs.

Tactics questioned

The intense, 11th hour push by recall backers included aggressive signature gathering by an out-of-town company called US Petitions, a fact first revealed last week by investigative reporter Hank Sims in the North Coast Journal .

US Petitions uses compensated petitioners who are paid $8 per signature. That incentive resulted in extremely aggressive, even deceptive signature-gathering tactics, according to several citizens.

The county elections official made no effort to mask his disgust with the petitioners’ no-holds-barred tactics and the mountain of paper his office is now tasked to sort out. "I am unhappy with US Petitions and the people Brazeau contracted with," McWilliams said.

Characterizing US Petitions as "sleazebags," he noted that most of the hired petitioners had registered to vote in Humboldt County just before they were deployed in the field. That to satisfy the legal requirement that signature collectors be registered in the county they petition in. McWilliams said the petitioners’ address of record was listed as a motel on Broadway in Eureka, where the US Petitions manager did the hiring for the effort.

Eureka resident Nate Lombda said he answered a knock on his door Tuesday afternoon to find a man with a petition there. "He broke into this spiel, ‘You know about the 12-year-old who was raped and they plea bargained it out?’ I asked if this was about the Paul Gallegos recall and he said, ‘Yes.’ My ears started to burn and I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I closed the door."

Lombda said he plans to file a complaint with the Secretary of State. "I thought it was very deceptive and misleading," he said.

Richard Salzman of the Alliance for Ethical Business, a pro-Gallegos group, said that on Tuesday morning he encountered a petitioner in front of the McKinleyville Safeway store who first asked him to sign a petition "repealing the car tax." He declined, and said she then offered him a clipboard with the top part of the petition form obscured by a folded-back piece of paper so that only the portion with signature lines showed. Salzman said the woman said, "This is a personal one of mine against rapists." In fact, he said, it was a Gallegos recall petition.

An Eye employee encountered the same tactic Tuesday morning at the McKinleyville Kmart, with the explanatory portion of the Gallegos recall petition obscured by a piece of paper while the petitioner exposed only the bottom signature area and described it as an anti-rape petition. Tuesday afternoon, however, an Eye reporter who approached petitioners at both locations was clearly told that the petitions were "to recall our D.A., who’s soft on crime."

McWilliams said he’s received about 20 written complaints alleging unfair tactics, which he’s passed along to investigators with the California Secretary of State.

He takes the complaints seriously. "They misrepresented the petition," McWilliams said. "They did a bait-and-switch. Some of them told people it was a pro-Gallegos petition."

A September complaint by Shelter Cove resident Jim Ferguson, also passed along to the Secretary of State, alleged that petitions were not properly circulated. He said petitions were left unattended and signatures not witnessed as required by law.

In analyzing the sufficiency of the material submitted by CRPG, McWilliams and his staff are on the lookout for petition-padding. "We’re looking for obvious signs of corruption," he said. "Signatures in the same ink, the same handwriting."

Salzman said recall organizers and those who fund them are responsible for any abuses. "I fault less the workers," he said. "The District Attorney’s lawsuit against Maxxam’s Pacific Lumber accuses them of fraud. That is to say they got caught lying and cheating, so it is no surprise that their supporters, the self-described ‘good old boys’ would lie and cheat in their campaign against the District Attorney."

McWilliams said those who experienced questionable petitioning tactics and wish to complain may call the Secretary of State’s complaint line at 1 (800) 345-VOTE. Salzman said the AEB would like to hear from anyone who encountered deceptive tactics by the McKinleyville petitioners. Salzman may be reached at (707) 845-3700

Costs questioned

Salzman wondered where the money for the high-buck campaign comes from. "Between their recent direct mail to all registered Republicans - some 20,000 voters - and the eight dollar per signature paid to the petition circulators, the recall proponents have spent approximately $25,000 over the last two weeks."

A financial disclosure report by CRPG is due this Friday, Oct. 31. It will cover expenditures through Sept. 30. The Friends of Paul Gallegos will also file a disclosure report that day.

CRPG donations through June were revealed in a previous disclosure. Most of the donors at that time were affiliated with timber and trucking interests.

PL lawsuit

A ruling on the demurrer, or dismissal of the D.A.’s fraud lawsuit against Pacific Lumber had been expected by Oct. 27. But two weeks ago, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson deferred the case without elaboration to Lake County Judge Richard L. Freeborn.

A Minor misunderstanding

Owners of a local theater chain announced Sunday that their business had mistakenly been associated with Brazeau. In a letter, Minor Theatre Corporation owners David Phillips, Michael Thomas and LouAnna Phillips said in a letter that, "Apparently due to the high-profile nature of the campaign to recall District Attorney Gallegos, there has been confusion about Rick Brazeau’s MTC Associates and the Minor Theatre Corporation. We thought it was very old news, but the two companies are not related and have not been related for 17 years. Furthermore, Mr. Brazeau has no ownership or position of influence in the Minor Theatre Corporation."

The proprietors condemned the Gallegos recall effort. "We think the recall is a waste of county resources at a time when the county needs every dime it can get," their letter said.