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Home / Santa Ana City Council

OC registrar says he must carry on with recall of mayor pro tem

Orange County Register of Voters Bob Page said Tuesday that even though he has advised Santa Ana officials that not enough valid signatures have been collected for the recall election of Mayor Pro Tem Jessie Lopez he must continue going forward with the election because the City Council deadlocked on what to do in light of the legal dispute.

“Absent any new direction from the city, we’re moving forward with conducting the election with the current map,” Page told City News Service.

Page said it is up to Santa Ana’s City Clerk Jennifer Hall to decide if the recall qualifies for the ballot.

Lopez said she has not yet filed litigation to stop the recall effort, but most observers expect her to do so. In fact, City Councilman David Penaloza at Monday evening’s special meeting invited Lopez to do so.

“I feel it is the best course of action to take no action and at this point and let a judge decide the merits of this argument,” Penaloza said.

Orange County Supervisor Vince Sarmiento at Tuesday’s board meeting praised Page for bringing the error to the attention of the city and added he was “very, very disappointed” the city council deadlocked 3-3 on competing motions to do nothing or dump the recall.

“We shouldn’t even be talking about the merits (of the recall) at this point,” Sarmiento said. “The City Council had the opportunity to do the right thing. Whether you agree with the merits of the recall or not, you simply have to follow the rules.”

Sarmiento said the signature gatherers for the recall needed to use the old ward map boundaries because the voters who put Lopez into office have to decide whether to recall her, not the constituents she represents now.

“Unfortunately, it creates a mistrust in election integrity, and that’s something we all need to cherish and protect,” Sarmiento said. “There’s no way to remedy or cure this.”

City officials have been exchanging  letters with Page asking if he will decertify the election now. Page has responded that it is not up to him and that Hall has to make that decision. But it is clear Hall is stuck between the divided factions of the city council because Lopez, who would be a tie-breaking vote, must recuse herself from the issue.

Lopez told City News Service before the council’s meeting Monday, “We’re going to explore all of our options.”

Page sent a letter dated Thursday to Hall raising the issue of which ward map was used when petitioners were collecting signatures from voters. Lopez was elected in 2020, so Page said it appears that the petition drive should have used the map of voters who elected her, not the ones she is representing now since redistricting last year.

“The current post-redistricting Ward 3 boundaries includes 362 active voters who did not reside in the old Ward 3 boundaries and excludes 1,186 voters who reside within the old Ward 3 boundaries,” Page said in the letter.

Page said that, as a result, the recall petition falls short by 230 signatures. Page asked for the city to provide direction on how to proceed given the dispute.

However, the council is split on the issue.

Council members Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, Thai Viet Phan and Benjamin Vazquez favor dumping the recall election now that its validity has been called into question. Mayor Valerie Amezcua joined Councilmen Phil Bacerra and David Penaloza in voting to take no action.

Hernandez said a vote to keep going with the disputed election now was a “vote in favor of corruption.”

Hernandez said the police union, which has been the driving force behind the recall, has pushed for Lopez’s ouster “as a bargaining chip to coerce council members to vote in favor of their interests.”

Hernandez added that he believed the landlords behind the recall are doing so because of Lopez’s support for rent control in the city.

Phan said, “You don’t clean up spilled milk by spilling more. You don’t pile on mistakes by creating more  mistakes. You can only fix it by rescinding the resolution to call this election.”

Phan said the backers of the recall are welcome to try again, “But they do not have the right to an election that didn’t have enough signatures.”

Amezcua recently came out in favor of the recall.

Lopez said before the meeting that she wanted her fellow council members to “consider all of the facts” in the dispute.

The petitioners “fell short and this question should not be before the voters,” she said.

There have been estimates of nearly $600,000 having been spent on the recall.

Lopez said she was not elected with any backing from the police union so “there’s no strings attached for us with the (police union).”

Lopez said she has only taken issue with the police union asking for a “massive budget request” at a time when every other department is being asked to cut back.

County officials say the Registrar of Voters acts as a contractor that conducts elections for the city, which includes collecting ballots and counting votes as well as monitoring voting centers. But it was up to the city to do what was necessary to prepare the ballot.

Page said a letter from a county registrar elsewhere in the state asking for advice about a recall there prompted him to go over the materials sent to his office in the Santa Ana recall election.

Messages left with the police union last week and Tuesday have not been returned.

Voter centers in the election were scheduled to be open Nov. 4 for early voting, and election day is Nov. 14. The election was expected to be certified by Dec. 8.

Page said it wouldn’t take more than a day to print up and send out ballots for the voters who have not received one if a judge ordered that. The ballots are marked by each precinct so it is easy to determine which voters need to get ballots, Page said.

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