This article was originally published by watchdog.org.
Central Valley Senate District 16 is a crucial one for Democrats in the Capitol. They need it to keep their two-thirds supermajority that allows them to raise fees and taxes without any Republican votes.
Candidates Andy Vidak, a Republican, and Leticia Perez, a Democrat, are facing a runoff election July 23. And it???s getting messy. Allegations of unfair and negative campaigning permeate news stories in the Central Valley.
After appearing to outright win the special election for State Senate District 16 in May, Andy Vidak, a 47-year old, third-generation Republican farmer from Hanford, was ready to get to work.
It appeared Vidak had won 51.9 percent of the vote in the special election over Bakersfield Democrat Perez for the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield. Vidak needed 50 percent-plus-one votes to avoid a runoff against Perez.
But only a couple of days later, it was announced Vidak would have to face a runoff, thanks to an onslaught of provisional ballots that dropped Vidak below the 50 percent threshold. Provisional ballots have been at the center of election dramas in California in recent years.
Interestingly, on election night, the media and both campaigns acknowledged that Vidak was far enough ahead that the outstanding ballots would not have made a difference. This is precisely why Perez conceded so quickly. But then something happened. And even the Fresno County Elections office admitted at the time, they didn???t know what happened.
Since then, Kern County elections officials said there was no fraud, despite a complaint from the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Los Angeles, which claimed the group had uncovered about 30 verified examples of voter fraud in Bakersfield, according to the Bakersfield Californian.
Immediately after the May election, I spoke with Lauren Stephens, an experienced campaign consultant who has worked in several states and been involved in several elections, recalls and in a major recount. She shared her concerns about the Vidak race, and explained a provisional ballot is not an absentee ballot. ???Absentee ballots are another source of voting which can bring a lot of voter fraud and it is next to impossible to detect,??? Stephens said.
Kern county, the home of Leticia Perez, had a total of 14,798 ballots cast in this election, according to Stephens. Of that amount, 554 were provisional ballots. ???That is 3.74 percent, almost 4 percent. That is not a small number!??? Stephens said. ???By contrast, Kings County had 15,314 ballots cast in this election, and of that amount, only 128 ballots were provisionals. That is only 0.84 percent. Kern County had more than three times that amount! For this reason, we targeted Kern county for our first audit.???
Stephens explained it was not financially feasible for her alone to request a recount. But it was feasible to get a list of the provisional ballots in Kern County. The goal for her was to verify the residential addresses of the people who showed up at the last minute to vote. According to the County Elections Clerk, they have no real way to verify that information. They only verify that the address given belongs in the district.
???Initially, the clerk demanded a court order and stated that I must contest the election, which I made clear I would be doing immediately,??? Stephens said. ???But by May 29th, as I was starting on the petition to get that court order, she called me back and gave me a workaround so that I can get the data that I need to do my own audit of the Kern County numbers in order to verify if the people who voted in the 16th were legitimate voters. No court order or contest needed.???
Additionally, the clerk invited Stephens to sit in on the runoff election on July 23.
Stephens was the reporting party in the disputed 1996 election of Rep. Loretta Sanchez in Orange County back in the 1990s, where it was proven that there were a significant number of illegal alien voters. Stephens claimed the Sanchez campaign and its associates had directly registered those illegal alien voters. But the case was ultimately dismissed by the investigating congressional committee.
Stephens stressed that, once the vote happens and is certified, there is no way to go back and change the numbers. ???We simply do not know who voted for whom,??? she said. ???We have to stop this prior to an election.???
I asked her why it is that, when I ask politicians about voter fraud, most claim there is no real evidence suggesting voter fraud anywhere. Stephens said, ???That is because no one has easy access to the data. If we did, we would easily be able to find voter fraud.???
She gave the example of drivers??? licenses in the state of California, which non-citizens are allowed to get, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Stephens explained, ???In the state of California, non-citizens are not allowed to vote. But because the only thing you need to provide is a driver???s license number in order to register to vote, it is possible that there might be millions of people in California who are driving legally, but who are voting illegally. They may possibly think that they are voting legally, since the only thing they need is a driver???s license.???
How did Vidak pull ahead?
Vidak had good name recognition because of his 2010 run for Congress, when he narrowly lost his challenge to incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Costa.
And because Vidak ran in this most recent race as a farmer, and not as a politician, many say people in his district trust him.
???Vidak was a good candidate with good name recognition,??? Harmeet Dhillon, vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party, told me in May. ???And Chairman Brulte made it clear he was looking for as much support from everyone on the board, and from the counties.???
Dhillon said they couldn???t have done what they did without the help of an Independent Expenditure Committee headed by Republican Charles Munger. ???The big giver to the Tulare County GOP is mega-Republican donor Charles T. Munger Jr. He???s contributed close to $270,000,??? the Fresno Bee reported.
New California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte also authorized an Independent Expenditure Committee to be able to run television ads.
Expect fireworks in this election- happening today.