Candidate Opts for No Complaint in CD13 Election
EAST HOLLYWOOD—Final election results from the March 7th Los Angeles City Council District 13 race show only two precincts in Little Armenia recorded higher than the district average of vote-by-mail ballots cast, after unofficial results showed anomalies more widespread in the district.
The issue was a concern for two candidates running against incumbent Mitch O’Farrell in that race who both said they had heard anecdotally that men were going door-to-door in the community, helping some Armenian residents fill out their ballots for O’Farrell, and then casting them later.
After the election, candidate Jessica Salans, through a spokesperson, said she would file a complaint about the practice with the Los Angeles County Registrar’s office.
While final results do show two Little Armenia precincts recorded 80% and 60% more vote-by-mail ballots than the average, Salans said today, she would not be filing a complaint.
O’Farrell was re-elected with a landslide of 59% of the vote and captured 68% of vote-by-mail ballots in the district.
According to Salans, who ultimately came in third behind candidate Sylvie Shain, she canvassed the community—mostly apartments—after the election and said she verified such had taken place, but said she could not find anyone willing to go on the record.
According to Salans some elderly tenants, whose first language is not English, reiterated the story of being visited by three men offering to fill out and cast their ballots.
“But what’s really telling,” Salans said, “is they did not remember whom they had voted for. … We heard repeatedly, they told the people to vote for the candidate who would be an advocate for the Armenian community,” presumably O’Farrell, Salans said. “We know this happened 3 ½ years ago. There is a history here. It’s not rocket science.”
Such a practice was alleged in the 2013 council district election as well, with the same pool of Armenian votes, when O’Farrell was in a tight race when then candidate John Choi.
In that race, Choi accused O’Farrell’s campaign of illegally filling out and then taking dozens of vote-by-mail ballots for Armenian voters. O’Farrell’s campaign rebutted the claims and instead claimed it was Choi’s campaign that had done so.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney investigated the claims, but no action was taken.
Such activity, however, is no longer illegal.
According to Mike Sanchez with the Los Angeles County Registrar, previously only immediate family members were permitted to return vote-by-mail ballots on a voter’s behalf. However, in January 2017, the law changed to allow anyone to return the ballot, provided the voter first fills out and signs the back of their envelope.
“These people were vulnerable,” Salans said, “and they didn’t know whom they had voted for.”
According to Salans, she is now forming a new non-profit called Ground Game L.A., which she said would work on connecting residents of the council district to resources “to reclaim their civil authority.”
The organization, she said, plans on addressing such issues as affordable housing, homelessness, environmental justice, and racial advocacy. She also said the group would work to change vote-by-mail rules so vulnerable communities will always be well informed of the candidates and issues.
“The ultimate goal,” she said, “is to make sure all our communities are protected and empowered. … We have a lot of work to do,” regardless of the final election results.
A request for comment from O’Farrell was not returned.