Mike Gatto says we can’t be Democratic Delegates anymore.
It was one of the largest turnout for a Delegate election in California History. My fellow Democrats and I won the election, until Assemblyman Mike Gatto (AD-43) decided…not so fast.
My name is Malcolm Johnson. You may know me from such Social Media sites, as…this one. I have been a Volunteer at the Pasadena United Democratic Headquarters since the 2010 Election Cycle. I will continue to be a Volunteer at UDH for the foreseeable future, especially with a very busy 2016 and 2018 on the horizon.
My main function was to do photographic work for the UDH, but I have served as a Volunteer Social Media Director for the 2012, and continued that role into 2014. I write copy. I re-designed the UDH’s website from top to bottom. I answer questions from voters when I can. I am a Democrat, and a proud one at that.
I had the privilege to run in the Assembly Delegate Election of January 11, 2015 for the 43rd Assembly District, on the Democrats United Slate. Unfortunately, that honor was taken away from me by the California Democratic Party, at the behest of an Elected Official who did not like how the election turned out.
That Elected Offical, in this case, is my California State Assemblyman, Mike Gatto (AD 43), and he has a history of playing rough. He had come with a slate of his own, the Progressive Slate. They would be our principal rivals during the election.
This was my first time a running for Assembly Delegate (ADEM), so I didn’t know what to expect. I first arrived at Glendale Community College about 15 minutes before the event was scheduled to start.
When I got there, I saw a few supporters of the Democrats United Slate. We walked down to the polling location together. When we got to the elevator, I saw a sign that said we had to go back and pay for parking. Then we got to the elevator and saw a sign saying that we had to pay for parking, $3 for the day. So we turned around back, headed for the machines and paid. There was a bit of a line at this point. All where locals paying the machine. After that, we headed for the Event again.
Now, we’re operating without much of a map at this point, but there was only one way to go. There was a large bridge, that led to another elevator that (as I would eventually learn) go down directly to the Student Center. At the mouth of the bridge, the Progressive Slate had set up a table, and here handing out flyers for their candidates.
They also promised to pay the $3 parking for anyone who supported their guys.
I wasn’t sure what to make of that offer at the time, given that it was a party function and not something tied to State or National Government. I did find it in poor taste at the very least.
Halfway across the bridge, there were a few Students handing out Flyers for the Democrats United Slate. I got a chance to meet them, say hello and confirm I was heading in the right direction, old man of 45 that I was at the time. Good kids. After that, I got on a crowded elevator, and headed down.
There was already a short line by the time I arrived there. I figured as a candidate I would need to set up and help out, but I wanted to go ahead and vote. I entered the Event, dropped my backpack to the side and got in the (at this point) relatively short line to get my ballot.
I signed in, received my ballot, and walked over to the area where I got to vote. Filled it in, voting for myself and the Democrats United Slate, voting for my preferred candidate for Executive Board. Then, I put my ballot in the box, under the gaze of Caro Avanessian, one of the Volunteers who stood watch over the ballot box at all times. By the time I voted, that short line had turned into a rather sizeable collection of people voting all over the hall. It was quite crowded and busy. Of course, I saw people voting for me. I saw people voting against. Of course, you feel that little bit of heartbreak when you see folks voting against you.
For the most part, people were walking in, casting their vote…and leaving. Any notion of hanging out and waiting for the speeches from the candidates just wasn’t happening. It was a long line, and people just wanted to have their Sunday back. Plus there were two NFL Playoff games happening that day: Green Bay vs. Dallas and Indianapolis vs. Denver. The people were staying where either Delegate Candidates, members of Mr. Gatto’s Staff or Volunteers working the event. Mr. Anthony Portantino also made an appearance, meeting residents, and encouraging them to vote for the Democrats United Slate. As we waited for the vote count to finish, we passed the time keeping up with the scores. (Green Bay beat Dallas, by the way. And Indy beat Denver. Neither went on to the Super Bowl.)
After that, I took a moment to take some photograph of the immense line at this point. It was around this time that I saw Mr. Gatto and Mr. Portantino both working the line, as it slowly inched past them. There were only so many photographs you could take of the same line, so…I decided to put my Camera away and help my fellow slate mates work the line.
“Make sure everyone has a flyer in their hand.” That was the mission.
With that, I back up to the Bridge where the kids where and give them a hand.
Handing out fliers at this point was a bit useless, as very few voters did not already have their minds made up. We were also handing out bottles of water with Ardy Kassakhian’s (the Glendale City Clerk) name on it. I handed out water to friends and foe alike, figuring it was a long wait to get into the hall to get a ballot. No reason to be parched when you got there.
We finally ran out of fliers and I returned downstairs . I got a few more fliers from downstairs and returned up to the Student Volunteers with what few I could find. By this time, virtually nobody was accepting them.
I made my way back downstairs again , and went back into the Student Center. There I got a chance to talk with a few of my Slate-Mates, meeting some for the first time, getting re-acquainted with others. The 2014 Campaign Coordinator of the Pasadena United Democratic Headquarters, Tom Dallas, stopped by. We got a chance to catch up, and then he left, like virtually every voter who came by…
…but Voters were still coming.
We were all kind of impressed that for a good chunk of the day, the line just did not shrink. People just kept coming and coming. Checking with the kids from up on the bridge. There was just a steady, steady stream of people coming. It wasn’t letting up. It felt like we saw well over a thousand people in line, but only 751 Ballots were cast. At one point I saw an African-American family of five, one Mom, four kids leave the Hall after voting. Mom voted. The kids just came with her, after which they were all headed somewhere else. I saw a lot of this. People coming to the event with a Voter, but not voting themselves.
For an hour and a half, it looked like the line just was not going to stop, and some provision would have to be made to have some kind of a cut off.
Since we’re not Republicans, since we actually like it when people vote, so Mr. Thom O’Shaughnessy, who was overseeing the event, drove his wheelchair up the small hill to the Elevator Tower, and cut off the line himself, physically at 3pm. The people in line before him would be able to vote, but that was it.
Once the line finally started to dwindle, I headed inside to see what would happen next. After the last vote was cast, Mr. O’Shaughnessy proceeded to let all the Candidates make a short 60 second speech about themselves- at least the ones who stuck around. I thought it was a bit of a waste to give a speech after all the voting was done, but..I can see the other point of view too. People wanted to vote, and starting things off with a bunch of speeches may have driven a lot of people away.
So, I gave a speech. I was little more than saying my name, and covering the highlights of the first paragraph of this article, but was enough. After everyone had their turn, it was time to start voting.
Mr. O’Shaughnessy laid out how the vote counting would proceed. They would break up in three counting teams (initially) and count off each ballot, making a team tally of the votes. Then the three teams tallies would be added together, and that would be the final result. Karen Wingard, a longstanding area Democrat, was one of the people who would be doing the counting.
So, the counting began. I myself kept back because I figured I didn’t need any more stress in the day. There were no objections being raised to the counting at this point. Any objections were cast at one side or the other for having too many people. At one point the Progressive Slate said too many Democrats United people were observing. One of our side had to withdraw. Of course, this objection was not made by Progressive Slate delegates, but by two staffers of Mr. Gatto. (The Progressive Slate delegates did not stick around for the results).
The objection was made, and, so one of our observers had to step back. But they were back in a few minutes. It did not affect the outcome of the count.
Over time, the three Counting Teams became four, and eventually five to speed up the process. The process remained consistent. Each team was sorting through the ballot, reading all the names with Votes cast, and putting a check down on their Team’s Tally. It was a simple process, but lengthy because of the number of people each ballot had to vote for. If there was only one name on the ballot (like with Executive Board), counting would have taken minutes. But each person herewas voting for up to 14 people, and it was just going to take some time.
As the Teams edged ever closer to a final result, more and more people started to gather around. More anticipatory than anything.
About an hour before the tally was to begin, two of the five Counting Teams wrapped up their work. It was then first the objection was made by the the Progressive Slate. It was not made clear to me what the exact nature of the objection was. (Turns out it was over whether or not the objection had to be in writing or not.) It was made by a young woman, I believe her name was Stacey, later to find out it her name was Stacey Brenner, and she was Mike Gatto’s Chief of Staff. (Remember, the only Delegate Candidates who stayed throughout the whole process were from Democrats United. Progressive Slate Candidates had gone home hours ago). No other real objection to the process or anything that had come before had surfaced, at least to my ears, before this.
There was a brief, somewhat terse, but overall professional exchange between Stacey and Mrs. Wingard. With the two other teams still working to finish their tally, Stacey Brenner demanded a recount. Mrs. Wingard questioned the demand because of how well each of the Party volunteers did with the count.
It was strange to me because, how can you object to an election result if you don’t know what that result is? From where I sat, there was still a real chance that the Progressive Slate was going to win. Everyone on the Democrats United side did not think we were winning at that point. We were describing to each other as a coin flip, and the coin was still in the air.
After another hour or so (it felt longer), the last of the five teams wrapped up their work, added the little checkmarks together, and read the tally to Mr. O’Shaughnessy. The five numbers were reported, and winners (including myself) were preliminarily assessed because…frankly, a challenge was already in the works…
…initiated, not by my rivals on the Progressive Slate, but by Mr. Gatto’s staff.
Worse, they were alledging Voter fraud.
Yes, Voter Fraud…aka, the thing Republicans tend to accuse Democrats of doing when it suits their fancy (i.e., they lose an election).
After that, we left our contact information with Mrs. Wingard to be kept updated on this process. Mrs. Wingard sent us an email the next day saying that the election materials were being sent to CADEM in Sacramento either that day (if UPS was open) or the next morning. I did not hear again until I was given the opportunity to relate my testimony of what happened during the ADEM Election, which is pretty much what you’ve been reading today.
I’m not exactly sure why someone would wanted to blow hours of their Sunday to vote twice in a Delegate Election. Tell you the truth, I’m not even sure how it would have been done. Voting fraudulently is a high risk, low reward activity. To vote twice in this election, you would have to stand in the line that took an two or more hours to get through. You would have to get past the Volunteers at the front desk, who would see you twice. You would have to get past Caro Avanessian manning the ballot box, twice. Heck, you’d have to walk past Assemblymember Mike Gatto and his staff, twice.
There is actually a challenge mechanism in the CADEM Rules, allowing for people to challenge Voters they think are ineligible. You basically have to call foul on site, and the eligibility would be checked then and there.
But that didn’t happen. If Voters were indeed voting twice, one wonders why didn’t Gatto’s team raise a ruckus when they caught someone trying to vote twice…
…unless no one was trying to vote twice, and the Gatto team just made up the allegiation in an effort to overturn the results.
Why…that couldn’t happen, could it?
The Gatto team wouldn’t do a thing like that…would they?
I also felt the Gatto challenge was also direct aspersion on Thom O’Shaughnessy, as well as Karen Wingard (who I consider a dear friend), questioning their competency and their integrity. These are two very devoted, lifelong Democrats, who hold a deep love of the party. Mr. O’Shaughnessy was selected by the California Democratic Party to oversee this event, because well..he’s done it before. He knows how it works.
How it works is this. A normal Delegate Election sees 100–200 people come and vote. A particularly busy election might see 300–350 voters.
This one had 751 Ballots cast. We thought at the time it was a record for an ADEM Election anywhere in the State of California.
The normal ADEM process was adhered to, but could not work perfectly here. The Volunteers manning the event (and let’s stress again, they were volunteers) were basically overwhelmed.
And that photo above? That was during one of the light moments.
One of best moments I had that day, on January 11th, was talking to two rival candidates, husband and wife, both California Teachers. They were running independently, neither a part of the Progressive Slate, nor Democrats United. They wanted to go to the Convention to represent other California Teachers and to stand up against Charter Schools, and attacks on their profession. Even though we were rivals in the Delegate election, we actually agreed on Education and on Charter Schools, and I told them I would bring their concerns into the Convention Hall with me.
I felt great doing that. I’m not an elected official. I’m just a Delegate. I get one more vote than the average Democrat, and I want to make that vote count for as many people as possible where I live. Listening to those teachers, was me getting to do my job.
Unfortunately, I have had little time for other conversations like that, because most of my time as a Delegate has been spent defending the election that made me one.
Mr. Gatto’s first Appeal was shot down 6–0 by the Compliance Review Commission (CRC), based on a lack of evidence.
But that didn’t stop them. Mr. Gatto’s team appealed the decision again, this time on new grounds saying that non-Democrats had been allowed to participate in the process.
We’d soon learn just how hypocritical that last accusation was. Why? Because we found one of our rival Progressive Slate Candidates (not a vote, but a Candidate) was not a Democrat. She was a “Decline To State” voter, the California Voter Reg term for an “Independent”.
For the appeal to be successful, Mr. Gatto’s team would have to get all six members of the CRC to 100% reverse their decision.
Guess what happened next?
In a two hour phone call, on April 26th, got all six members of the CRC to 100% reverse their decision.
The CRC upfront stated their “discomfort” with the way this was happening. They reinterated that Mr. O’Shaughnessy, as well as Mrs. Wingard had both done nothing wrong, and had followed the CADEM rules regarding Delegate Elections. Of course, me and my fellow Delegates hadn’t done anything wrong. We weren’t in any position to do anything wrong. All we did was vote and hand out flyers.
But, by golly, let’s give Mr. Gatto everything he wants…which is the overturning of an election result he doesn’t much like.
The CRC dismissed the charge we made about the invalid Progressive Slate candidate, and went on to absolve the California Democratic party of any wrong doing (again, with no rules being broken). And take away my election as Delegate.
Oh, and one of the members gave…quite possible, the most patronizing speech at the very end, apologizing to his “Armenian Friends” (because of the high Armenian-American turnout) while semi-acknowledging he was about to screw them all over again.
God bless America.
Of course, it soon turned out that the CRC was wrong to dismiss our allegations, and that the invalid Progressive Slate member had…had…
Um, how did you put it again, CRC?
On April 30, 2015, staff received a call from [The Progressive Slate Candidate — I don’t want to give out the name publicly]. Staff asked her several questions regarding her voter registration address. She confirmed to staff that she’s currently registered to vote at an address in Glendale, CA, which is in AD 43.
Due to her disclosure, staff informed her that she was not eligible to be an ADEM Delegate because she was registered as a Decline to State (No Party Preference) and as such staff would have to remove her from the ballot.
To be clear, her original approval as an ADEM candidate was based on the ADEM candidacy form that was filed listing [The Progressive Slate Candidate] with a Burbank, CA address including birthdate and email. This information exactly matched the voter registration of a registered Democrat residing in AD 43. This same process was used to verify all other ADEM candidates.
Staff asked [The Progressive Slate Candidate] about her candidacy paperwork and she didn’t recall filling anything out or paying for her filing fee. She also had no knowledge of who [A person with the same name] was and she was not familiar with the address in Burbank.
Upon receipt of the above information, the CRC requested information regarding payment of the candidate filing fee. According to our records, the candidate filing fee was paid on December 10, 2014 with the billing information of Michael Gatto.
So…let’s be clear.
- The Progressive Slate Candidate we said was not a Democrat…turned out to be not a Democrat.
- Her candidacy used the information of a completely different person who has the same name. And this person was a Democrat.
- The Progressive Slate Candidate did not recall filling out the online form, or paying the filing fee.
- And it turns out Mike Gatto paid that filing fee…with his own Credit Card.
Remember, we presented this to the CRC, and were duly shot down. Until the avalache of proof finally got them to back off.
But we’ve now found lots of other instances of people not being allowed to vote in AD 43, but who’s votes are currently standing. (And that’s a much longer story…)
It’s important to note that Elected Officials like Mr. Gatto are given a number of Delegate appointments to just hand out to supporters. The ADEM process is supposed to be for the Volunteers, the Activists, to decide amongst themselves who should represent them at the State Democratic Convention. The end result is a mix of appointed Delegates and elected ones.
Mr. Gatto has decided that he should be in control of both.
Thirty minutes into that two hour Conference call on April 26th with the CRC, I knew the fix was in. Our evidence was dismissed out of hand. Our statements were not discussed at all. The only opinion who mattered was Mr. Gatto’s. The only viewpoint discussed was Mr. Gatto’s.
So, the Appeals process which was designed to help Volunteers settle disputed results between themselves was hijacked by an elected official, wh had no business even making a claim. I’ve heard more from him and his staff than I have my rivals on the Progressive Slate, if only because I doubt they have the time to fly up to Sacramento and examine the ballots like Mr. Gatto and his staff did. (And then publish photograph the ballots, against the express wishes of the California Democratic party, but that’s a whole other story.)
I have never seen a Democratic Committee on any level look out for the interests of it’s Elected Officials over their Volunteers and supporters.
Mr. Gatto’s accusations are, unfortunately, being hurled at a process and the people (like Thom O’Shaughnessy and Karen Wingard) who ran the process, and did so with a lot of class, a lot of dignity and out of a sense of love and duty for the California Democratic Party. Mr. Gatto’s accusations have been unbelievably unfair to two volunteers who have done nothing but show the best of that the California Democratic Party is all about.
Mr. Gatto says he’s found 117 votes that were invalid. I’m not sure how these were determined, or how these were verified, but let’s say Mr. Gatto is 100% right, and there are 117 bad votes in there. That’s what? 16% of the total vote?
Yes, it’s a high number, but so’s 84%. That’s the percentage of people voted legitimately. Mr. Gatto’s proposed solution is to throw out the 84% of the votes that were valid, start again and see if he can get a result more to his liking. Why wouldn’t he prefer that outcome?
But the better question is, why would the CRC hand it to him on silver platter?
Because there are no names on the ballots, Mr. Gatto and his team must know that it’s impossible to reach in, pull out 120 votes to make the process “fair”. Instead, he proposes invalidating the votes of the 84% of Voters who were legitimate, including people who voted for “The Progressive Slate”.
But that’s exactly what happened on April 26th.
Mr. Gatto also wants there to be a way to confirm that the people showing up to these votes be verified as being able to registered to vote Democrat in that particular Assembly District.
That’s actually a fair concern. I just wish Mr. Gatto had been equally concerned in AD41, where at least one known-Republican were turned away at the door, only to be later seen with a “Progressive Slate” Ballot in his hands.
To verify things they way Mr. Gatto wants, we would either have to search Voter Registration status online for each voter as people are signing in. It’s a nice idea, but with 730+ people coming in to vote, can you imagine the backlog problems doing that? It was hard enough just getting people to sign their names, and handing them a ballot. But no, let’s add an internet search to that process.
Now, I’m hearing that Voters will be required to provide I.D. to prove they are eligible to vote in the re-do Election the CRC has commanded.
Yes. Democrats…are resorting…to Voter I.D.
I’m also guessing this is why the CADEM rules, as they stand now, took this possible difficulty into consideration, hence the requirement registration checks be done “in good faith”.
In the end, if you really think about the job Thom O’Shaughnessy and Karen Wingard did, they did amazing work under the circumstances, which were historic. 739 people voted in that election, and they didn’t come alone. There were at least a 1,000 people or more at the facility that day. Lot of noise, a lot of chaos. No one could have prepared for those level of crowds or activity.
I ran for Delegate because I still want to serve my Party, and want to do whatever I can to get more Democrats elected, and get more people to the polls to vote, not fewer. What has happened here sets an ugly precedent for ADEM Elections in the future. In the future, if the State Party doesn’t like the results of the election, or if someone asks them not to like the results of the election, out will go the rule book…and your vote.
I don’t think that’s something we should let happen.
That’s why I’m going to fight for my Candidacy. Yes, I’m only a California State Democratic Delegate. But one of these days, I’d like to serve my fellow Democrats in that capacity. I think me and my fellow Delegates have earned it.