Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley rejected nomination papers for Los Alamitos Councilman Troy Edgar's bid to become Orange County clerk-recorder Friday night after reviewing office video and ruling that Edgar's campaign was illegally gathering signatures inside the registrar's lobby after the 5 p.m. deadline had passed.
“I rejected the filing because more than one signature was gathered after 5 p.m.,” said Kelley, who highlighted that Edgar’s filing documents “only had 20 signatures,” which is the minimum amount required by law.
That meant that even one invalidated signature could end Edgar’s application.
All it took, for Kelley, was two.
Kelley said he was inundated with complaints when Edgar’s campaign consultant, Brett Barbre, continued circulating nomination papers for Edgar in the registrar’s lobby Friday after the doors had been locked and the 5 p.m. deadline had elapsed.
Friday was the filing deadline for most candidates vying for office this year.
After reviewing video footage from lobby cameras and consulting with attorneys, Kelley invalidated Edgar’s nomination papers.
Edgar couldn’t be reached for comment, but Barbre blasted Kelley’s action as completely political, adding that a legal challenge was being prepared.
Barbre called Kelley’s action “a great example of the ticky-tack foul,” stressing it had more to do with local politics than state elections statutes.
He said Edgar and his supporters arrived at the office at just after 4 p.m. and were working on their nomination papers. But because of backlogs at the registrar’s office in handling candidates, it can take more than an hour, Barbre said. That’s why they were still working on their nomination papers after 5 p.m., he argued.
Voiding legitimate signatures after the 5 p.m. deadline is a political call, he said.
“I have to believe Neal was under inordinate pressure with two board offices there,” Barbre said.
According to several eyewitness accounts and breaking coverage on Friday night from the political blog OC Political, two supervisors’ offices were there: Dennis Bilodeau, who is chief of staff to supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson, and Chris Nguyen, who works for Supervisor Todd Spitzer and is a co-creator of the OC Political blog.
“I’ve never ever heard of that at the registrar’s, and I’ve been doing campaigns for a while. I’ve never had a registrar say you can’t be signing nomination papers after five. Never heard that one before. That was new to me,” Barbre said.
“I’m not sure Neal would have done anything if they [Bilodeau and Nguyen] weren’t there,” Barbre said. “They were trying to protect their guy, Hugh.”
Orange County Supervisors appointed Republican Hugh Nguyen to the clerk-recorder’s job after it was left vacant in 2012 by the election of then Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly, a Democrat, to the 69th Assembly District seat.
Following a series of scandals about Daly’s management of the office and budget, along with questionable personal service contracts to political allies, his second-in-command, Renee Ramirez didn’t get the board appointment.
There has been speculation that Barbre — who worked with Daly and Rodriguez as a consultant to the office during their tenure — is working behind the scenes to draw more challengers into the race, pushing Nguyen toward a general election contest if he can’t draw more than a majority margin in June.
Barbre dismissed that kind of thinking, saying he’s above such gamesmanship.
“I’ve been in politics for 25 years,” Barbre said. “That’s not my style.”
Barbre said he’s not working on behalf of Daly to get back at the Republican Board of Supervisors, who have been critical of Daly’s spending habits following a critical internal audit of the department.
He said Edgar has been his client for eight years and wants to remain involved in public policy affairs, which fueled his interest when the seat opened.
“He has a great deal of interest and wants to run for it,” Barbre said.
Barbre in turn is aiming accusations at the Board of Supervisors, wondering aloud whether a series of senior board aides worked to pressure a registrar's decision that denied Edgar and protected Nguyen.
Ironically, concerns about this very type of situation — accusations of politicization of the registrar’s office — surfaced earlier this year when it was disclosed that county Chief Operating Officer Mark Denny had himself pled guilty to election fraud in the late 1990s while he was a staffer to then Assemblyman Curt Pringle.
Denny pled guilty to a scheme that involved him circulating nomination papers during a last-minute scramble to get a decoy candidate into an Assembly race.
Because the registrar of voters office directly reports to Denny, Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino publicly raised concerns about the potential for conflicts during any contested electoral outcome earlier this year.
County CEO Mike Giancola later moved Kelley from under Denny’s supervision and made him report directly to the CEO.