Block: Coup in the California Democratic Party?

I write this piece on Memorial Day, the day we honor our dead for their defense of democracy.

I am compelled to write about the continuous disregard for democratic principles and the rule of law in the ongoing election for California Democratic Party Chair.

The election of the California Democratic Party Chair is not a trivial matter. The California Democratic Party is the largest party in the largest state in a country which lectures the rest of the world about the values of democracy.

The Democratic Party holds all of California’s Seven State Offices, plus two thirds of both the Assembly and Senate.

The Party’s Chairperson, like most top executive officials in most organizations, public or private, exercises tremendous authority over the organization’s staff, its agenda, meetings, committee appointments, etc.

On Saturday, May 20, between 4 and 7pm, the California Democratic Party Convention held an open-ballot vote for Chair and other Statewide officers by credentialed delegates.

The initial count that night for Chair was very close, according to informal announcements by the Campaigns for Eric Bauman, the incumbent Vice Chair, and Kimberly Ellis, the outside challenger.

Bauman claimed he won by 62 votes out of 3,000 eligible delegates. Ellis disagreed and wouldn’t concede.

From that moment that Saturday night, Party officials, by action and inaction, have secretly and unlawfully proceeded on their own to resolve the Chair election dispute.

There is to be complete transparency in Party official business, including elections, according to the California Election Code, the Democratic National Committee Charter, the California Party’s Bylaws & Rules, its Rules Committee Policy Statement on open meetings, and the Convention Rules.

Yet, the following unlawful actions and inactions have taken place in the aftermath of the close election vote:

  • No official body of the Party or Convention ever announced Bauman’s alleged election victory- not the Rules Committee (which supposedly conducted the election), the Executive Committee (the governing body of the Party when the Convention is not in session), nor any other standing Committee of the Party.
  • No official report of the election vote totals was ever made to the Convention delegates for their consideration and approval.  This was not only true for the Chair election, but for all the Statewide officer elections.
  • Secret meetings were held by unidentified Party officials, Campaign representatives and unknown staff to negotiate and determine how to proceed to resolve the disputed close election. No notice to Convention delegates was given.
  • Allegations of election irregularities were kept secret and not reported to the Convention Delegates for their consideration and action concerning how to proceed to resolve the allegations.
  • A secret agreement by undisclosed parties, presumably the Campaigns and Party officials, was arranged to resolve the Chair election by way of an “Audit” or “Inspection of the Ballots” [The Campaigns differ on the the label for the process they agreed upon.]
  • The terms of the agreement, including the scope of the “Audit/Inspection of Ballots” and who was to conduct the “Audit/Inspection of Ballots,” was never reported to Convention delegates for consideration and ratification or rejection.
  • No vote to authorize secret meetings to resolve the Chair election was ever submitted to, or authorized by, the Convention delegates.  Even if secret meetings had been proposed, they would have been illegal.  Party rules specify only 5 authorized exceptions from the Party’s Open Meeting Mandate:  matters involving personnel, contract, litigation, campaign strategy and Member discipline.
  • On Sunday, May 21 near the end of the Convention, despite the fact no official action on the election had been taken by the Convention or any other official body of the Party, outgoing Chair John Burton announced to the delegates that Bauman was the new Chair.
  • Burton also told the Convention delegates that he spoke for Candidate Ellis and that she had agreed to a process to resolve the election dispute.  [As stated above, all aspects of the negotiation and terms of the “Audit/Inspection of the Ballots” were secret. Ellis never appeared at the Convention Sunday.]  Burton never put approval of the “Audit/Inspection of the Ballots” to the vote of the Convention delegates.
  • When numerous attempts were made by Delegates on the Floor to demand an official report of the votes, to demand a recount and to otherwise challenge the unlawful determination of Bauman as the winner, Chair Burton ruled them all out of order and refused to carry out a successful floor appeal of his ruling.
  • Also that Sunday, May 21, even before the “Audit/Inspection of Ballots” began, and with no official report of vote totals, plus no official approval of the election by the Convention, Baumann apparently hired consultant Steven Maviglio as his new Party spokesperson.
  • The next day, Monday, May 22 Bauman again acted as Party Chair to conduct a meeting of Party Officers and staff, despite no advance notice of the meeting and its agenda.

  • On Tuesday, May 23, again without notice of the meeting or the procedures to be followed, the “Audit/Inspection of Ballots” began.

  • No reports of the ballots counted, vote totals, or any other information has been disclosed as counting has continued.  The Party tweeted last Thursday, May 25, that counting would continue Tuesday, May 30.

A political coup does not necessarily involve violence.  It always involves a conspiracy to determine the leader without lawful process.  It happened at the Democratic Party Convention. It is still happening.

Joel Block is a retired attorney and freelance writer living in Rossmoor, CA.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org

For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Maviglio: The Truth About The California Democratic Party’s Elections