The police union-backed recall election of Santa Ana City Councilwoman Jessie Lopez has been thrown into question, as Orange County’s elections chief said today that recall petitioners and his office went off the wrong map when proponents gathered signatures and officials reviewed them.
“In the process of preparing for the election, we became aware that Ms. Lopez was elected based on Santa Ana’s pre-redistricting boundaries for Ward 3. However, the recall petition was circulated and reviewed based on Ward 3’s post-redistricting boundaries,” wrote OC Registrar of Voters Bob Page in a Thursday letter to city officials.
It’s a difference, Page said, that would have “impacted whether the recall petition had sufficient valid signatures.”
“If the signatures from voters in the current Ward 3 who did not reside in the old Ward 3 were excluded from the count, then the recall petition would have failed by 230 signatures, rather than being deemed sufficient,” Page wrote.
It’s also impacted how many eligible voters are getting ballots.
Just weeks away from the election, Page’s office said that nearly 1,200 residents should have received a mail ballot for this election but did not.
After publication, Page reached out to Voice of OC underscoring that Santa Ana is in the driver’s seat in deciding whether the recall election moves forward, but that he was seeking direction for whether the election should proceed.
City spokesman Paul Eakins said officials are studying the issue.
“The city attorney is reviewing all legal options and we have no further comment,” Eakins said late Thursday.
In response, Lopez’s campaign sent out the following news release:
“I’m calling on the city of Santa Ana to cancel the recall election immediately.”
The chairman of the police union-sponsored committee to recall Lopez, Tim Rush, said that recall organizers aren’t to blame.
“It’s the Registrar of Voters.” Rush said.
“I would cry foul at this point — we were very diligent in following all the instructions of the Registrar of Voters and on top of that, they verified all the signatures, which meant that the process was not only verifying registered voters but that they (lived) in Ward 3,” Rush said in a Thursday phone interview.
“After ballots have been sent out, now they’re making this claim? I would say that is farcical,” Rush said, adding that he is calling for an investigation.
“Mind you, the signatures we turned in were turned in months ago.”
In response to Rush’s quotes, Page said he wasn’t assigning blame – that his letter in no way spoke to “sufficiency of the work of the proponents of the recall.”
Asked about the timing of Page’s notifying city officials, Page wrote:
“I received an email yesterday from the Kings County Registrar of Voters asking other county elections officials in the state for advice regarding a recall effort involving school district officials elected before and after redistricting. This request prompted me to re-examine how we reviewed the Ward 3 recall petition and are administering the recall election pursuant to the request of the City of Santa Ana.”
On July 17, elections officials notified the city that the recall had qualified for the ballot.
Citing state elections code, Page wrote: “It appears that the old Ward 3 map boundaries should have applied for both the review of the recall petition and with respect to which voters can vote in the currently scheduled recall election.”
“The Registrar of Voters will need direction from the City as soon as practicable regarding whether the City intends to proceed with conducting the recall election that is currently scheduled for November 14, 2023 given the issues described herein,” Page wrote.
It comes as the powerful Santa Ana Police Officers Association principally financed the recall efforts after Lopez voted against massive police raises and voted for the rent control law.
It’s a union that heavily finances city council campaigns in town.
That kind of special interest influence caught the eye of the Orange County Register’s editorial board, not traditionally an ally of progressive elected officials, issuing a scathing rebuke of the recall election, urging people to vote against recalling the progressive Lopez.
“We certainly have our differences with her on policy. But this recall really is about the lock-grip on power in the city of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. The police union and its allies have offered a litany of tangential reasons for the recall, but there’s no reason to pretend this is anything other than a power grab,” reads the Oct. 26 editorial.
It’s not the first time the police union has moved to recall an elected official.
In 2020, Republican Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias was removed from office in a successful recall election spearheaded by the police union after her staunch position against massive police union raises.
The police union-backed recalls are a pattern, the OC Editorial Board says, that needs to be reversed in town.
“If the POA gets away with another recall, no councilmember would dare resist it in the future. It would become the dictatorship of Santa Ana.” reads the editorial. “This union must be tamed. It must be brought under the control of the voters.”
This story was updated to reflect additional comments by Registrar of Voters Bob Page received after publication.