The tide turned Monday for candidates in the Vernon city council election after ten ballots challenged by the business chamber were counted.
Reno Bellamy had been trailing, but took the lead after Monday’s tally by the County Registrar-Recorder’s office. Bellamy is ahead with 34 votes to his opponent Luz Martinez’s 30. Originally, Martinez was ahead with 30 votes to Bellamy’s 26. Bellamy is a housing commissioner, and Martinez is an employee of the Vernon Fire Department.
The results of the Vernon election had been limbo since June 5, when the Vernon Chamber of Commerce alleged that people who do not live in the city cast ten of the ballots. The County-Registrar’s office denied the chamber’s challenges, many of the same ones accepted by the city during the April 5 city council election.
County Registrar-Recorder official Efrain Escobedo told EGP that unless they receive an order from the court to hold back the last ten ballots, the county would proceed with counting them. The County had given the city, the Vernon Chamber of Commerce, and any other interested party until June 22 to take action to prevent the counting of those last ten ballots. But on Monday Escobedo told EGP that no action had been taken, so that afternoon the county conducted its fifth and likely final canvassing of the ballots, including the 10 under dispute.
In the last election, a city-appointed canvassing board accepted the challenges raised after the chamber’s attorney described evidence that seemed to point to several voters not actually living in the city. Six ballots were thrown out, resulting in Michael Ybarra, who was favored by the chamber, defeating incumbent Daniel Newmire 26 to 19.
In this election, however, it was the County and not the city running the election. The chamber submitted its challenges directly to the County, which responded that there was not enough evidence to throw out the ten challenged ballots.
There was much talk of legal challenges in the days leading up to Monday’s results. At a June 19 city council meeting, Vernon Chamber of Commerce President Marisa Olguin said that including those last ten ballots could result in court challenges.
She requested the city ask for the ballots back, citing an ordinance in the Vernon Charter she says gives the city final say in their elections. But the city’s attorney, Dana Reed, advised city officials not to take this course of action because it could invite litigation from the candidates and “potentially jeopardize the city’s treasury.” He said the move could also be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause that says election rules cannot be changed in the middle of the counting process.
While Ybarra was sworn-in soon after the April 5 election, his defeated opponent, Daniel Newmire, is still challenging the election in court.
The former councilman alleges the city refused his request for a recount, while the city is maintaining that the request was made too late.