The tide turned today 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 today’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 have been in limbo since June 5, after the Vernon Chamber of Commerce alleged that ten of the ballots were cast by people who do not actually live in Vernon. The County-Registrar’s office denied the chamber’s challenges, many of which were the same ones accepted by the city in an April 5 city council election.
Earlier today, 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 business chamber, or anyone else until June 22 to take action to prevent the counting of those last ten ballots, but no action had been taken as of today, Escobedo said. On Monday afternoon, the county held its fifth and likely final canvassing of the ballots that included Vernon’s ten remaining ballots.
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, winning the election against incumbent Daniel Newmire with a final count of 26 to 19.
In this election, the County, rather than the city of Vernon, ran 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 today’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 those ballots back, citing an ordinance in the Vernon charter saying the city should have final say in their elections. But the city’s attorney, Dana Reed, advised the city not to take this action, as 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, that election is being challenged in court by former councilman Daniel Newmire. He is alleging the city refused his request for a recount, while the city is maintaining that the request was made too late.