Registrar wants Perata-backed recall probed

The Merced Sun Star reports today that Merced County Registrar of Voters M. Stephen Jones will ask county and state prosecutors to probe possible election-law violations — by the Don Perata-backed campaign to recall state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced:

Jones, Merced County’s top elections official, said his staff noticed some of the same problems several weeks ago and that he will file a complaint by early next week with both the county district attorney and the state attorney general.

Specifically, his staff discovered that some of the signature-gatherers had used hotel addresses when they registered to vote in Merced County. His office called the hotels and verified that the signature-gatherers didn’t live there, Jones said. “It appears that people who stated they were residents of Merced are actually residents of Florida, and that’s a problem,” he said. “We think it warrants the attention of law enforcement.”

These issues were raised by Denham’s supporters months ago — before Secretary of State Debra Bowen had certified more than 60,000 petition signatures calling for Denham’s recall, and before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had scheduled the recall election to coincide with the June 3 statewide primary — and were repeated at a news conference yesterday in Merced.

So the Denham defense campaign wants the public talking about election law violations, while the Dump Denham campaign wants people talking about Denham’s role in stonewalling the state budget last summer. But it’s very clear that Perata has pushed the recall in large part because replacing the Republican Denham with a Democrat would give Senate Democrats the two-thirds majority they need to override gubernatorial vetoes. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Denham’s district, so Perata saw him as the most vulnerable way to tip the balance.

I just left a message for Dump Denham spokesman Paul Hefner, and I’ll post his comments as soon as I get ’em.

The Sun-Star also reported this:

The Sacramento-based company that hired and paid the signature gatherers, Discovery Petition Management Company, did nothing wrong, its owner, Eileen Ray, insisted in an interview.

She said her employees don’t mislead voters. Ray acknowledged that her company used some nonlocal signature-gatherers for the job, for which Discovery was paid at least $246,000. But she argued that’s not illegal.

She cited a recent appellate court ruling that deemed some parts of the California Election Code unconstitutional, specifically codes that require signature-gatherers circulating citywide veto referendum petitions to be residents of the city in which they are circulating the petitions. “Our attorneys basically told us the ruling meant we don’t have to worry about using people from the area anymore,” Ray said.

(Denham spokesman Kevin) Spillane said that ruling doesn’t apply to state Senate recalls. “Our attorneys have looked at that, and if that’s their only defense, they could be in a lot of trouble.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.