Fresh from grueling testimony in the Pappas v. Farr trial, County Registrar of Voters Joe Holland on April 10 spoke to the Santa Barbara Republican Club about election fraud-or the lack of it-in the recent supervisorial election. Even though the county supervisors’ seats are nonpartisan, the club expressed concern that Steve Pappas, a registered Republican, rather than Doreen Farr, a registered Democrat, may have been the rightfully elected 3rd District supervisor. Republican doubts lingered despite the court’s rejection of Pappas’s allegation that there was unlawful voting in the UCSB-student-dominated community of Isla Vista, and that it tipped the election toward Farr.
“Joe is our favorite Democrat,” said Barbara Hurd, vice president of the Republican Club. Part of his appeal certainly comes from the fact that Holland, while personally affiliated with the Democrats, does not make party endorsements, and has made a convincing case that he performs the job he was elected to do-overseeing the voting process-in a nonpartisan manner.
“You’re really interested in voting stuff,” commented Holland to the crowd. Carpinteria local Emily Wullbrandt answered, “We’re trying to find out how you de-throned somebody!”
The crowd ribbed Holland for belonging to the “wrong” party, but their respect for and comfort with the registrar was evident. Holland, welcomed as an old friend, opened with jokes about his myriad responsibilities. “Remember,” he said, “I’m also the civil marriage commissioner. So, if any of you want to get married, see me after.” One woman asked with wry mock-combativeness: “You really mean everyone?” an apparent reference to the gay marriage issue that divides Democrats and Republicans, at least at the national level.
Holland addressed fears that some people may have been able to vote multiple times during the 2008 election in Santa Barbara County. Every vote, said Holland, has to be tied to an identity before it can be counted. It is therefore impossible for a vote to count more than once, regardless of the circumstance.
Another concern Pappas raised was the fact that some areas of Goleta listed a greater than 100 percent voter turnout. This was caused, Holland said, by the fact that one I.V. precinct has thousands of voters, and an adjacent precinct has only 400. Voters in I.V., it seems, found the shorter lines in their neighboring precinct and voted provisionally to avoid the wait at their own polling place.
Fraud, says Holland, is “incredibly serious” and is investigated diligently by the U.S. government. He told the story of a boy who wasn’t yet 18 and tried to register to vote. “Not only did we not accept his ballot,” said Holland, “we forwarded his name to the Sheriff’s Department.”
He also told the story of a local bar that offered a free drink to anyone who produced a voter stub. The registrar put a stop to this the day the offer began, worried that it could evolve into influencing who people voted for. The FBI showed up the very next day to interview the registrar and the proprietors of the bar.
Holland reassured the Republican Club that fraud had not occurred, saying that the crack team Pappas assembled to find evidence of misconduct “found zero, zilch, nothing.” Holland smiled then, and added that even apart from misconduct, no errors were discovered in the registration process. “I’m pretty damn proud of that.” The crowd made numerous gracious offers to re-register Holland as a Republican.
The Republican Club’s upcoming speakers calendar includes newly elected California State Senator Tony Strickland, as well as a seminar designed to aid and instruct Republicans interested in becoming political candidates. “GOP,” said one man, “actually means Get Off the Pot!”
“Look at your friends and neighbors,” said Hurd in closing, “and ask, ‘Wouldn’t you like to run for office?’”
Before lunch was served, attendees recited the Pledge of Allegiance. As staff and organizers scrambled to find a suitable flag, a man in his seventies picked the miniature flag off his table and held it high above his head before the crowd. A prayer was also given before lunch, ending with: “God bless President Obama.”