“Defendant” means that person whose election or nomination is contested or those persons receiving an equal and highest number of votes, other than the contestant, where, in other than primary elections, the body canvassing the returns declares that no one person has received the highest number of votes for the contested office. — California Elections Code, Section 16002
And with that, Doreen Farr was on the hook.
Farr won the 3rd District Supervisor seat in the November 4, 2008, election. Strongly endorsed by liberal groups, she canvassed hard, raised $639,472, and won by a respectable 806 votes out of more that 35,000. Since then, no one has ever alleged that Farr stuffed the ballot box, manipulated votes, cheated, lied, or personally did anything else wrong during the election or her candidacy. Nevertheless, since then, she has been on the hook, spending roughly $550,000 to defend the validity of that election. That’s how the law is written when there is a disputed election … Some law, some hook.
Losing Is Tough
Her opponent Steve Pappas — an independent from the Santa Ynez Valley — also ran a well-financed (raising $581,963), strong campaign, canvassing vigorously in Isla Vista and UCSB. The student paper, the Daily Nexus, endorsed him in the June primary and again in November. But he lost badly to Farr in all 18 Isla Vista and UCSB precincts. “He felt he should’ve had more votes and didn’t,” Farr said recently.
Almost immediately, Pappas focused on what seemed to him quite peculiar: In four precincts in I.V. and UCSB, the voter turnout appeared to be more than 100 percent — one exceeded 130 percent. To an untrained eye, this would look funny.
There was an easy explanation, according to county elections chief Joe Holland, whose county hats include Clerk, Recorder, Assessor, and Registrar of Voters. As he explained many times, including in this paper, the Isla Vista and UCSB population is filled with transient students who move from year to year within the community. When they go to vote, they occasionally show up at the wrong polling places. When they do, they fill out a provisional ballot, which becomes part of the Election Day “turnout.” These ballots aren’t actually counted as votes until later, after election officials can ensure a person is properly registered, not voting twice, and that everything is aboveboard. Taking a step back, the numbers appear to balance out: Election turnout in those 18 Isla Vista and UCSB precincts was 89.9 percent, while district-wide the turnout was just a bit lower, at 88.7 percent. “It’s like old news that you have to explain over and over again,” Billie Alvarez, deputy director of elections for the county, said recently.
This explanation, however, wasn’t good enough for Pappas. Either he didn’t like the answer given to him, or it didn’t matter. With his lawyer, he sat down and shuffled through voter cards and registration records, all provided to him by the Registrar of Voters office. Not satisfied, he demanded a recount, a request immediately granted by Holland, who was eager to show the process was transparent and fair. In the end, Pappas gained one vote. Farr remained the winner.
But Pappas was still not satisfied.
By Paul Wellman (file)
SOUR GRAPES: Steve Pappas has lost at every legal level but continues to throw forth claims of fraud in the 2008 election.
A District Divided
The 3rd District of the County of Santa Barbara is the connecting piece between north and south counties, spanning the Santa Ynez Valley, Gaviota, parts of Goleta, and all of Isla Vista. No other district has a more diverse number of viewpoints: College students and faculty, Hispanic working families, wealthy retirees, bean farmers, and cattle ranchers all compete to have their voices heard. Most dramatically, in the last five decades, Isla Vista, which has been in the district for 127 years, has changed from an agricultural hamlet to one of the most densely populated parts of the county.
Though technically a nonpartisan seat, the 3rd District has become a hotbed for election controversy — most famously the 1992 election between Goletan Bill Wallace and Los Olivos rancher Willy Chamberlin, the outcome of which was finally decided by 14 votes. Most of the contested votes, as always, were in I.V. precincts.
Former assemblymember and Farr’s predecessor Brooks Firestone, who ran several successful district-wide campaigns, never fared well in Isla Vista. In 2004, he won more than 50 percent of the vote against three other candidates — one of whom was Pappas — but failed miserably in Isla Vista and UCSB precincts. “I never really challenged the details,” Firestone said. “Steve Pappas is, and I find it very interesting.”
But 2008 was a unique election year. In a presidential election considered one of the most important in decades, Barack Obama inspired an enthusiastic grassroots movement which resulted in many voter-registration drives run by a variety of organizations. Nationwide, 132 million people turned out to vote on November 4 — close to nine million more than 2004’s turnout. The only age group to show a statistically significant increase was the 18- to-24-year-old demographic. A national campus drive by Myspace and several nonpartisan voter-registration groups promised a free Death Cab for Cutie concert on the campus of the school that registered the most students to vote. UCSB won that contest.
But it was precisely those registrations that led Pappas to become suspicious. With so many third-party organizations registering voters, he believed there was widespread illegal registration of voters, illegal voting, and mistakes by election officials. He claims new voter lists got into the wrong hands and have been used illegally. He was contesting thousands of votes within the 18 districts that, if thrown out, would’ve made him the winner. Oddly, in more recent court documents, Pappas has admitted he cannot name one person he contends was fraudulently registered to vote in 2008 by the individuals he claims are guilty of wrongdoing.
The big issue here, as with most things in life it seems, is the money. Just to run their original election campaigns, Farr and Pappas spent more than in any other 3rd District contest. Then to get the recount, Pappas’s supporters had to pony up more than $10,000 to pay the county. The county does not pay a dime for the recount — or, it turns out, for any lawsuit contesting an election. Thus, when Pappas filed suit on New Year’s Eve 2008, charging misconduct by third-party signature gatherers, the law says it is the winner in an election who becomes the defendant — that means Doreen Farr, who made a modest living prior to becoming a supervisor and makes a modest one now as a supervisor. The county, which is charged with seeing that there is no election fraud, is, nevertheless, let off the hook. As a result, Farr has had to raise an additional $552,510 to defend the election she won. Pappas, whose legal fees are similarly grandiose, has not had that difficulty — he has the unflagging support of one wealthy, influential woman, Nancy Crawford-Hall. What this case has pointed out is that, under the law, for whatever reason, it is possible for a richly backed loser to force, through endless legal actions, a less well-financed winner to raise vast amounts of defense money — whether he or she is accused of anything or not.
That sure looks like a peculiar law.
By Paul Wellman (file)
SO HAPPY TOGETHER: Steve Pappas and Doreen Farr had a congenial relationship during the campaign, but he has never conceded the contest to her.
Crawford-Hall has become quite a colorful character in the Santa Ynez Valley since inheriting her family’s large, historic ranch a decade or so ago. The San Lucas Ranch, one of the largest in the county, has been in the Crawford family for four generations. Unlike her predecessors, Crawford-Hall has used her position in the county to actively further a number of causes, including the candidacy of Pappas.
Crawford-Hall, who did not return the repeated calls and emails of this reporter, believes her newspaper acts as a balance to the rest of the liberal media — notwithstanding Wendy McCaw’s News-Press. Reportedly ruling the paper with an iron hand, Crawford-Hall has gone through five editors in five years. She gave the staff a hard time for putting Farr on the cover after Farr won the election, and her column — which isn’t allowed to be touched by editors — often hints at blowing the lid off the shenanigans of the 3rd District race. (“Stay tuned for the answer,” “Storm Clouds Gathering,” “Stay tuned. It’s going to get exciting. Get ready!” are just some examples). “We see a lot of allegations but never any evidence or facts,” said county elections officer Alvarez.
Pappas called Crawford-Hall a “true, pure American” who loves to make wrongs right. “She gives and gives and gives and gives for the public and doesn’t ask for anything,” he said. She certainly gave and gave to Pappas, having contributed $400,500 to his campaign since the beginning of 2008. This includes $278,000 since the actual election, which has been a significant factor in his legal battles.