Official: Alameda District Attorney Recall Election Could Cost Residents Upwards of $20 Million

By The Vanguard Staff

OAKLAND, CA – A new recall process to be used in a proposed special election to unseat Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price could cost residents $20 million, the county registrar of voters said this week, according to a story in Oakland-Observer.

The OO said, “An Alameda County [ALCO] ballot measure that would sync Alameda County’s recall process with state law passed a final vote of the ALCO Board of Supervisors last Tuesday. The ballot measure heads to the March 5 ballot after a long, winding road at BOS. But in keeping with what has now become a regular series of difficult discussions at BOS, supervisors grappled with the compound problems that continue to dog the County’s current recall process.”

The OO wrote James Sutton, an election lawyer representing Price, questioned county Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis in a letter as the official “creates a viable recall from a patchwork of constitutionally-valid local and state law,” saying the campaign had “concerns.”

“Sutton argues in the letter that Dupuis went too far in waiving the County’s current rule that requires signature gatherers to be registered ALCO voters. The Supreme Court opinion on the constitutionality of signature gatherer-status focused on legislative ballot measures, not recalls, and thus, the letter argues, recalls would be a separate area of judicial review. Sutton says Dupuis is applying a legal standard without case-specific merit,” wrote the OO.

“Initiative and referendum are concerned solely with legislative issues, not elected officials or candidates for public office, so these different types of campaigns raise very different legal and policy issues. Despite County Counsel’s advice and despite this Supreme Court case, it is not certain that a court would invalidate a registration requirement for individuals who are circulating recall petitions,” said Sutton.

Sutton added even if recall signature gathering were included in the judicial decision, the county charter still requires specific review, because “the California constitution only allows an entity to ignore a law if it’s instructed to do so by a court.

“Regardless of the Supreme Court case and whether or not it applies to Charter section 62, the County does not have the authority to ignore this law unless instructed to do so by a court. The California Constitution is clear that local agencies, including the Alameda County Registrar of Voters’ office, must follow all laws unless and until the law has been invalidated by an appellate court,” added Sutton.

Sutton’s letter notes, said the OO, Price previously noted the issue with the ROV before the ROV presented its process waiving the voter registration requirement. The letter suggests Price may sue over the issue:

“In sum, because the County must follow County law until instructed by an appellate court to do otherwise, the Registrar’s office must reject any and all recall petitions which were circulated by anyone other than County voters, regardless of the proposed amendment to section 62. If the Registrar’s office does otherwise, District Attorney Price may be compelled to pursue all legal options to enforce this County law,” Sutton wrote.

The OO suggested “Even if the recall ballot measure passes in March, it will not affect the preliminary process, signature collection or validation for the Price recall effort, and likely will only affect the scheduling of an election should SAFE, the Price recall committee founded by Brenda Grisham, Philip Dreyfuss and Carl Chan, collect enough signatures to trigger a recall. But the potential for lawsuits focused solely on the charter processes followed or ignored by the ROV in the process of signature gathering and validation remains a big concern for the BOS and County.”

OO added, “Some members of SAFE who spoke at the meeting appeared concerned about the potential of having signatures invalidated. SAFE has spent thousands on third-party signature gathering firms, but anecdotal evidence suggest many workers may not be ALCO residents or registered voters.” 

SAFE’s co-founder and current Assistant Treasurer Chan asked the board to fast-track a judicial review of the charter’s dictates on signature gatherers, stating, “hopefully the BOS can place an item on the next agenda to seek judicial review of the Charter section 62 to clarify that the state law overrules the current charter for signature gathering.”

Officials believe ROV will most likely fail to meet the short 10-day window to validate signatures under the current charter rules, and that could also result in lawsuits.  

Dupuis, said OO, “revealed that should successful signature gathering result in an independent election on a date other than an already scheduled election—a very likely outcome given the few options in either state or county timeline—the election will cost taxpayers $15 to 20 MM in the staff, printing and mailing of ballots and other expenses which are currently not budgeted.”

“If it is an independent election, our posted rates for an election such as that, could be anywhere from $15 to $20 MM dollars for a county election…that is really when the expenses kick in…certainly efforts that we haven’t planned in our budget,” Dupuis informed the county supervisors.

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