State Watch

Sanders-backed candidate alleges improper voting in Democratic Party election

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A Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)-backed candidate running to head the California Democratic Party says she was cheated out of the job, alleging hundreds of improperly cast ballots helped her establishment-backed rival beat her last month.

Kimberly Ellis, a Bay-area Democratic activist who enjoyed support from Sanders and many of his allies, said her campaign has evidence that some delegates to the state convention voted twice, and that other ballots are missing.

The discrepancies she publicized late Monday call into question the results of the election for state Democratic Party chairman, a race won by Los Angeles-area activist Eric Bauman. Bauman beat Ellis by just 62 votes, out of about 3,300 delegates who attended the convention last month in Sacramento. 

{mosads}“Based on the information contained here, the actual vote count is in question,” Ellis’s team wrote in a six-page memo. “It is believed the wrong individual is serving as Chair.”

In a statement Monday, Bauman said the continued controversy was hurting the Democratic Party.

“I am well aware that 49% of the delegates to the Convention voted for Kimberly Ellis and that if we are to keep California the big blue beacon of hope and the beating heart of the resistance, those who have felt shut out of the process must have a true seat at the table,” Bauman wrote. “But I also know that doing so does not require burning down every institution and trashing those activists and volunteers who have given their blood, sweat and tears over the years to make the California Democratic Party the most successful Democratic Party anywhere in America.”

Bauman did not specifically ask Ellis to drop her challenge.

Bauman entered the race with the support of the vast majority of state Democratic legislators, who carry multiple votes at the state convention. He also had backing from most Democratic members of Congress and most major unions that play significant roles in the state.

But Ellis emerged as a dark horse, spurred on by grassroots support from Sanders backers who dominated Assembly district caucuses earlier this year. Our Revolution, the outgrowth of Sanders’s presidential campaign, helped whip votes on Ellis’s behalf. Those delegates make up about a third of the total voters eligible to cast ballots at the convention.

Ellis tried to cast Bauman as an establishment insider while selling herself as the upstart outsider bent on shaking up a moribund party. In truth, both candidates hewed to a platform that closely resembled Sanders’s own, supporting a $15 minimum wage and a single-payer healthcare system.

Before the vote, both candidates claimed enough votes to win on the convention floor.

In the memo, Ellis’s team said it met with John Burton, the outgoing state party chairman, the day after the vote took place. Burton congratulated Ellis on running a strong campaign, but Ellis said she would not concede. She told Burton she had heard enough reports of “irregularities and inappropriate behaviors” that she did not have confidence in the result.

The Ellis campaign raised concerns that voters at the state convention were not required to show identification when they received their credentials, which would allow them to cast a ballot. They also complained that records of whether some delegates paid the appropriate convention fees were missing.

They further suggested there remains a “storm of suspicion” around the 2016 Democratic primary in California, where Hillary Clinton beat Sanders by about 350,000 votes. Both Ellis and Bauman backed Clinton in the primary.

Bauman backers are increasingly irate that Ellis hasn’t dropped her challenge. Bob Mulholland, a DNC member and Bauman supporter, called Ellis’s questions over voters showing identification “outrageous.”

President “Trump must be laughing that Kimberly Ellis is joining him, demanding that all voters (especially African-Americans and Latinos) be denied the right to vote unless they have” an identification, Mulholland wrote in an email.

The dispute between California Democrats and Ellis comes at a moment when Sanders supporters are battling for control of state Democratic Party organizations around the country. Sanders, a Vermont independent senator who has not formally become a member of the Democratic Party, supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) in his bid to head the Democratic National Committee earlier this year, a race Ellison lost to former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Even as President Trump swept to the White House in 2016, California Democrats notched big wins across the state. Democrats control every executive office at the state level, and they hold supermajorities in both the state Senate and the state Assembly.

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