CLAREMONT — "It seemed more like Chicago than Claremont out there," Mayor Judy Wright said of Tuesday's tumultuous election in which voters overwhelmingly rejected plans for a proposed apartment complex.
"But I'm pleased to say that the democratic process is alive and well in Claremont," she said.
Wright's comments came at a jubilant celebration Tuesday night, after a confusing election day that was clouded by charges of fraud ended in victory for opponents of Measure A.
By the time polls closed at 8 p.m., 37 absentee ballots had been rejected because signatures on them did not match those on voter registration records, City Clerk Barbara Hallamore Royalty said.
The turmoil began last week when city officials began receiving calls from perplexed voters who said they had been mailed absentee ballots without requesting them.
Six signed affidavits from voters alleging that their signatures had been forged on absentee ballot applications were sent to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office last week, according to Royalty.
Robert Jorgensen, assistant chief of the district attorney's special investigation division, said that his unit is looking into the matter but would not say whether the results of the investigation would affect the election's outcome.
On election day, as many as 100 voters were told at polling places that election records showed they had requested absentee ballots. Before they were permitted to vote, baffled voters had to sign statements swearing they had not asked for an absentee ballot.
In all, 46 voters have signed affidavits saying their signatures had been forged on applications for absentee ballots. One absentee ballot had been requested for a woman dead since 1982, Royalty said.
The confusion surrounding the absentee ballots was of particular concern to city officials opposed to the project because the votes were considered crucial to the outcome of a summertime election.
About 4,700 absentee ballots had been mailed out, Royalty said, 3,951 of them from applications hand-delivered to her by the developer, Claremont Park Limited Partnership. An average of 400 absentee ballots are requested for most elections, she said.
Results of the 2,012 absentee ballots received were the first returns announced at City Hall Tuesday night. When they showed the measure being defeated 1,287 to 725, excited City Council members kissed and hugged each other, exclaiming, "We've got 'em now!"
Unofficial results of the city's first initiative election, which was to determine whether a vacant 20-acre lot should be rezoned to permit construction of a 340-unit apartment complex in Claremont's northeastern corner, showed that the measure had been soundly defeated.
With all of the city's 19 precincts reporting, the zoning change lost, 6,514 (85%) to 1,171 (15%).
The proposal had been rejected last fall by both the Claremont Planning Commission and the City Council, but was placed on the ballot after the developer earlier this year collected more than 6,000 signatures, far more than the required 15% of the city's approximately 19,000 registered voters
Since then, this college town of 35,000 had been embroiled in a vociferous debate over Measure A, intensified by charges that the developer was trying to "buy the election" by outspending opponents $123,187 to $1,975.
In letters to local newspapers, several residents complained that door-to-door canvassers paid by the developer misrepresented the issue in visits to their homes.
None of the partners in the firm could be reached for comment Wednesday.
However, Terry Fitzgerald, a former councilwoman and a consultant for the developer, said before the election that any misrepresentations were unintentional and that several canvassers had been fired because of citizens' complaints.
City Councilwoman Diann Ring said that she thought the large sums of money spent and the aggressive absentee ballot drive turned off many voters who did not like such a "high pressure" approach to campaigning.
"I think they beat themselves," Ring said. "Nobody likes that kind of pressure. And nobody fell for it."