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Lack Evidence of Bell Gardens Voter Fraud, Attorney Says

May 22, 1994|MARY HELEN BERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Four candidates who alleged voter fraud after they lost the race for two Bell Gardens City Council seats last month do not have enough evidence to legally challenge the balloting, their attorney said.

Attorney Peter Wallin said his clients have been unable to gather enough testimony to prove that newly elected council members Maria S. Chacon and Ramiro Morales won their seats through illegally cast votes.

Wallin is representing former incumbents Rosa Hernandez and Josie Macias and challengers Hugo Escalera and Maria Victoria Martinez.

"If I can't prove that people were (illegally) picking up the ballots, I can't invalidate the election on those grounds," Wallin said.

But Wallin said his clients may still challenge the election based on candidate misconduct, a charge that is considered easier to substantiate than voter fraud.

The four had alleged that the Chacon and Morales campaigns falsified absentee ballots, registered non-citizens and encouraged them to vote absentee, and bribed or bullied voters into supporting them.

But to challenge the election, the four needed to demonstrate that at least 550 votes were cast improperly, Wallin said.

Chacon and Morales have consistently denied the charges of voter fraud.

Veronica Soto, Escalera's campaign manager, said she has documented at least 100 voters who have complaints, but few will publicly testify.

"Almost every single person we talked to said there was some form of fraud involved, that the voting process was interfered with," Soto said.

Most voters are afraid to come forward with their complaints, the candidates said.

"We went door-to-door to ask people to come forward, and they said, 'Somebody told us you were coming and that we shouldn't say anything because we'll get in trouble,' " Hernandez said.

"A lot of people don't understand the magnitude of what's going on here."

Fraud has been alleged in the city's last three council elections. Hernandez said that after one race she submitted more than 40 statements to the district attorney from voters who claimed they were victims of illegal tactics but that the complaints were not taken seriously.

This time, the district attorney's office is investigating allegations, she said. The district attorney's office has refused to comment on the case.

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