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SAG Members Alleging Discrepancies on Ballot

November 20, 2001|MEG JAMES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hours before newly elected Screen Actors Guild board members were sworn into office Monday night, about 30 rank-and-file actors protested outside their headquarters to demand a new election because of allegations of ballot discrepancies.

Melissa Gilbert, best known for portraying Laura Ingalls on the 1970s television series "Little House on the Prairie," won the election for SAG president with 45.3% of the vote, beating Valerie Harper, who had 39.4%.

The 68-year-old guild has been split for more than two years between a camp of hard-liners, who pushed for last year's strike by commercial actors, and moderates such as Gilbert.

But SAG has received more than a dozen challenges to the election that ended Nov. 2, guild officials said Monday. SAG's Elections Committee, which is made up of board members who were not on the most recent ballot, will meet beginning Wednesday to review the election challenges.

Consultants who handled SAG's national election failed to include a line for required signatures on more than 24,000 ballots sent to SAG members in New York. However, the more than 70,000 ballots mailed to West Coast members contained a signature line to verify the authenticity of a ballot.

SAG members protesting on Monday were mostly Harper supporters.

"We do not want a recount. We want another election," said rally organizer Klein Al'n, who assisted on the campaigns of Harper and her supporters. "How the board resolves this [issue] will set the foundation for how we move forward as a union."

More than 98,500 ballots were mailed and 27,730 ballots, or 28% turnout, were returned by the deadline.

But SAG officials said the lack of a signature line did not change the outcome of the election because a coding on the address label--not an actor's signature--was used to certify that an eligible member cast the ballot.

The protesters also complained that SAG's New York members had two more days to return ballots than the L.A. members did. The cut-off day in Los Angeles was Oct. 31 but Nov. 2 in New York.

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