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Orange County

Lopez Recall Effort Qualifies for Ballot


Backers of a recall campaign against Santa Ana school board member Nativo V. Lopez have enough petition signatures to force a special election early next year, the county registrar of voters confirmed Thursday.

The development marks another milestone in the political battle over the direction of the Santa Ana Unified School District, which has riveted the city in recent months.

Recall supporters accuse the second-term board member of promoting bilingual education in the heavily Latino, 62,000-student district in defiance of Proposition 227, the 1998 voter-approved ballot measure that severely curtailed bilingual instruction in California classrooms.

Lopez has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. He maintains that the recall is motivated by a handful of disgruntled parents and backed by interest groups, including north Santa Ana residents angry over the board's approval last year of a new elementary school near their homes.

According to the registrar of voters, officials counted 9,685 valid recall signatures during an examination of 14,161. Recall organizers needed 8,624 valid signatures of district voters to qualify for an election.

They submitted petitions bearing 14,826 signatures Sept. 12. But the count was halted once it was clear there were more than enough valid signatures, county election officials said. The registrar nullified 4,476 names of people who were not registered district voters.

If the recall goes to a ballot, it will mark the first such vote in Santa Ana in at least 20 years. A 1990 effort to recall two City Council members failed for lack of signatures.

Barring any court action, the school district must call an election for early next year.

Lopez vowed he and his supporters will halt the recall. "It is absolutely not over," he said. "And we are going to challenge the fraudulent nature in which they obtained the signatures."

During a school board meeting Tuesday, Lopez supporters demanded the district investigate allegations that recall supporters used professional signature gatherers in an unlawful way. Some weren't registered voters in the district, which Lopez and others say is illegal.

District officials said Thursday they forwarded the allegations to several state and local agencies.

Tim Whitacre, a campaign strategist for Families for Education First, the group that sponsored the recall, said the group did hire professional signature gatherers, which is legal.

Some of the signature gatherers were registered voters from other districts, Whitacre said, but they were legally supervised by Santa Ana registered voters.

"It is not a small task that we have accomplished," he said. The registrar's certification of the signatures, he added, "further validates we stood by the law. We went out and we did it despite the odds."

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