On Tuesday, April 26, 59 members of the El Cerrito Democratic Club voted decisively (37 to 19 to 3) to endorse Nancy Skinner for Senate District 9, giving her 62% of the votes cast over Sandre Swanson and Katherine Welch, respectively. At the same time, Gabriel Quinto received 64% of the vote for Contra Costa County Democratic Central Committee (CCCDCC). Both Skinner and Quinto, receiving votes over a required 60% threshold, have the Club’s endorsement.
Two days after the April meeting, a club member who had not received the Club’s endorsement for his candidacy for election to the CCCDCC asked to inspect the ballots; he and a friend challenged the endorsement process, presenting evidence that in addition to the 59 ballots cast and tallied, a 60th ballot of uncertain origin had been included in the final tally.
Naturally, this was of grave concern, even though the margin of victory for both Nancy Skinner and Gabriel Quinto was large enough that the outcome would not change because of a single vote. “The integrity of our endorsement process was challenged.” said Greg Lyman, ECDC Treasurer. “Our endorsement is the most valuable contribution our club makes to the West County; we can not put it at risk.”
Although Club President Hilary Crosby believed the results of the voting were decisive enough to move forward without re-examining the ballots, she arranged for an independent agent to review all the materials and verify the results of the endorsement vote. Crosby said, “I am grateful to Joan Carpenter, and Mary Nicely; they both used their personal time to help us secure an accessible venue, inspected and recounted the ballots, and confirmed the results. I knew our process had been exemplary, especially for an all volunteer organization, but I realized that we needed help from our members and our larger community to confirm that our process was fair.”
The two endorsement proceedings reviewed involved 11 candidates; three candidates for the Senate District 9 office currently held by Sen. Loni Hancock, and 8 candidates for 5 seats on the CCCDCC. The single disputed ballot did not reduce Skinner’s percentage of the votes enough to change the endorsement; the challenger added a second complaint on Saturday – that the ballots didn’t include a line for “no endorsement”, a choice allowed in the standing rules. The independent election reviewer deemed this secondary complaint irrelevant. All the ballots distributed had been returned by the members, and that oversight had been addressed immediately prior to the voting with an announcement informing members to write that choice if they wished.
The Club revamped its endorsement rules in late 2015, but there were no policies, procedures or rules in place to respond to a challenge after the voting had taken place. This incident revealed where improvements are still needed; additions and modifications to the standing rules for endorsement will be presented at the May meeting.
“I have seen votes contested on site,” Carla Hansen, Immediate Past President said. “I’m glad that our process was consistent and careful enough to be sustained even days later.
“We were willing to act quickly and resolutely to demonstrate that our process could withstand intense scrutiny. ” asserted President Crosby “When all the votes are counted, we believe in working together to elect strong, progressive candidates, and hold them accountable to our platform is the best way to create positive change. That’s our mission, and we’re sticking to it.”
The ECDC has always been a voice for progressive Democrats, opposing the war in Vietnam when President Johnson was in office, and more recently supporting single payer health care and opposing the death penalty before the Democratic National Committee or the California Democratic Party. During those decades, the ECDC has held regular monthly meetings with presenters on a wide range of topics, published a monthly newsletter, hosted an annual dinner, and voted to endorse candidates and ballot measures. Their stated reason for being is a responsibility to the Democrats of West Contra Costa County.
“As a Democrat, I have come to rely on the ECDC to provide interesting content and well researched endorsements,” said Peter Chau. “I am happy with the final outcome of the endorsement election, which did not change as a result of the recount. Tuesday’s main program presentation was inspiring and offered important ideas about electoral organizing.”