The LookOut news

City Withdraws Request to Remove Candidate from Ballot

By Elizabeth Schneider

Oct. 1 -- The City Clerk Tuesday informed school board candidate Oscar de la Torre that his name would remain on the November ballot, while the local Democratic Club president raised questions at the County level regarding his registration.

City Clerk Maria Stewart's letter to de la Torre states that the City is no longer challenging his candidacy because he submitted a photocopy of a Federal voter registration application dated July 16, 2002, the day before he pulled papers to run for office.

The form "tends to support your claim that you registered in Santa Monica before your nomination papers were issued," wrote Stewart. The registration form, however, did not show up in the files of the Los Angeles County Registrars Office, she noted.

The City Clerk also sent a letter to the County Registrars Office Tuesday withdrawing an earlier request to remove de la Torre's name from the ballot. The City had contended that copies of County registration records showed that de la Torre was registered in the City of Los Angeles when his nomination papers were issued.

In the letter to County election officials Stewart wrote: "This office cannot assess whether the documentation submitted (by de la Torre) establishes, as a matter of law, that Mr. de la Torre meets the requirement of Section 201," which state that "no person is eligible to be elected… unless that person is a registered voter and otherwise qualified to vote for that office at the time that nomination papers are issue"

"However," Stewart added, "the documentation does constitute some evidence that he registered or attempted to register prior to taking out his nomination papers."

On Monday City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said that the City had informed de la Torre and his attorney, Fred Woocher, that it would "not attempt to file a civil case to stop the ballot." She said that the original registration application had not been located, but that the City had been told that the form "is customarily sent to the state and the state has a backlog."

"It's not clear whose responsibility it is that he is not registered," Moutrie said. "We are not taking action, but we won't say that we agree" with Woocher's argument that the City Charter, which does not specify when a candidate must be registered in the district, renders the issue moot.

De la Torre said that he was registered by a "Rock the Vote" volunteer who approached him at the Pico Youth Center the day before he pulled papers.

"In good faith, I registered on time," said de la Torre, who is the executive director of the City-funded center.

In her letter to the County Registrar, Democratic Club president Julie Lopez Dad -- who filed a formal complaint with the City Clerk last week -- posed several questions regarding de la Torre's status as a registered voter in the City of Santa Monica:

"If my voter registration is checked when I sign a nominating petition, why is that of a candidate running for office not checked?

"Whose responsibility is it to make sure candidates are properly registered?

"Under what statute does County Counsel have the authority to override the State Elections Code?

"To date," Lopez wrote, "there has not been, to my knowledge, a determination as to his being registered (or not registered) in the district at the time he took out nomination papers."

According to City Clerk Maria Stewart, de la Torre registered on August 5, 2002 as an Independent in the City of Santa Monica. He then registered later that same month on the 26th as a Democrat.

De la Torre pulled papers to run for school board on July 17, nearly three weeks before registering in Santa Monica, and submitted his qualifying petitions on August 14, according to the city clerk's records.

De la Torre and his attorney are seeking an apology from the City and claim that the allegations into his registration status clouded his campaign.

"They can't take any further action, but the action they took at the beginning was false, and the damage has been done," de la Torre said. "We want them to admit that they made a mistake. They need to show some leadership and correct their mistakes. I want a letter from them where they take responsibility. It set the campaign back a whole week.

"They raked me through the coals," de la Torre said. "It caused people to doubt my integrity and also caused people to question my competence… It focuses on registration timelines instead of what I have contributed to this community. I want to focus on the issues."

Jorge Casuso contributed to this report.

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