Candidates Call Registrar’s Ballot Statement Deletions Censorship

San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello has been assailed by several candidates in this year’s election who have charged his office with censoring their ballot statements.
Scarpello this week told the Sentinel that he and the elections officials working under him are uniformly administering and enforcing the state elections code and had invoked their authority to make changes only in those cases where candidates made characterizations of their opponents that are prohibited by election law.
Candidates in all of the races are permitted to place a statement of  250 words or less in the sample ballots that are mailed to all registered voters in advance of the election. The candidates must pay a fee that defrays the cost of printing to have that ballot statement included in the voting packets. In recent weeks, five of the candidates in the Congressional District 8 race, one candidate in each of the Assembly District 33, 36 and 41 races, two candidates in Congressional District 31, one candidate in Congressional District 39 and three candidates in the Supervisorial District 1 races have had some portion of their candidate statements struck.
While some of those candidates immediately accepted the registrar’s instructions that their statements be changed,  others have cried foul, saying their First Amendment rights were being violated or tampered with and they were being subjected to censorship.
Scarpello insisted that was not the case.
“I disagree with those candidates,” Scarpello said. “I think we are extraordinarily  liberal in our interpretation of the elections code. We let them talk about their platform and present that platform to the voters. We have just stopped them from making reference to the other candidates’ qualifications, character and activities. The law is rather clear and it can be summarized in two sentences. Elections Code Section 13308 says ‘A candidate statement shall be limited to a recitation of a candidate’s own background and qualifications. It shall not in any way make reference to other candidates for that office or to another candidate’s qualifications, character or activities.’”
In the heavily contested 8th Congressional District, where a bevy of Republican candidates along with two Democrats and an independent candidate who formerly billed himself as a conservative Republican are vying, the registrar found fault with five ballot statements, including those of  Anthony Adams, Paul Cook, Greg Imus, Phil Liberatore and Angela Valles.
Adams was the former conservative Republican who is now seeking to reinvent himself as a non-partisan politician. In the ballot statement he submitted language that contained the following sentence, “Democratic and Republican extremists have gridlocked America by putting party ahead of country.” The registrar has moved to eliminate that entire sentence from Adams’ ballot statement. Adams has objected, contending that it does not make an attack on any one of his opponents specifically. He called the emendation an overstepping of the registrar’s authority and vowed to challenge it.
Greg Imus, another candidate in the 8th Congressional District race who represents himself as a conservative Republican,  indicated he would likely challenge the registrar’s insistence that a 9-word portion of one of his sentences –  “currently career politicians have steered this nation off course” – be scrapped.
Scarpello defended those changes by saying that the offending wording not only drifted from listing just the candidate-in-question’s qualifications but also made critical statements that could be construed as attacks on opponents. He noted that his office was allowing statements that illustrated each candidate’s approach to the issues. “All we are saying, basically, is the candidate is prohibited from attacking the character or activities of other candidates. They can’t do that. They can’t talk about their opponent’s qualifications and background. If I were being unreasonable, I could have been much more conservative and struck much more from many of those statements. We want people to be able to get their platform out. There could be another candidate who would say you should not be allowing them to say what they are saying. We are  walking a fine line. Inevitably you are going to make someone in some instances not happy. But I am not free to act any differently. Further down in Elections Code Section 13308, it states, ‘The elections official shall not cause to be printed or circulated any statement that the elections official determines is not so limited or that includes any reference prohibited by this section.’”

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