Skepticism As ROV Uses Signature Validity To Disqualify Two Experienced Candidates Challenging Aguilar

The San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters this week finds itself with some unwanted scrutiny following its rejection of the candidacies of two experienced office seekers on unspecified technical grounds.
The status of the officeholder the two had sought to displace as an up-and-coming member of his party has raised questions as to whether the disqualifications were done legitimately or were elements of a calculated move to keep the congressman in question safely seated.
In 2022, John Mark Porter proved out to be the leading GOP standard bearer against incumbent Congressman Pete Aguilar, a Democrat. In the primary contest to see who would face off in the November 2022 race, Aguilar, who was formerly a Redlands councilman and mayor and was initially elected to Congress in 2014, polled 59.8 percent while Porter brought in 17.6 percent and two other Republicans, Rex Gutierrez and Ernest Richter, captured 15.4 and 7.1 percent, respectively. In the November 2022 head-tohead vote, Porter did quite well for a Republican running in a district in which the Democrats hold a commanding 45 percent to 25 percent voter registration advantage. In losing, he captured 42.3 percent to Aguilar’s 57.7 percent. Undaunted and perhaps even encouraged by his belief that he can hold onto the the Republican votes he captured and make even further inroads with the Democrat and independent votes he appealed to in the last go-round, he again jumped into this year’s race. This time, there was an indication that he might fare even better. Another Democrat, former San Bernardino City Councilman Benito Barrios, declared his candidacy in the 33rd Congressional District, as did another Republican, Tom Herman.
Amateur and professional political handicappers saw an opportunity for Porter and perhaps sensed even some of Aguilar’s blood in the water. Barrios, a former Marine, had a following among so-called Blue Dog, or conservative Democrats, a voting segment that Aguilar, as what some refer to as a liberal, has difficulty with. If the 2024 primary election were to dwell deeply on such political and philosophical differences, Aguilar would most likely survive the primary but see even more Democrat votes peel away from him than did in 2022. Presumably, those votes in the November 2024 general election could go to Porter, assuming he would survive into that round again, as he most likely would have.
The Democrats have of late put a lot of stock in Aguilar. In July 2021, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appointed eight House members, including Aguilar, to the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the July 6th [2021] Attack on the United States Capital. Also on the Committee were two high-ranking and high-profile Democrats, Adam Schiff and Jamie Raskin. Then-minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at first agreed to appoint five Republicans to the committee, but then withdrew them. Ultimately, Pelosi appointed two Republicans to the committee. On June 16, 2022, Aguilar and John Wood, an investigative counsel for the Select Committee, led the committee’s third televised hearing, focusing on Trump’s efforts to pressure Vice President Mike Pence in to decertifying the election. The witnesses he heard were Greg Jacob, Pence’s lawyer and J. Michael Luttig, a conservative former U.S. Appeals Court Judge. The televised hearings brough Aguilar into national prominence. He is considered, at least by some, to be an acolyte or protege of Schiff, who is now a leading contender to become a U.S. Senator from California. In this way, Aguilar is perceived among Democrats of a certain stripe to be one of California’s leading members of Congress, particularly in the aftermath of Kevin McCarthy’s recent deposure as Speaker of the Huse. He chairs the House Democratic Caucus and and is the highest-ranking Hispanic in Congress.
Nevertheless, his home turf yet remains something of a Republican basion, and with a growing number of Latino’s who are reacting against liberal and progressive causes, his continuing tenure in Congress is by no means assured.
Early this week, both Porter and Barrios were eagerly looking ahead to the upcoming primary race. Within hours of one another, the rug was pulled out from beneath their candidacies.
To qualify as a congressional candidate, one must pay a $1,700 filing fee and gather 40 signatures.
Porter earlier this year had paid the fee and turned in his candidacy nomination paper, which was endorsed with the signatures, or what he thought were the signatures, of 44 residents of the 33rd Congressional District. According to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters, however, only five of those signatures were valid.
Barrios too had paid the fee and turned in his nomination paper, which was signed by 60 voters. The San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters kicked the application back, claiming that only 24 of the signatures were valid.
Thus, the only candidates for Congress in the 33rd District in the March primary vote are Aguilar and a virtual political unknown, Tom Herman.
Suspicions were raided almost immediately. This is not the first political rodeo for Porter or Barrios. Barrios ran for city council in San Bernardino and qualified his candidacy then. More to the point, less than two years ago, Porter qualified his candidacy in the 33rd District.
Accusations are flying left and right. One suggestion is that the Registrar of Voters office, the employees of which are members of the pro-labor oriented and pro-Democrat Teamsters Union militated to cut Porter and Barios out of the race to ensure that Aguilar remains in Congress. Some people contended that the office had changed its protocol and standard for the verification of signatures on candidate nominating documents and was then applying those standards selectively to disqualify the candidacies of some candidates – as in the case of Porter and Barrios – while keeping the old rules intact to allow other candidates to remain on the ballot. Essentially, the charge is, the officer and its employees had revamped the standards on how a signature is verified and that this was done purposefully to lock certain people out, and that the new standard was not being applied consistently.
Accordingly, the Sentinel sought to hear from San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Stephenie Shea what the bases for the rejection of the Porter and Barrios candidacies were. The Sentinel submitted its questions through Registrar of Voters Office Communications Director Melissa Eickman.
The Sentinel asked the office how many would-be candidates had their candidacies rejected this year, how many in 2022, how many in 2020, how many in 2018, how many in 2016 and how many in 2014.
The Sentinel asked the registrar of voters office to identify the candidates being excluded from the ballot this year because of insufficient valid signatures.
The Sentinel asked if, by the office’s standards, there is a difference between an invalid signature and an unverified signature.
The Sentinel asked if the standards for verifying signatures were changed this year and, if so, how.
The Sentinel asked what the signature verification standard consists of.
The Sentinel asked if a voter makes a variation from past signatures – say perhaps by including a middle initial or middle name where previously no middle initial or middle name was included or vice versa – that nullified the signature permanently or whether the registrar of voters office would revisit the issue with the voter and check with him or her to make sure he or she did not in fact want to endorse the candidate in question.
By press time, the Sentinel had not received a response to the questions.
At issue is whether the signatures were discarded for not matching those on the registration documents or whether those signing were not actually registered voters or whether those who signed the documents did not live within the 33rd Congressional District.
With regard to the residency requirement, there is perhaps a superseding question. Members of Congress are not required to live within the districts they represent. Rather the residency requirement is for them to live within the border of the state delegation they represent. Thus, a candidate for Congress from California need only to demonstrate that he or she lives in California. That being the case, there seems to be no precedent on record wherein a would-be candidate whose candidacy was rejected contested the rejection by asserting that the signatures of those endorsing them were adequate as long as the signatories lived in California.
It is know that the Registrar of Voters also rejected the candidacy of incumbent San Bernardino Sixth Ward Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin because of signature insufficiency. In Calvin’s case, she has acknowledged that she was responsible for that inadequacy and said she is determinded to run for reelection as a write-in candidate.
-Mark Gutglueck

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