I wasn’t planning on doing a part 3 but Vernon is the gift that keeps on giving. The highly anticipated Vernon City Council elections were held yesterday. A canvassing board was scheduled to count the ballots at 8 PM but didn’t get around to counting them until 10:30 PM. Why? Because, as the LA Times reports, “the first competitive election in Vernon in years was thrown into chaos late Tuesday amid accusations of voter fraud before officials could begin counting the ballots.” Seriously, Vernon? Voter fraud? In a city with only 112 residents and 74 registered voters? In an election where only 53 ballots were cast? In the first election since a corruption scandal almost lost you your cityhood? Voter fraud?
Some eyebrows were raised when Vernon’s voter registration skyrocketed a staggering 20% from 62 last year to 74 this year… The LA County DA launched an investigation into Vernon’s voter registration after Vernon officials notified the DA that 9 people were registered in one house. But the drama last night was sparked by the Vernon Chamber of Commerce who had backed Michael Ybarra in the race. The Chamber presented evidence that some of the people who had voted on Tuesday were not Vernon residents. As a result, 10 ballots were disqualified. The actual count, which lasted less than 5 minutes, revealed Ybarra as the victor. Of the 43 ballots that were counted, Daniel Newmire received 19 votes and Ybarra received 24. That’s right. As a result of the Chamber of Commerce’s investigation, 10 ballots were tossed and Michael Ybarra, who the Chamber of Commerce had endorsed, won the election by 5 votes.
When I found out about this new development I thought, “Well there goes my argument about there being no competition in the Vernon elections and, by extension, my larger argument about political elites working together to protect themselves and business interests.” After a little reflection and investigation, however, I think my original argument still holds. Ybarra and Newmire are surly parts of the Vernon establishment. Both have strong ties to the business world, both opposed the proposed disincorporation last year, and both are against a proposed parcel tax which seems to be the biggest issue in Vernon right now. When it comes to the big stuff, they’re aligned. What I probably underestimated in my first post about Vernon was the degree to which greed and factionalism can motivate people to fight for that extra inch.
As I said before, Vernon is a city of insiders. I’m definitely not one of them. I don’t know nearly enough about the inner workings of Vernon city politics to break this all down. But what is clear is that something shady is going on in Vernon. Either some non-residents registered as Vernon residents, an investigation has made it seem like some Vernon residents are actually non-residents, or a little bit of both.
I don’t know enough about Ybarra to know why he was backed by the Chamber of Commerce. I could speculate that they hope that he will institute/continue the types of business-friendly policies that his father did for 40-plus years and maybe they think those would be incrementally better than Newmire’s policies. The Chamber seems to believe in Ybarra enough to endorse him and launch a voter fraud investigation in his support. But I don’t know why. If votes were unfairly disqualified, I don’t know why the Chamber would so ardently support Ybarra over Newmire that they might risk disenfranchising Vernon residents. At the same time, I don’t know why Newmire’s supporters would be so gung-ho that they might register to vote in Vernon when they don’t even live there.
I don’t know what they hell is going on in Vernon and I guess that is really the point of this post. Democratic politics are supposed to be conducted out in the open. Candidates are supposed to lay out their beliefs and stances in straight forward, succinct, and accessible formats. Voters are supposed to make informed decisions based on a healthy, public discourse. But as we know all too well, and as Vernon shows us once again, that’s not how politics work. Two candidates with nearly identical public platforms can wage intense, dirty battles behind closed doors to push private agendas. And most of the time, we the people don’t know anything about it.