The San Luis Obispo Chapter of American Civil Liberties Union’s chair made an interesting appearance in the District 4 Supervisor race.

Representing District 4 Supervisor Lynn Compton, local attorneys Stew Jenkins and Charles H. Bell issued a letter to SLO County-Clerk Recorder Tommy Gong, demanding that his office stop counting votes they feel are invalid.

The District 4 election results are neck-and-neck. It is a virtual tie and votes continue to be counted. Last week, challenger Jimmy Paulding was behind incumbent Compton by 31 votes. Earlier this week, the Clerk Recorder’s office updated the result to show Compton increased her lead by 81 votes. The issue is 31 vote-by-mail ballots with signatures that election workers say don’t match the voter signatures they have on file.

Jenkins and Bell believe those ballots shouldn’t be counted because, they claim, the Clerk Recorder’s office is unlawfully extending the election voting period in a discriminatory manner to Paulding’s benefit. They offered no evidence to show discrimination or bias by the County-Clerk Recorder.

Both cited part of the California Elections Code, which clearly states election officials should not count a ballot if they determine a mismatch in signatures. There’s just one problem: the code they cited pertains to the validation process and timing for unsigned ballots (with the mismatch of signatures between an unsigned ballot statement and the voter’s signature on record), not signed ballots, which is the issue here. Gong correctly stated the law, and informed Bell and Jenkins of that key difference.

The letter revealed Jenkins, a registered Democrat, is a representative for Compton. I find that interesting because we often don’t hear about the chairs of ACLU chapters representing political candidates, especially when the chair advocates a position antithetical to ACLU’s core values.

Last August, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state of California to prevent election officials from disqualifying absentee ballots because of a signature mismatch. Prior to the lawsuit filing, voters disenfranchised by the signature mismatch provision had no way of knowing their ballots were nullified; they were given no opportunity to “cure” that issue. In March, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled in ACLU’s favor, stating the mismatch provision in the law violated due process under federal and state constitutions (La Follette v. Padilla).

Oddly enough, Jenkins and Bell specifically mention that landmark case only to preemptively disqualify it as precedent for extending the election voting period for absentee ballots. Their reason? Trial court rulings like La Follette v. Padilla are only legally binding between parties in the Superior Court’s local jurisdiction. While that’s a viable reason for not using the case as precedence, it’s odd for Jenkins to deter the SLO County Clerk-Recorder from reviewing it. Indeed, the Padilla ruling directly challenges the constitutionality of a law that Jenkins wants enforced. And there’s nothing in Jenkins’ letter stating he wants absentee voters to be informed about their ballots being nullified.

Jenkins is also an attorney for the online tabloid CalCoastNews. Last month, I wrote about the website’s unusually close relationship with Compton. Their publisher Karen Velie, who supports Compton, serves alongside Jenkins on the ACLU board.

I’ve made no bones about my thoughts of Jenkins, a conflict-riddled attorney who also believes free speech serves no “legitimate purpose” if it’s critical of his client; an attorney who thinks it’s legal for his client to divulge confidential personnel information to third parties; an attorney whose efforts cost the City of SLO around $160,000 to hold a special election to repeal a measure that was already repealed by their City Council. It’s clear he seeks to undermine federal and state law, including the violation of due process for absentee voters, at the expense of an organization he’s supposed to represent.

Where’s the ACLU? I reached out to their Southern California chapter, which oversees SLO, several times for comment but received no response.

Regardless of who wins the District 4 race, we know one thing for sure: Lynn Compton supports voter suppression. The egregiousness is further compounded by the fact she tapped our local ACLU chair to make that suppression happen.

Aaron Ochs is a columnist, marketing entrepreneur and founder of SLO Truth. Ochs is also involved in his community as founder of Save Morro Bay (www.savemorrobay.com).

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