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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 9:58 am | Fair 56º


Harris Sherline: UCSB Elections Throwing a Wrench in County Politics

Registration drives and voter turnout raise suspicions of impropriety, and nonlocal students shouldn't have a say in local elections anyway

When my wife and I moved to Santa Barbara more than 30 years ago, Santa Barbara County politics were dominated by then-3rd District Supervisor Bill Wallace, with his team of highly organized supporters. The 3rd District, which is made up of the Santa Ynez Valley and portions of Lompoc, Goleta and Isla Vista, including the UCSB campus, has always had contentious elections because of the student vote. UCSB students invariably voted overwhelmingly for Democratic, anti-growth candidates, with the result that it became almost impossible for the Santa Ynez Valley’s largely conservative residents to be represented by a supervisor with a political philosophy that was (or is) consistent with their own. Over the years, the sense of frustration felt by many valley voters has become almost palpable.

After Wallace retired, succeeding 3rd District Supervisors Gale Marshall and Doreen Farr essentially continued to support the liberal, anti-growth base in Santa Barbara, and they, too, were elected largely with the help of the UCSB student vote.

Valley residents have complained for years that the situation at UCSB is manipulated to ensure that Democratic, anti-growth candidates always win the student vote. For example, in one election, students were treated to a pizza party, where they were registered to vote and then encouraged to immediately cast their ballots for the candidate who was supported by those who organized the event.

Brooks Firestone, who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2004, made a concerted effort to campaign on the UCSB campus, and although he was elected, he was also unable to prevail among the students.

However, the 2008 election brought to light clear evidence that the student vote is not only suspect but that it may well have been fraudulent, with nine of the school’s 18 precincts having a voter turnout that was 101 percent of the number of registered voters. With a national average of 62 percent, it is no longer possible to deny that something is seriously wrong at UCSB.

Steve Pappas, who lost to Farr in 2008, has been trying to get the attention of the courts and state authorities since the election, to no avail. Pappas lost by only 806 votes out of more than 35,000 cast. Once again, the vote of the UCSB students made the difference.

He contends that the organization that conducted registration drives at UCSB also had direct ties to Farr’s campaign committee, which he believes provided funds from the Service Employees International Union to Farr’s campaign committee, which subsequently sent it on to individuals associated with her registration drive.

As with all election matters, the issues involved in the 2008 election are very complex. However, perhaps the most important aspect of the Pappas vs. Farr campaign is the possibility that the casting of more ballots than the number of registered voters in nine UCSB precincts could be because of fraud.

The matter has been referred to the California Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigations Unit, and although Pappas’ attorney, Stanley Green, declared that “it’s not going to affect the election,” if it is determined that voter fraud occurred, the people involved could face fines and jail time.

My sense is that if it looks like election fraud and sounds like election fraud, it probably is election fraud.

The question often asked is why those UCSB students who don’t live in the county should be voting in local elections at all. Most of them don’t intend to settle here after they graduate, so although it makes sense for them to vote here in state and national elections, it seems to me that those students who don’t live in the county should not be permitted to vote on matters that are strictly local, such as elections for candidates for county supervisor. They should vote in local elections in the communities where their residence is located, which they could easily do by absentee ballot if they don’t go home during the winter break.

If this is not possible under current election laws, perhaps we should be working to change them accordingly.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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