Breaking the rules to win is not exclusive to any political party. But if California Democrats cannot trust the election for chairperson of the most progressive state party in the country, our state may be in big trouble.
Democrats in California have gained a nearly decade-long hold on all statewide offices and supermajority status in the Legislature by building a diverse coalition. But the desire to gain power may have led to one side to sacrifice both its own integrity and that of the election.
Concern about this possibility heightened after a preliminary audit of nearly 3,000 ballots cast May 20 at the party convention in Sacramento, after a months-long contest between longtime party insider Eric Bauman and progressive nonprofit director Kimberly Ellis. By a very narrow margin, Bauman appeared to win.
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We are among party leaders calling for a thorough, independent review of the ballots. Confidence in the outcome of the contest and the course of our state’s governing party are at stake. We do not want a mutiny and certainly not another wave of exits, as occurred last summer following the defeat of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the state’s presidential primary. We want to bring our diverse membership together to work on policy issues, campaigns and the growth of our party. That can only happen with trust in our internal governance and our officer elections.
The preliminary audit revealed irregularities in scores of votes that may have disregarded or manipulated eligibility standards. Some party leaders and staff may have misused their authority to arrange proxy votes cast by an in-person substitute who is obliged to follow the will of the absent delegate. Dozens of proxy votes came in from every corner of California, but were cast by current or former staffers, many living in the Sacramento area.
This pattern raises the possibility that Bauman – vice chairman of the state party, chairman of the largest county party in the state for more than 15 years and top staffer in the Assembly speaker’s office for arranging hires and favors – may have used his role in appointing and replacing delegates to shift procedures in his favor.
We believe an audit is crucial to resolve these questions. An audit could keep party activists concerned about corruption from jumping ship and thinning the donor base and volunteer force for months and years to come.
When talking about California’s leadership on climate change, immigrants and LGBT rights, Bauman has said, “We’re the only state party in the country that actually knows how to do it right.” He now has an opportunity to lead by example and show what a transparent election looks like.
If there is no wrongdoing, then he has nothing to fear. Should a full and fair review process dispel the widespread concerns, we will do our part to bring Democrats together and get to work on building a party that leads the way on progressive policy for our state and country.
Dan Gordon is a Democratic delegate from Los Angeles and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gregory Rivera is chairman of the Democratic central committee of San Benito County and can be contacted at email@example.com.