The lid is (finally) off:
Copyright: Daily Journal /California's Law Journal, 1997
"Official" San Francisco scrambles for cover
All rights reserved. For educational purposes only.
KICKING OFF VOTER FRAUD PROBE
National Watchdog Enlists Lawyer Charles Bell in 49ers Stadium Inquiry
Daily Journal, September 5, 1997
ANOTHER LOOK - Sacramento attorney Charles H. Bell Jr, [above] has been
retained by Voting Integrity Project to investigate the May vote on the 49ers
football stadium referendum that was ratified by a slim vote. [At right]
Carmen Policy, president of the 49ers, former San Francisco mayor Frank
Jordan; 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo; and Mayor Willie Brown prepare for
congratulations all around just before election that is now being contested.
By John Roemer
Daily Journal Staff Writer
In a new twist the growing investigation of alleged voter fraud in the June
3 San Francisco referendum on the new football stadium, a national watchdog
group has hired a California lawyer to direct a probe of 49ers owner Edward
The group, Voting Integrity Project, said Wednesday it has retained
Sacramento attorney Charles H. Bell Jr. as its representative in the San
Francisco investigation. VIP, which is described as having a conservative
political bent, said it employs retired FBI agents to check claims of ballot
Numerous complaints surrounding the San Francisco vote are also being
investigated by local, state and federal agencies.
VIP drew parallels between reports of election-day irregularities in San
Francisco and in a November 1996 election in Louisiana.
in which a U.S. Senate race and gambling issues were on the ballot. DeBartolo
is part owner of a casino and a racetrack in Louisiana, a VIP spokeswoman
Evidence of voter intimidation, campaigning inside polling
many similar abuses were found in the Louisiana election, especially in New
Orleans, she said.
"Perhaps the similarities to the New Orleans case are mere coincidence," said
the spokeswoman, adding, "Perhaps it is also mere coincidence that the San
Francisco 49rs are owned by Edward DeBartolo Jr., identified...as part owner
of Hollywood Riverboat Casino" in Louisiana.
DeBartolo did not return calls requesting comment. Mayor Willie Brown is
aware of the VIP claims and calls them "ridiculous," a spokeswoman said. The
DeBartolo allegations are among a wide range of voter complaints about the
June 3 balloting, in which Measure D, the stadium bond issue, prevailed by
Reflecting the high stakes nature of the campaign, the various probes of
the allegations appear tangled in conflicting interests.
"DeBartolo was involved in Louisiana and California," said a Richmond, VA,
lawyer on the VIP board of directors, Patrick McSweeney. "I want to be
circumspect until our investigations are complete, but there was a great deal
of similarity in the practices employed by the winning campaigns in both
McSweeney, a partner in Richmond's Mcsweeney Bartch & Crump, is a former
chairman of the Virginia Republican Party and a backer of the Oliver North
VIP is "clearly a right-wing organization," according to a professor of
political science at the University of Virginia. The professor, Larry Sabato,
is the author of "Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in
American Politics," a 1996 book that devotes a lengthy chapter to political
abuses in California.
Despite VIP's ties to the right, Sabato said ,the group may be onto
something in its investigation of the San Francisco balloting. Alluding to
reports by the San Francisco Chronicle that names of 744 deceased persons may
have been used to mark fraudulent ballots, Sabato observed:
"Dead men tell no tales, but they definitely do vote. California has one of
the least impressive voter registration and maintenance records in the
Thursday; the San Francisco Examiner put the number of votes cast in the
name of dead residents at nine.
Bell, the Sacramento attorney reportedly retained by VIP did not return
calls requesting comment.
It wasn't easy finding a lawyer willing to represent VIP according to
Deborah Phillips of Alexandria, Va., the group's president . Phillips said
she phoned virtually every election-law attorney in San Francisco, only to be
told each was already retained by the other side.
"The mayor co-opted all of them," she said. "Eventually, we had to look
out of town."
Phillips' assertion was echoed by one prominent local election specialist who
asked for anonymity, then said:
"A lot of us were working for the [pro-stadium] parties in other capacities
already. Besides, every attorney in town has been intimidated by the mayor,
the 49rs or their campaign manager [Jack Davis]."
The stadium vote was major challenge for Mayor Brown, who employed his
political talent to bring the issue from a loser in early polling to a
Brown put his prestige behind DeBartolo's plan to combine a new football
venue with a shopping mall in a half billion dollar project, which was billed
as a job creation opportunity for the working class Hunters Point District.
The administration has denied any improprieties.
"We are absolutely confident that claims by the anti-stadium people are
entirely bogus," mayoral spokeswoman Candace Bender said.
Beyond the "dead man voting" charges are claims that the election was
structured to intimidate anti-stadium voters .
When state Sen. Quentin Kopp arrived at his polling place, for example, he
was surprised at the ballot he was handed.
"I noticed immediately there was no secrecy envelope in which to enclose
my ballot," Kopp, an attorney and an independent from San Francisco, said
Wednesday "I complained to the registrar of voters. This election was
How Kopp voted was hardly a secret, given his outspoken opposition to the
stadium plan. But the principle of voter privacy is among a myriad alleged
violations of the state elections cod and other statutes.
Secrecy envelopes, into which completed ballots are slipped by the voter
to avoid the prying eyes of others, were not used for cost reasons, according
to a spokesman for the director of elections.
In normal elections, the length and numerical coding used on ballots
afford privacy~ The June 3 ballot, by con contrast, contained only six yes or no
measures, making it easy for bystanders to see how voters punched holes next
to their choices.
Like Kopp, a number of private citizens charge the election failed the
"The two poll workers at my site were wearing red and gold clothes" contrary
to rules governing electioneering at the polling place, said one voter in a
declaration filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission and the Secretary
of State. "As I moved to put my ballot in the box, a poll worker snatched it
out of my hand and read it. I snatched it back and put it in the box. I
left, feeling very uneasy about the process."
Although at least three official investigations are under way as a result
of the complaints, possible conflicts of interest exist in each.
The Ethics Commission will proceed after the complaint it received from
stadium opponents is reviewed by the city attorney and the district attorney,
according to acting executive director Ginny Vida. But members of the Brown
administration - including both City Attorney Louise Renne and District
Attorney Terence Hallinan - were strong political backers of the stadium
proposal, calling their objectivity into question.
Renne spokesman Mark Slavin, a deputy city attorney, insisted that all
complaints forwarded from the Ethics Commission are handled "in a
scrupulously impartial manner," though he declined specifically to discuss
the June 3 election probe, citing confidentiality requirements of the City
Hallinan said he had declined to investigate the matter and instead sent
results of a voting audit to the California secretary of state's election
"I just thought people would put more trust [in the investigation] if it was
sent out of town," said Hallinan, who denied the move stemmed from his
support for the stadium. "I can feel for the frustration of the people who
lost - you know, I lost an election for the Board of Supervisors to Wendy
Nelder on a recount back in 1980. Nobody wants to think they didn't lose fair
Hallinan said director of elections Germaine Wong found enough
questionable signatures in selected precincts to make the June 3 election
results suspect, "If you extrapolate those problem signatures citywide, there
could be enough to change the vote," he said.
Wong strongly denied Hallinan's interpretation of her investigation. "I
didn't find a thing," she said. "He's really helping the conspiracy theorists
here. He ought to get some facts before he opens his mouth."
An attorney retained by the Committee to Stop the Giveaway, an
anti-stadium group, said information compiled by his clients shows there were
numerous violations of the elections code.
"The investigations in process should seek to verify the accuracy of the
evidence" San Francisco sole practitioner William Cohn said.
At the California secretary of state's office in Sacramento, chief
counsel James Sweeney confirmed that "a multi-faceted investigation into
numerous allegations regarding the June 3 election" is under way.
"We're actively looking into it," Sweeney said if we find sufficient
evidence of illegal voting, the attorney general may prosecute. "The state's
share of the investigation is complicated by Secretary of State Bill Jones'
long political antagonism to Mayor Brown, dating from the days when Jones was
a Republican assemblyman from Fresno who chafed under Brown's iron rule as
"That could have been a problem," conceded Jones spokesman Alfred
Charles. "But Secretary Jones took no position on the stadium, and this is
not an investigation of the mayor."
Sweeney, Jones' chief counsel, said voter fraud charges arise around the
state from time to time," but that the secretary of state has gotten involved
only since 1995, when Jones inaugurated a unit to track cases.
At the federal level, the investigation centers on the early polling
places set up on May 31at four Housing Authority sites in the Bay view-Hunters
Point district and elsewhere near the Candlestick Point stadium site.
Anti-stadium advocates have forwarded to the U.S. Department of Housing
and Urban Development a copy of a check for $2,000 from the Housing Authority
to the Director of elections to pay for the early voting locations.
Since the Housing Authority is controlled and funded by the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development, officials are looking into
charges that Federal dollars were used to influence a local election.
The potential conflict: HUD regional director Art Agnos, a former San
Francisco mayor, supported the stadium mall.
Agnos spokesman Larry Bush and HUD general counsel David Sutton said
Agnos is insulated from the probe. "The HUD inspector general is conducting
the investigation, and he reports only to Washington," Sutton said. "It has
nothing to do with Mr. Agnos."
Attorney Richard W. Carpeneti of San Francisco's Carpeneti & Carpeneti is
a former president of the Housing Commission. In an interview; he termed the
early voting "a terrible thing they did just to get pro-stadium votes."
"If they had opened polling places all around the city for early voting,
it would have been fine, said Carpeneti, who added he voted for the stadium
himself "But to involve the Housing Authority was really to take advantage of
some of our residents. I know politics is cynical, but this was illegal and
improper. It was a sham. I would have expected this in Chicago in the 1920s."
The idea of voting fraud as a problem of the distant past may be
changing, according to UCLA law School Professor Daniel H. Lowenstein, author
of the 1995 case-book "Election law."
"I may have to get further into the field of vote fraud," he said. "If
some polls were opened early in San Francisco, you have to ask why. If there
were no secrecy envelopes, that sounds very peculiar. The secret ballot is
regarded by most Americans as fundamental. Was someone incompetent so there
were not enough envelopes, or was there a more sinister reason?"
Fraud in an election has to be done on a large scale, observed
Lowenstein, "otherwise, it's meaningless."
That fact offers hope, he said.
"If it's large and systematic it's not going to be kept quiet forever."
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