Blocking political takeover in Vernon, or voter disenfranchisement?

There was a fascinating story in this morning’s Los Angeles Times, about a bizarre situation in Vernon (a small city in Los Angeles County).

Vernon is an industrial town, and to be honest, I wasn’t aware that it had more than a handful of registered voters within the city limits. Turns out that there are less than sixty registered voters, in a city that has 93 residents, but somewhere around 44,000 people who work in the city limits.

The other interesting dimension to this story is that Vernon has a city council, but apparently there hasn’t been a contested election since 1980; that’s probably the reason that most political observers may not even know that there are elections in Vernon, or even registered voters.

But the plot recently thickened, as apparently recently eight people have moved into the city limits, registered to vote, with three then filing papers to run for city council. According to the story, the city has denied the validity of the residence taken up by these new registrants, and then invalidated their voter registration status. That latter action has allow the city to block the potential candidacies of the three hopeful city council challengers. One of the odd twists to this story is the alleged connection between a disbarred lawyer, who used to work for Albert Robles (a former city official from South Gate, who was at the center of a massive corruption scandal in that city), and these potential challengers to the Vernon political machine.

However, the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder’s Office has now informed the city that they do not have the authority to invalidate voter registrations. According to the LA Times story:

Deborah Wright, executive liaison to the county registrar, said the city had sent her copies of the three men’s candidate nominations with a stamp that read “canceled.”

But the city “doesn’t have the authority to cancel voter registrations,” Wright said. “They have no authority to do that at all.”

Even if the building was illegal, she said, election law does not require voters to live in a legal residence. A 1985 court ruling held that even homeless people have a right to register to vote, she noted.

“A person could be squatting in an abandoned warehouse, and the city may not like it,” she said. “But that doesn’t affect their ability to register to vote.”

Thus, according to this story, this sounds like old-time politics, involving the potential disenfranchisement of voters by a local political machine intent on retaining their political monopoly. We’ll try to follow this story as events unfold. While the numbers of possibly disenfranchised voters are small, in a situation where there are really only a few handful of voters in the city’s electorate, resolution of this situation could have a decisive effect in Vernon in the future.