Recall proponents claim double standard in process

CHICO — The committee to recall Mayor Andrew Coolidge and Councilor Sean Morgan held a press conference Wednesday and issued a statement saying the Chico City Clerk’s Office used different standards for the group’s recall process than it did in 2019 for then-mayor Randall Stone and former councilor Karl Ory.

The group, which calls itself Chico Voters, has been working to add a recall of both Morgan and Coolidge to the upcoming June election since October but has hit some roadblocks in the petition process. The petition to recall Coolidge was rejected once and needed to be resubmitted while the Morgan petition has been rejected three times.

Committee representative Morgan Kennedy said the group requested the documents submitted in the effort to recall Ory and Stone and found that the forms were approved with some of the same formatting that got the two new petitions rejected.

Upon receiving and reviewing the same form submitted in 2019 and comparing it to those that were recently rejected, Kennedy said the group identified what they considered to be double standards in the process.

These included names and addresses of signers being printed, names and addressed having been filled out and signed by the named individual and names, both printed and written, not matching the signature.

This applied to the first two petitions against Morgan but not the third. The third rejection stemmed from a misspelling in the submitted document.

In addition to the discrepancies, the committee accused the city of violating the election code.

Kennedy went on to say that the recall effort against Stone and Ory was also initially rejected the first time and the group did not serve the amended version to the two at the time.

“The aforementioned paperwork error was also not broadcast to the various media outlets as it was for the Coolidge/Morgan rejection,” Kennedy said. “Instead, it was quietly and illegally corrected. The correction of this paperwork error was to simply wipe out the names, addresses and signatures on the notice. This is another violation of the California election code.”

Kennedy said the group is requesting documents from the city that includes all communications between the city manager’s office, the city clerk’s office and all current and former city councilors in regards to the recalls.

City Clerk Debbie Presson said later Wednesday that the rejection for the petitions based on the formatting came from a discussion between herself, the Butte County Elections Office and City Attorney Vincent Ewing. The county asked that Presson take another look at the form and advised that she reject it at the time. Presson said Ewing reviewed the document and agreed that it wasn’t in line with the law.

“I can’t help it if there were errors on their part,” Presson said. “My goal is to protect the integrity of this process. It is an important process for the people that belongs to the people, and I would never stand in its way because the voters have a right to have all the facts. They absolutely should be able to believe in the process.”

Presson said she can recognize the frustrations that come with the relatively tedious process.

“I think that in all actuality, I do understand their frustration because they wanted to hit the ground running with the petitions,” Presson said. “They feel passionate about what they want to do. I just feel that my role is to ensure that all the rules are followed and that this process is right because you are trying to overturn a vote made by citizens.”

Dave Welch, chairman of the Democratic Action Club of Chico, spoke at the press conference condemning what he believes to be a legal violation.

“One of the real central pillars of any democratic republic, or any form of democratic government, is fair election procedures and fair election procedures are not just about the voting process or the vote-counting process,” Welch said. “But it’s also about access to the ballot.”

Recall proponent and petitioner Addison Winslow spoke on why the group is trying to get the recall on the June ballot, which he said contrasts the effort against those that try to create special elections such as the one against Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“They use a strategy of getting special elections that are very low turnout so that the decision can be made excluding working-class people who don’t turn out to vote as often as some others,” Winslow said. “And the strategy that Chico Voters is pursuing is the exact opposite of that. We’re trying to seek the broadest engagement we can in the upcoming elections.”

This newspaper was unable to reach election officials with the Butte County Clerk-Recorder’s Office.

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