Long Beach residents raise questions over order in which they received voter material

A number of Long Beach residents have expressed concern over receiving vote by mail ballots well before their sample ballots.

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For Democratic Congressional Candidate Peter Matthews, the March 3 primary election is an important one. He is running for California’s 47th Congressional District, (representing part of Long Beach) with a grassroots campaign.

Currently, Alan Lowenthal is the incumbent and is seeking re-election.

Matthews is concerned that some early L.A. County vote-by-mail voters won’t know his platform come voting time.

With voting centers being open as early as Feb. 22 and the March 3 election date only mere days away, some Long Beach residents have raised complaints about receiving mail-in ballots well in advance of their sample ballot material, which contains candidate statements and measure information.

“I’ve talked to people, in different places, where I’m campaigning but also [Cypress College] where I teach and work.” Matthews said. “Many of the people […] have said they got an absentee ballot the first day it was due but had not received their sample ballot.”

Matthews expressed concern over this, stating that the people he spoke to were unaware of who was running or what the candidate statements were.

“[…]To me this is a disservice to democracy because it is eliminating choice and information, which democracy needs,” the candidate said about the order in which some ballots were coming in.

Similarly, Corliss Lee, president of Long Beach advocacy group Eastside Voice, stated that within a week of the Monday, Feb. 3 date where voters would begin receiving election materials, she began receiving complaints from those around her stating they had received mail-in ballots but not their sample-ballot booklets.

“I sent out a message to the Eastside Voice Distribution list asking them to let me know if they had received their election materials, including the sample ballot,” Lee said. “Thirty eight percent of those that responded to me had not received the sample ballot but had received the mail-in ballot.”

Long Beach resident and Executive Director of the Long Beach Reform Coalition Ian Patton informed Lee that he received his sample ballot on Thursday, Feb. 20, two days before 232 voting centers opened in Los Angeles County.

Matthews worries about the impact that receiving mail-in ballots before sample ballots will have on those running against incumbents.

“They are well known, they’ve already been in office, and people know that they need to have a lot of money generally to be able to mail their brochures,” he said.

In a recently released campaign statement, Matthews stated that he struggled to raise the $5,000 required to have his official candidate statement on the sample ballots from donors.

In a statement to the Signal Tribune, Matthews said his campaign takes no corporate money and depends on volunteers and lots of small donations.

Lee had similar concerns, stating that if early voters don’t get sample ballots on time, they may be sending in their mail-in ballots without having the facts needed, since sample ballots contain crucial information on candidates.

“For grassroots candidates, this may be the only description the voters will receive as mailers are expensive,” Lee said. “The sample ballot also contains the arguments for and against measures on the ballot. Measures are often crafted with wording that is deceptive and gives the voter an impression that is incorrect or incomplete. The arguments in the sample ballot surface those inconsistencies and educate the voters on hidden aspects of the measures.”

Lee also listed special interest campaigns that are heavily funded and arriving at community member’s homes as a concern that “further ‘unbalanc[es]’ the information that goes to voters.”

“These campaigns use advertising to materially benefit the few rather than the many,” Lee said. “Those glossy mailers are getting to voters before they receive the sample ballot (which contains critical information) and in some cases are the only information a voter receives before they vote. The advertising does not provide the pros and cons or a balanced view of what is being proposed.”

Although LA County is responsible for delivering election materials this year, concerned emails and calls from voters have been placed to the Long Beach City Clerk’s office for the past couple of weeks.

In emails shared with the Signal Tribune, Allison Bunma, assistant city clerk for the City of Long Beach, reached out to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk (RRCC) office on Wednesday, Feb. 12 after receiving complaints from voters about receiving mail-in ballots first while waiting on their sample ballots.

“They are receiving [vote by mail] ballots but not [sample ballot booklet]. How is the [sample ballot booklet] being sent? Can you give us some insight so that we may have inform our voters,” her email read.

A reply from Sylvia Lira at the RRCC the following morning stated:

“Your city has 37 basic groups in seven different combinations (Dem, Rep, AI, Grn, Lib, PF, and NP) for [a] total of 259 groups. The mailing of sample ballot booklets begins with the groups with most voters. For your city, many groups have already [been] mailed and few others will continue to be mailing every day. As you probably know, the countywide election in Los Angeles County has 5.4 million voters that will receive a booklets. Legally, the mailing period for these sample ballot booklets is from January 23rd to February 22nd. All booklets are projected to be mailed this weekend.”

Notably, Bunma had already communicated with Lynn Jones, the L.A district business service network representative for U.S Postal Service on Tuesday, Jan. 28 to see how the city could work with the post office to ensure all ballots were delivered on time.

Bunma noted that per the Voter’s Choice Act, the RRCC was required to mail all Long Beach voters in the Congressional District 47 a vote by mail ballot.

Jones replied on Thursday, Jan. 30 stating that the US Postal Service was “very aware of the importance of proper handling and timely delivery of election and political mail, especially sample ballots and vote by mail ballots.”

She went on to say that the postal service was in constant communication with the RRCC and the mail would be processed and delivered as received.

Monique De La Garza, Long Beach city clerk said in a statement to the Signal Tribune that no election code laws are being violated by the County of Los Angeles.

Mike Sanchez, RRCC public information officer also gave a statement to the Signal Tribune saying, “It is important to note that our mailing of sample ballots did begin before the issuing of our vote by mail ballots, but with that said […] we have a lot more registered voters than there are people who requested vote by mail ballots.”

He continued, “It is important to know that we also continue to mail those initial sample ballots all the way to last weekend, so now theoretically everyone, at least registered initially when we began the mailing, have received their sample ballot book.”

Sanchez stated that the RRCC is aware of how important it is to get sample ballots to voters in a timely fashion so they have information and are better prepared before casting a vote by mail vote.

Lee stated that once the election is over she will bring the order in which community members are receiving their election materials up as an agenda item with the Long Beach Reform Coalition and Citizens About Responsible Planning.

“This is a real hole in our democratic-election system that is allowing special-interest money to unduly affect the outcome of our elections,” Lee said.