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Eric Bauman confirmed as leader of California Democratic Party as rancor over close vote continues

Eric Bauman, center, addresses the California Democratic Party's annual convention in May. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Eric Bauman, center, addresses the California Democratic Party's annual convention in May. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Kimberly Ellis addresses the California Democratic Party Convention in Sacramento in May. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)
Kimberly Ellis addresses the California Democratic Party Convention in Sacramento in May. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

After spending weeks sifting through allegations of vote stuffing and corruption, a California Democratic Party panel on Saturday affirmed the election of Eric Bauman as the party leader.

The decision is not expected to bring the bitter fight over the election to an end.

Bay Area Democratic organizer Kimberly Ellis, who lost the race for party chair to Bauman by just 57 votes, has indicated she will likely mount a court challenge.

She has accused the party’s six-member compliance review commission of being biased in Bauman’s favor, and Ellis' political consultant dismissed Saturday’s hearing as “bad political theater” before it even started.

The bitter fight has exposed schisms in the state Democratic Party that echo the divide between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ supporters during the 2016 presidential primary. Some of the state’s top Democratic Party leaders and activists worry that the internal feud may fracture the party, which dominates California politics, and hobble the state’s role in opposing the policies of President Trump and the Republican Congress.

Christine Pelosi of San Francisco, chair of the party's Women's Caucus and daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said she has urged Bauman and Ellis to do everything they can to mend the rift.

“There needs to be a very very strong showing form the party that the Ellis voters are included, are empowered,” Pelosi said.

At the very least, some of Ellis’ supporters should be appointed to lead the state party committees, allowing them to shape the party’s platform and policies, Pelosi said.

Shortly after the May election, Pelosi said she had urged Bauman to hire Ellis as a top party executive, hoping that would help bring Democrats together.

After recently reviewing every ballot cast in the election for chair, the party's compliance review commission held an all-day hearing in Sacramento on Saturday to determine the fate of 355 ballots deemed questionable.

In the end, 47 votes were invalidated — 25 for Bauman and 22 for Ellis. That did not change the outcome of the election. Bauman won by 1.9%.

The hearing was chaired by party official Michael Wagaman, who said the review found no evidence of vote stuffing or ballots being destroyed, which were among the allegations made after the election. He added that there was "no evidence of bias" by the party to favor any one candidate.

Along with affirming Bauman's election, the panel rejected a request by Ellis for an independent audit of the election. Wagaman said a thorough review was done by the commission and in full view of representatives from the Ellis and Bauman campaigns. 

“It was a transparent process,” Wagaman said.

Ellis challenged the election results in June. She alleged that her campaign found hundreds of voting deficiencies during a review of the ballots and other election material. Those questionable votes may have swayed the election to Bauman, Ellis alleged.

The party held elections for chair and other officers during its annual convention in Sacramento in May. Nearly 3,000 party delegates cast ballots in the election.

There were a variety of reasons the panel disqualified the 47 ballots Saturday. In some cases, delegates failed to pay their party dues or receive an official waiver for the dues, which would make them ineligible to vote. Ballots also were tossed because proxy voters were determined to be ineligible, including a few who weren't registered Democrats. 

Among the ballots reviewed by the panel were those cast by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, state Treasurer John Chiang, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate leader Kevin de León. All of them came under scrutiny because they had staff members sign them into the convention. All their votes were deemed valid.

However, the panel threw out the vote of Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the state's chief elections officer. Padilla did not pay his party dues, the panel found. 


July 24, 4:19 p.m.: A previous version of this post said Bauman won by less than 1%. He won by 1.9%.


3:20 p.m.: This story was updated with information about Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

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