Reforms Urged in Monterey Park After Recall Fails

Times Staff Writer

The election Tuesday in which two City Council members survived a recall attempt caused so many problems at the polls that both sides in the bitter campaign, as well as the city clerk, called for election reforms.

City Clerk Pauline Lemire said Wednesday that she received an unprecedented number of complaints about harassment at the polls and that at least some voters may have been improperly denied the right to vote.

"It was a horror," Lemire said. "I had complaints all day." She said police were dispatched to resolve disputes at four polling places. The conflict was so great at one, the Lions Manor retirement home, that two police officers stationed themselves there until the polls closed.

There were so many complaints of irregularities, Lemire said, that it was fortunate that the election was not close.

Council members Barry L. Hatch and Patricia Reichenberger easily retained their seats with 61.6% of the vote, defeating the recall attempt led by the Assn. for Better Cityhood which got 38.4%.

The recall attempt grew out of charges that Hatch and Reichenberger acted with racial motivation against the interests of Asian and Latino immigrants. The charge was based in part on a council resolution supported by Hatch and Reichenberger that called for tougher enforcement of immigration laws and endorsed the establishment of English as the nation's official language.

Hatch said the election result refutes the racism charge.

He noted that the recall was beaten in precincts throughout the city. And, in two heavily Latino precincts in the southern part of Monterey Park, the margin against recall was about 2 to 1, or nearly the same margin reported citywide.

One of the major complaints involved the effort by the Assn. for Better Cityhood to encourage residents to vote by absentee ballot.

Hatch and Reichenberger lost the absentee vote by a substantial margin but won all other precincts.

Kevin Smith, a leader of the association, said the group received at least a dozen calls on Tuesday from residents who requested absentee ballots, never received them, tried to vote at polling places and were turned away.

Lemire said she, too, received complaints that people had been turned away from the polls because they were listed as absentee voters, although precinct workers had been instructed to allow them to vote.

"It's possible, but it would have been such a minimum (number) that it wouldn't have affected the outcome," she said.

Lemire said many of the problems at the polling places arose from disputes between precinct workers and poll watchers representing the pro-recall forces.

She said precinct workers complained that the poll watchers interfered with their work and engaged Chinese voters in conversation in Chinese dialects, perhaps electioneering at the polls in violation of the law.

Lemire said the precinct workers, unable to speak Chinese, could not understand what was being said but thought that attempts were being made to influence the balloting.

Smith said: "Our poll watchers were instructed not to electioneer." He said they merely offered assistance to those who needed interpreters.

Lemire responded: "I have no objections to having interpreters, but you don't approach people before they ask for help."

Smith said Monterey Park, whose population is 40% Asian and 37% Latino, should have precinct workers who can speak Spanish and Chinese. He said he observed incidents in which minority voters were made to feel unwelcome at the polls by precinct workers who demanded identification not required of other voters and made disparaging comments.

Voter Speaking Chinese

He said one precinct worker, referring to a voter who was speaking Chinese, remarked that she wondered how he got the right to vote.

Lemire said she would have wondered the same thing if she had been at the polling place because U. S. citizenship requires a knowledge of the English language, and ballots in Monterey Park are printed only in English. She said she doubted the precinct worker's remark was intended as disparaging.

After the election, both the recall proponents and the council members who were the recall targets called for election reforms.

Hatch and Reichenberger said they were disturbed by the abuses inherent in allowing large numbers of people to cast absentee votes. The city received 3,775 requests for absentee ballots, and 2,400 absentee ballots were cast.

The Assn. for Better Cityhood assisted voters in obtaining absentee ballots.

Reichenberger said she heard that workers for the association intimidated voters by hovering over them while they marked their absentee ballots. In addition, she said, the system of voter registration is so lax, allowing people to register by mail, that she has heard that there are people who register their dogs as voters and cast absentee ballots in the dog's name.

'Invites Abuse'

Lemire said she is unaware of any animals listed as registered voters, but said she wouldn't be surprised if there are some toddlers listed on the rolls.

"My feeling is that registration by mail invites abuse," she said.

Reichenberger agreed: "It started out that absentee ballots were for people who were going to be out of town or were invalids who could not make it to the polls. That's the way it started, and there has to be some way to revert back to that."

In the week before the election, two campaign workers who had formerly worked for the Assn. for Better Cityhood charged that they were instructed to collect absentee ballots from voters and that they delivered three of them to the campaign office. It is illegal for anyone other than the voter himself to mail or personally deliver a ballot, and Smith denied that campaign workers were ever instructed to pick up ballots.

Lemire said the three disputed ballots arrived at her office in the mail and were counted in the election, but she intends to ask the district attorney to look into the allegation that absentee ballots were collected illegally.

Smith said he will sit down with his group of recall workers soon to list all irregularities they encountered on election day, including incidents of animosity by election workers toward minority voters.

'Process Has to Change'

"I'm not yelling that the whole election process is corrupt," he said, but "our election process has to change."

One step to make minority members welcome at the polls, he said, would be to station bilingual precinct workers at polling places.

Smith said the Assn. for Better Cityhood, which was formed to push the recall, will remain as an organization with improvement of the electoral proess as one of its major goals.

The association reported raising $26,000 by June 1 and raised and spent an additional $10,000 to $15,000 in the days before the election, Smith said.

Hatch and Reichenberger relied on funds collected by the Residents Assn. of Monterey Park, a homeowners group, to finance their campaign. As of June 1, the group reported spending $5,000, but Reichenberger said the final total will be about $10,000 or $11,000.

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