Voters Allege Threats in Bell Gardens Race : Elections: Two council candidates backed by the No Re-Zoning Committee deny using strong-arm tactics to win.


Voters who allege that volunteers for No Re-Zoning Committee City Council candidates Maria S. Chacon and Ramiro Morales harassed and threatened them before the April 12 election have joined losing candidates in complaints that the committee used illegal tactics to win.

Chacon and Morales have vehemently denied allegations that their campaigns strong-armed voters or did anything illegal.

Resident Bobby Sausedo, 56, said No Re-Zoning representatives visited his home two or three times a week in the months before the election in an effort to harass him into voting for their candidates.

During one visit, Sausedo said, a committee volunteer dropped off absentee-ballot applications and encouraged him to fill out and sign one for his son who lives in Whittier. When Sausedo received his mailed absentee ballot, committee representatives called again, saying they could pick it up and mail it for him.

One 22-year-old woman who asked that her name not be used because she fears reprisals said committee representatives have bullied her family in each of the last three elections, threatening to have them evicted if they did not vote for the committee's candidates.

During one campaign, she said, committee volunteers knowingly registered two non-citizens who lived in the house to vote. The woman, who is a citizen, said that in April's election she voted by absentee ballot for the committee's candidates against her will.

"They gave me an example of how to vote and I voted in front of them," she said. "Then they stamped and mailed it for me. . . . I just voted for them to get them off my back because they were after me all the time."

Chacon and Morales said the complaints have been manufactured by sore losers and will only further divide a community that has been fractured by years of infighting and scandal.

But Veronica Soto, campaign manager for Hugo Escalera, one of four losing candidates, alleged that the voters' stories only scratch the surface of criminal practices this year and that the incidents call into question the outcome of the city's last two elections, when No Re-Zoning candidates also won.

"(The No Re-Zoning Committee) figures the D.A. didn't do anything the last election so he's not going to do anything this time," Soto said.

She also charges that as many as 500 non-citizens were registered by No Re-Zoning.

The losing candidates in the campaign plan to challenge the election results within the week and are collecting information to turn over to the district attorney's office.

Soto said she hopes their efforts will result in voter reform such as stricter regulation of registration and absentee ballots.

"I don't care what it takes to do it," Soto said. "It has to be done. Otherwise, voting is just a joke."

The state Senate Select Committee on Voting Practices and Procedures is expected to sponsor a hearing on voter fraud Downtown within the next few weeks, and representatives from Bell Gardens are expected to speak at the hearings, a committee spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Bill Hoge (R-Pasadena) hopes to revive AB 2483, which would, among other things, require voters to supply two forms of identification, a driver's license, birth certificate and/or Social Security card to register to vote. The bill was recently rejected by the Assembly elections committee.

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