Commentary: Independent audit called for in state Democratic Party chair election vote

When Glendale Democrats traveled north last month to the annual California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento, we expected passionate debate about the future of the party. As first-time delegates, we were eager to cast our ballots for chair of the state party — a heated contest between longtime L.A. County party chair Eric Bauman and progressive organizer Kimberly Ellis, former executive director of Emerge California, which trains women candidates to run for office.

We never expected serious flaws and discrepancies in the vote for officer positions that would leave a dark cloud hanging over the state party. The chair’s race came down to a razor-thin margin of 62 votes out of nearly 3,000 ballots cast, putting Bauman just ahead of Ellis. No sooner was the count announced than red flags started popping up — internal campaign counts and exit polls that clashed with the official vote count, potentially illegitimate proxy voters casting ballots, and more.

As a result, Ellis refused to concede and mounted a review of ballots under party bylaws. As Ellis stated in a campaign statement last week, “Initial inspection uncovered alarming discrepancies and an amassing of ineligible voters to change the outcome of the election, warranting a call for an independent expert to intervene and validate the vote.” Eric Bauman has rejected this request for an independent forensic audit.

In January, the Glendale community elected us to serve as delegates on the governing board of the California Democratic Party. Our slate of grassroots activists ran on a platform of progressive reform and transparency. We expect nothing less than a full and independent audit of the votes. Unlike in most elections, ballots for Democratic party officers are not secret, but rather signed and backed up by forms and signatures to assure their authenticity.

With scores of ballots in question in an incredibly close election, there is no reason to declare the contest over. No responsible leader of an organization should want to claim its top spot without putting these serious concerns to rest, particularly Bauman, who has disproportionate access to the machinery of the party’s operations and control over the state’s largest county delegation. No coalition can possibly unify and move forward together amid deepening doubt that our own leadership was elected legitimately.

Democrats are the governing party of our region and our state. Four of our five Glendale City Council members are Democrats, as are four of the five L.A. County supervisors. Democrats hold a supermajority in our state Legislature. How our party governs itself, and whether its voting process is fair and faithful to its own rules, speaks volumes about what it means to be a Democrat. Kimberly Ellis ran in part to “redefine what it means to be a Democrat” — to restore faith and credibility in the party among its most hardworking grassroots supporters. To reject an independent review of our own voting process will have exactly the opposite effect.

Activism has surged through grassroots Democrats in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, in our district and across the state. The California Democratic Party owes this new generation of party activists truth and transparency. We will only have that in this election for state chair with a thorough and independent audit of the votes. Those who believe Eric Bauman won fair and square should have nothing to fear if they’re right.

Dionne Lignan is a professional educator, community organizer and delegate in the state Democratic Party. Alex Calleros is the elected member of the state party’s executive board from Assembly District 43. Dionne and Alex co-founded the grassroots group Progressive Action for Glendale.