Effort to force L.A. Dist. Atty. George Gascón into recall election fails

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A second effort to force Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón into a recall election fizzled out Monday after officials determined that the campaign to boot him from office failed to gain enough valid signatures.

To put Gascón’s job on the ballot, the campaign seeking his ouster needed to gather 566,857 valid signatures by mid-July; the figure reflects 10% of the people who were eligible to vote in the election cycle when he won office in November 2020. The L.A. County registrar-recorder/county clerk’s office said Monday that about 520,000 of the signatures submitted were valid.

While the campaign submitted roughly 715,000 signatures, some were inevitably going to be disqualified if they were signed by people who were not properly registered to vote in L.A. County or if a registered voter’s signature didn’t match the one on file with the registrar. In California, most recall drives see at least 20% of collected signatures disqualified, said Joshua Spivak, an expert on recall elections and senior research fellow at UC Berkeley Law School’s California Constitution Center.

On Monday, the registrar’s office said 195,783 of the signatures submitted — roughly 27% — were invalid. Most that were tossed out were either duplicates or submitted by people who were not registered to vote, officials said.

In the final weeks of its signature drive, the recall campaign sought signatures through a mass mailing blitz, sending petitions to roughly 3.6 million L.A. County voters. Some observers expressed concern that this might lead to a surge in duplicate signatures, a fear that was borne out Monday. The recall failed by about 46,000 signatures, and 43,593 of the disqualified signatures were duplicates, according to the registrar’s office.

Loathed by his own prosecutors and with Los Angeles facing a 15-year high in homicides, Gascón was particularly vulnerable to a recall, observers said. They saw Monday’s result as an indictment of the campaign rather than a victory for the embattled district attorney.

“That’s a major screw-up on their part. They missed by a lot, and they raised more than enough money to have collected more than enough signatures,” said Roy Behr, a Democratic political consultant who was not involved in the effort. “With enough money, you can get 10% of signatures on just about anything, and there’s no doubt at all that over 10% of voters in L.A. County would support a recall.”

Gascón said he was “grateful” in a statement on Twitter and vowed “to move forward from this attempted political power grab — rest assured L.A. County, the work hasn’t stopped. My primary focus has been & will always be keeping us safe & creating a more equitable justice system for all.”

In a statement, the recall campaign called the results “surprising and disappointing” and vowed to conduct a thorough legal review of the disqualified signatures. Earlier this year, campaign spokesman Tim Lineberger told The Times that the campaign would not pursue a third recall if this one failed and would instead focus on defeating Gascón in 2024.

Gascón has faced criticism from law enforcement and business leaders since his election. Many were quick to blame his reform-minded policies for rising crime in Los Angeles, despite the fact that similar surges in violence have occurred in California cities with traditional law-and-order prosecutors.

Gascón’s moves to severely limit when prosecutors can try juveniles as adults or seek life sentences have stoked the ire of victims’ rights groups and left him in untenable positions in a number of high-profile cases. In the case of Hannah Tubbs — a 26-year-old transgender woman who sexually assaulted a child — Gascón’s policies on youth justice allowed her to receive a short sentence in juvenile court because she was 17 when the crime occurred. The case garnered national outrage and has haunted the district attorney for months.

The vast majority of Gascon’s own prosecutors supported the recall and, after Monday’s results, vowed to keep fighting him.

“The residents of L.A. County cannot afford two years of George Gascón’s dangerous policies. The lives of so many innocent residents are at risk,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonathan Hatami said. “So we all must come together to help and stand up for one another until George is gone.”

An initial attempt to recall Gascón last year failed miserably, largely because of a lack of fundraising and organization.

But this second effort, launched late last year, raised millions of dollars and drew support from a wide swath of police unions and politicians, including Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso.

With Bay Area voters recalling San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin in June, Gascón seemed at risk of facing a similar fate. But Monday’s results spared Gascón from having to defend his record in an election just two years after he won office, even as some challengers were already lining up to face him.

Brian Van Riper, a political consultant who has worked on recalls in the past, questioned the decision to focus on mail-in petitions in the final few months of the campaign.

“Typically, you shovel money at the signature gatherers, and they sit out in front of Ralphs in perpetuity until they hit their number. The mailing out of the petitions was irregular,” he said. “Did they light money on fire with those mailers?”

Van Riper said the recall campaign failed to shake the perception that it was a partisan, Republican effort in deep-blue L.A. County. The campaign’s top two fundraisers were major donors to President Trump or to California GOP causes; its chair was former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, a Republican; and surrogates often made appearances on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show or the conservative outlet Newsmax.

“They took the path that they went down, and that allowed them to be branded as Trump-loving extremists, even if there is sincere distrust and disdain of the George Gascón policies,” Van Riper said.

In early August, recall organizers began arguing that the review process was unfair. Former Deputy Dist. Atty. Marian Thompson, who has a background in election law, sent a letter to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors claiming that the registrar’s office was using out-of-date processes to verify signatures.

She argued that the registrar was ignoring a 2020 change to the law meant to make it harder to disqualify mail-in votes or petitions if the signature submitted did not match the one on file with the registrar. She also said the recall campaign had been barred from sending observers to monitor the verification process.

But only 9,490 signatures were disqualified because of a mismatch, less than 2% of all submitted and far less than the number by which the recall failed, according to the data released by the registrar Monday.

In mid-July, the registrar’s office performed verification tests on 28,000 signatures collected by the campaign and disqualified 22% of them. While Thompson described that rejection rate as “shockingly large,” San Francisco election officials tossed roughly 34% of all signatures submitted during the process that led to Boudin’s recall, according to Spivak, the recall election expert.

In a statement last week, L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan dismissed Thompson’s letter, denied that officials were using outdated training materials and noted that the California Election Code does not give recall organizers any legal right to monitor the verification process.

Spivak wondered whether the campaign’s tactics meant that its leaders were fearful they would fail and had begun setting the stage for a distraction.

“The question is, were they just throwing up dust into the air to try and confuse things?” he asked.

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