Dems Are All in for ‘Fair and Open Elections’ - But What About Their Internal Elections?

EASTSIDER-As democrats we all advocate for open, transparent, and inclusive elections -- for elected public officials. But what about internal elections, such as the recent County delegate election for AD51? 

Now that everyone’s trying to recover from the LAUSD Board District 5 Primary election, let’s see how this internal Party election compares to what the Democratic Party itself calls an election. 

Is there something hinky about the LA County Party? 

Basically, the way the Dems figure out their endorsements is through electing a series of delegates to the County Party and then to the State Party. Those elections match the boundaries of the Assembly Districts and Senate Districts, and these delegates are offset by adult supervision laid out in the Bylaws of the LACDP and the State Party (CADEM).  

Here I will concentrate on AD51, which is a sprawling District clearly designed to produce a democratic Latino assembly member. From Eagle Rock in the north, down to Angeleno Heights by the freeway, and on the east from Highland Park down thru East Los Angeles, it’s another large and sprawling product of gerrymandering. 

For those who have never paid attention to all this stuff, the Washington Post has a terrific explanation of what gerrymandering is and how it works. 


Back to the narrative. When Xavier Becerra left Congress to become California Attorney General, it created a domino effect of Special Elections. He was ultimately replaced by Jimmy Gomez (Assembly District 51), creating another Special Election for that seat. Here the next establishment democrat chosen in the democratic party’s back rooms was one Wendy Carrillo, who beat Luis Lopez with support from the usual cast of donors, and she is now our assembly person in AD51. Charter School proclivities and all. You can read about the event here. 

The Party has a history of bestowing outsider candidates on us instead of homegrown grassroots ones. Largely how they do this is via the Los Angeles County Democratic Party endorsements which bring in the bucks and the bodies. The mechanism for doing this is by way of LACDP election of delegates for the Los Angeles seats, who in turn push for endorsements. Are you still with me? 

This year, as a grassroots dem, my wife and I decided to participate in this internal election process. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyhow, the election was held in East Los Angeles at the East LA Rising facility, and here’s a summary of our two-hour round-trip experience: 

- None of the normal trappings of an LA County Registrar/Recorder election were present. This is strictly insider only stuff with factions vying for the slots. 

- There were two different flyers for the same slate, with two different times; one saying 10 a.m. to noon, the other saying 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

-  It took us about an hour to get from Glassell Park to East LA and to find the polling location, and as far as I know, there was no discussion about two separate polling locations to maximize participation. 

- There was virtually no parking at the facility, nor was anyone directing the voters where they could park, although we did see a couple of buses, so someone knew about all this in advance. 

- The voting lines appeared to be going in two directions and were around three blocks long when we arrived. 

-  After driving around to no avail, we finally left without voting (1 p.m. would have come and gone long before the time we got up to the actual balloting). 

Long story short, this election did not seem geared to encourage participation by all democrats, although we heard of voters who were not in AD51 trying to vote, and I honestly wonder if there was deliberate voter suppression going on. 

Anyhow, before I whine too much, I am told that the election place “alternates” between Highland Park and East Los Angeles, although I can’t say for certain. This did not leave a good taste in my mouth, although I was able to remedy that by stopping by Dino’s Burgers in Lincoln Heights. 

Next Steps 

So, the next day I was still revved up enough about all this that I wrote to the Chair of the LACDP and said, basically, “hey, this ain’t kosher,” and “what are you going to do about it?” Well, that worked. Not.  Being a recovering bureaucrat, I then went online to see what the heck the LACDP Bylaws say about elections and appeals. For those of you who are interested, you can find the Bylaws here.  

If you are into pain, you can look at all sixty-one pages of the Bylaws (I did). I didn’t find anything about election procedures, outreach, or for that matter, any way in which to appeal, challenge, or grieve a delegates election. 

Weirdly, there are a few references to the California Elections Code in the Bylaws, although nowhere is there an indication that the County Dems are going to follow all the Elections Code. This just makes the code sections that are referenced stand out more. For example, I really liked this one. 

“It is unlawful for any person that includes in any part of its name the name of any political party that was qualified to participate in the last preceding primary election, to directly or indirectly solicit funds for any purpose whatsoever upon the representation either express or implied that the funds are being solicited for the use of that political party unless that person shall have previously obtained the written consent of one of the following:  a member of the national committee from California or the majority of the members of the national committee if there are more than two national committee members from California, chairman of the state central committee, executive committee of the state central committee, or executive committee of the county central committee of the party whose name is being used in the county in which the solicitation is to be made. If the county central committee of the party in that county does not have an executive committee, the written consent of the chairman and secretary of that county central committee is sufficient. 

All persons soliciting funds in accordance with this section shall be furnished with adequate credentials bearing the name of the solicitor and a copy of the written consent that bears the signature of the person authorizing the solicitation.” 

Gee, there’s a model of clarity. And the reference is to a Statewide Elections Code, not the local Democratic Party rules. 

The only direct information I found regarding elections in the Bylaws had to do with Officers, Regional Vice-Chairs, and Assembly District Delegation Officers. None of this has anything to do with how the County Party goes about setting up delegate elections, inviting people to run for office, providing notice to the troops, actually conducting the election, or providing for any fundamental appeal or grievance procedure. For any District. 

The Takeaway 

Feeling snarky, I wrote the Chair of the LACDP on February 7, to share my consternation in not being able to find a grievance or appeal procedure over the conduct of these District Delegation elections. 

Silly me, I even specifically requested help in finding anything the Party had which would point to an appeals process. This week we are into March, and I am slowly coming to the conclusion that there will be no response from my democratic party. Ever. 

Here’s the moral of my little story: In LA County, we have essentially a one-party system. If we want that state of affairs to continue and are going to be real actual small ‘d’ democrats who reach out to everyone and work hard at inclusion, then we have to do more than mouth the words. 

And the way our County Party runs its delegate elections does not inspire confidence. Particularly as icon after Democratic icon becomes mired in scandal.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.