The Disputed Election to Head California’s Democratic Party

Karen Bernal is a movement activist, having worked in labor, progressive Democratic Party politics and social justice issues. She is the newly elected chair of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party, having returned to that post after a four-year hiatus. She was also co-chair of California’s Bernie Sanders delegates to the 2016 Democratic Convention. In a recent phone interview, she spoke about the May 20, 2017, election of Eric C. Bauman as Chair of the California Democratic Party over Kimberly Ellis, who Bernal supported.

Seth Sandronsky: California is a rock-solid blue state, with a Democratic governor and party control over both houses of the legislature. What does Bauman’s election by a vote margin of 1,493 to 1,431, which Ellis disputes, mean as the 2018 election to change the character of the GOP-dominated Congress draws closer?

Karen Bernal: It is a fight over the very soul of the Democratic Party. It is a struggle over whether the progressives, especially the great numbers of former Sanders supporters who swept into the party in recent delegate elections, are going to prevail over the party establishment.

SS: What does the Ellis campaign want?

KB: We want an independent audit of the ballots cast based on evidence that people voted who were likely ineligible to vote. It is very much in question if Bauman is the legitimate head of the Calif. Democratic Party.

SS: What is the practical impact of the dispute over the Bauman-Ellis vote?

KB: You can imagine what happened after the allegations of vote-rigging against Sanders in favor of Clinton in the 2016 primary. There are huge divisions and acrimony within the party, especially in the progressive wing, e.g., the “Berniecrats” (backers of Vermont Independent Sen. Sanders). A large number of Ellis supporters are Berniecrats.

SS: Where do things go next in the election to lead Calif.’s Democratic Party?

KB: There are close to 200 ballots with mismatched signatures in addition to what appears to be dozens of ineligible proxy votes. There are other concerns as well, which I am not at liberty to talk about. We are calling for an independent audit of the election. The California Democratic Party’s Compliance Review Commission rejects our bid for an independent audit of the ballot, though, at first, Bauman supporters actually called for one before they changed their minds. They changed their minds after the Ellis team had four (less than full business) days over two weeks (approximately 27 hours) to review the ballots, whereby the call for an independent audit went out based on what they had initially found. It should be noted that the review is not complete, as the party denied access to the materials after the fourth day.

SS: “There are numerous types of discrepancies ranging from mismatched and missing signatures to individuals casting multiple ballots to ineligible proxies voting,” according to a recent Ellis statement. What is going on here?

KB: Yes, based on a cursory analysis of county and state Assembly-level proxy voters, for instance, there are around two dozen votes for the state chair that seem ineligible, according to the specific party rules about proxy eligibility. Say you were in a specific county central committee and could not attend the election to vote for the next state chair. If that was the case, a proxy to cast a vote would have to be from the same central committee.

SS: As we end the interview, what is your final comment?

KB: One thing is certain, a majority of the elected delegates, not the appointed delegates where Bauman dominated, voted for progressive change. This is why we need an independent audit of the vote.

SS: Thanks much for your time.

KB: Thank you.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

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