Monitoring will help ensure election fairness

The questionable electoral practices of the independent expenditure committee supporting Ed Lee for mayor have raised concerns about the fairness of the mayoral election.

The group’s volunteers were recently allegedly observed “helping” elderly voters fill out their ballots in makeshift sidewalk polling tables in Chinatown. Lee supporters are accused of using stencils to help guide voting selections and filling in ballots for voters — all of which is unethical and may violate state and federal election law.

Seven mayoral candidates have asked for state and federal investigations and monitoring of electoral activities. We join them. Everything must be done to ensure the legitimacy of this very important election that will determine San Francisco’s course for the next four years.

To his credit, Lee has distanced himself from the shadow group supposedly working on his behalf. He said his campaign is 100 percent clean, and he joined the other candidates in calling for an investigation “if there’s any fishy business about the way people are handling other peoples’ ballots.” He said he has no connection and has not communicated with the group, and that “if there’s anyone out there who thinks they are representing me or any other candidate, I want them to cease and desist.”

Unfortunately, this is not the only questionable electoral incident in the mayoral campaign.

Investigations are under way by District Attorney George Gascón and the California Fair Political Practices Commission into allegations of money laundering of donations to the Lee campaign by employees for an airport van service after the company may have benefited from the reversal of a decision on van pickup locations. Lee’s staff and airport officials deny any involvement by Lee in the decision, and the campaign has returned the donations. There may have been another money laundering effort involving a property management company.

It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that some groups would attempt to skirt or violate campaign laws in order to gain influence with the leaders of a city with a $6.8 billion budget. But it’s disappointing that some of the mayoral candidates, notably state Sen. Leland Yee, have sought to gain political advantage from it.

As a San Francisco Examiner article pointed out last week, electoral irregularities are nothing new in San Francisco. A poll worker stole 75 ballots last year and dozens of ballot box lids washed up on beaches 10 years ago, among other incidents. In 2004 state monitors were brought in to ensure the fairness of that election.

Given the number of recent incidents, it would be good to bring back monitors at city polling places and to oversee the ballot counting. There is no stigma in doing so — 30 jurisdictions in 18 states benefited from federal monitoring last year.

 “It’s not uncommon for us to have observers,” said John Arntz, The City’s director of elections. “I don’t think San Francisco is known for bad elections.”

Let’s keep it that way — better safe than sorry.

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