Tuesday, June 12, 2012

AZ Republic reports on Q Town "election hullabaloo"

Quartzsite refuses to seat winning mayor

Quartzsite residents who thought they voted in new municipal leadership found out otherwise last week when the Town Council decided not to seat Mayor-elect Ed Foster and Councilman-elect Mark Orgeron, claiming the two men are not eligible to hold office.
Incumbents contend that Foster, a former mayor who leads the opposing political faction, is ineligible because of an unpaid debt to the town. They refused to let Orgeron take office because they do not consider him to be a town resident.
"I served in the military, and this is not the America that I raised my right hand and swore to defend," said Foster, who garnered 56 percent of the vote to easily defeat opponent Jerry Lukkasson.
Foster said he filed papers asking La Paz County Attorney Sam Vederman to file a writ under an obscure state law that allows a court to remove usurpers from public office and seat a legitimate candidate.
Orgeron said he has hired an attorney and filed a legal action, but he declined to provide details.
Vederman said Monday that he is studying options and should make a decision "soon." Meanwhile, he said, the situation in Quartzsite is volatile enough that he worries about violence.
"We're exploring the entire situation," Vederman added. "A lot of people are concerned there could be violations (of Arizona law). I just want everyone to remain calm."
The election hullabaloo is just the latest political clash in the dusty desert town along Interstate 10, the freeway to California. Years of feuding have resulted in numerous criminal and civil investigations.
Foster and about a dozen other critics of the establishment who have been jailed repeatedly say they are victims of false arrest and civil-rights violations. A town attorney was replaced last year after he refused to prosecute cases that he described as politically motivated.
Most of the town's police officers were fired in 2011 after they accused Chief Jeffrey Gilbert of abusing his authority. Their complaint was referred by state police investigators to the Attorney General's Office, which censured the Town Council for violating public-meeting laws.
The state ombudsman reprimanded the town for violating Arizona's Public Records Law. State Bar complaints have been lodged against the new town attorney. Foster said he was interviewed recently by FBI agents investigating public officials.
Vice Mayor Barbara Cowell, who placed third in the election and would have been replaced by Orgeron, said she and other incumbents are fighting against disruptive newcomers.
"All we're trying to do is protect the people of Quartzsite," she said.
Jose Lizarraga, who was to be replaced as mayor but remains in office, did not respond to interview requests. According to town records, Lizarraga opposed the council's decision to disqualify Foster and Orgeron.
Minutes from last week's meeting indicate the council's vote took place after a closed-door discussion, and no public explanation was given for the board's decision.
In an interview, however, Cowell said Foster was disqualified because he failed to pay court-ordered attorney fees from a lawsuit he lost against the town.
Several years ago, Quartzsite adopted an ordinance banning municipal debtors from office. Foster and others contend the ordinance violates the rights of voters as well as candidates.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, declined to comment on the legal question but said he knows of no other municipality in the state with a similar candidate code.
Tim Casey, a Phoenix attorney who practices election law, said that, under Quartzsite's ordinance, a resident could not hold office if he or she had an unpaid traffic ticket or was contesting a municipal fee.
"I would think there would be a number of constitutional problems with that," Casey said. "It would seem to be an impermissible limitation on public service and a violation of the will of voters."
Cowell said Orgeron was not seated because council members do not believe his legal residence is in Quartzsite. Orgeron teaches in the community and stays there five days each week, but he has a home in Yuma and was registered to vote there in the past year.
Orgeron said he has lived in Quartzsite since 2009 and considers it his residence.
"I believe the current Town Council and city government have stifled the voters," he said. "We need to turn that town back over to the people."
Casey said that residency questions hinge largely on subjective intent and that challenges from political rivals should be viewed skeptically: "You have to be careful about using these things to exclude people who you don't see as desirable."
Rob Dalager, another attorney experienced in election law, said it is unlikely that a judge would disqualify Orgeron based on an issue that was not even raised before the election.
"Courts like to give pretty good deference to the voters," he noted.
The U.S. Census Bureau puts Quartzsite's population at about 3,500, with a median age of 67.
But actual numbers fluctuate wildly from a few thousand people who brave the summer heat to about 1 million visitors during winter months when snowbirds are drawn to gem shows, craft events and swap meets.
The political furor is complicated by allegations of election fraud in a mayoral vote that tallied just 706 ballots.
Town Manager Alex Taft announced during this week's council meeting that 168 votes are under investigation.
Cowell said she and other incumbents believe "something is not right" because about 300 new voters registered before the election, including some staying on federal lands.
"We have proof that there were (three) people who were dead who voted," she added.
Cowell was unable to identify the investigator hired by the town or give details on how the person was selected or how much he or she is being paid.
"I'm not privy to that. It's not my business," she said.
Cowell said she understands that Quartzsite's code banning municipal debtors from office may be challenged in court.
"If it finds out we are wrong, then we'll seat him," she said. "From my heart, I know we have not done anything illegal."
Likewise, Cowell said, she will be replaced on the council if a judge rules that Orgeron resides in Quartzsite. However, she noted, "I am still in that position right now."



  2. Who are the dead people the public wants to no and who they voted for.

      Quartzsite’s ‘dead voters’ is an urban legend: County Recorder

      La Paz County Recorder Shelly Baker, in a segment on Parker’s KLPZ 1380am radio this morning, said the claim that the records of deceased people were used to commit voter fraud in the recent Quartzsite election is an “urban legend”.

      A news story in the Arizona Republic quotes Quartzsite Vice Mayor Barbara Cowell as saying that “something is not right” about the recent election to the Council of candidates who oppose her politically. “We have proof that there were (three) people who were dead who voted,” she said.

      Cowell was defending her vote with a majority of the Council to disqualify two of the candidates who won, Ed Foster and Mark Orgeron, in an unprecedented move that is drawing fire from observers across the country. Orgeron won the election for Cowell’s seat on May 15th.

      Baker says the idea that dead people voted in the election derives from an incident involving an early ballot that was sent back to the County Recorder’s Office with the word ‘Deceased’ written on it. The ballot was not processed.

      “Out of that grew this whole rumor that dead people are voting in Quartzsite. There’s no validity to it at all. And if someone has evidence to the contrary, bring it up. Bring it forward. Let’s not do this in secret, is what I would like to say. Let’s be transparent about the process,” she said.

      Baker added that nobody from the Town of Quartzsite had come to her about any specific names they wanted to claim were deceased, but that she had been helping two private investigators from Phoenix who had apparently been hired by the Town, and that no discrepancies had thus far been identified.

      Town Manager Alex Taft, speaking at the Special Meeting of the Quartzsite Council on June 4th, said she had identified “approximately 168 voters that we need to look at more thoroughly, for a variety of reasons; out of state license plates, out of state registration, mailing addresses that are out of state, people who have not had their rights restored voting, people that are living in outlining areas and claiming they’re living in town.”

      Baker said there have been no such anomalies identified, but “only misunderstandings of people who don’t understand the process.” She went on to explain that having out of state license plates or addresses, or living in the Long-Term Visitor Areas on BLM land does not disqualify someone from voting.

      If someone does register to vote in Quartzsite and then fails to register their vehicle with the Arizona MVD, that may be prosecuted under Title 28 motor vehicle law, not Title 16 voter registration law, she said.

      “The Chief of Police and the Town Manager Alex Taft both know that, because I’ve had this conversation with them for the past two years. Why they’re refusing to believe it is their problem, but that’s the law. It’s backed up by the Secretary of State, by our attorneys, by everybody.”

      Baker added that voter fraud can be prosecuted if someone can be proven to have voted in two places. Many of Quartzsite’s visitors are snowbirds who spend the summer in colder states. Baker said such fraud is actionable.

      “If Quartzsite thinks they have fraud going on, bring it forward. Quit hiding.”

  3. According to the exhibits in his court filing Mr Offering did not vote in Yuma and lists Quartzsite as his residence.

  4. Mark owns property here, he's not on food stamps, and he works here too. That's more of a committment than most people are willing to make. What're you trying to say T.S.? Mark can't participate in the process of being an American because he didn't have his "papers" in order? Good luck with that!