Political Notebook

Judge denies Democrats’ attempt to get voter information in Valadao/Cox race

Daniel Tesfai marks his election ballot along with a steady flow of other voters at the Fresno County Elections office in downtown Fresno on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, on the eve of the national mid-term elections.
Daniel Tesfai marks his election ballot along with a steady flow of other voters at the Fresno County Elections office in downtown Fresno on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, on the eve of the national mid-term elections. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

A Fresno County judge ruled against the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Wednesday in its attempt to get the names and addresses of provisional voters who had their ballots rejected in California’s 21st Congressional District.

The DCCC, the arm of the Democratic Party responsible for steering campaigns for the House of Representatives, filed lawsuits against both Fresno and Kern counties this week. It contended the counties violated public record laws by not responding to requests for provisional ballot information in the 21st, where Democrat TJ Cox recently took a slim lead over Rep. David Valadao.

The Kern County Superior Court has yet to issue a ruling.

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Rep. David Valadao, left, a Hanford Republican, and Fresno Democrat TJ Cox are running in California’s Congressional District 21 November election race. File photos

The lawsuits asked for the names and phone numbers of voters who had their provisional ballots rejected by either county. The DCCC filed for a temporary restraining order against the county clerks, saying it needed the information immediately in order to notify these voters, who only have another week to fix their ballots and have their votes counted.

In his ruling, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald S. Black said that Emma Olsen Sharkey, a Washington, D.C., election attorney listed as the plaintiff on behalf of the DCCC, failed to prove that the requested information was actually a matter of public record.

Black said Sharkey also failed in her duty to prove that her case would prevail in court – a necessary part of a temporary restraining order request.

The Wednesday ruling did not dismiss the lawsuit; it only denied the request for a temporary restraining order.

Fresno attorney David Weiland, who represented Sharkey in court, said he was disappointed in the ruling and could not comment on any possible appeal or future plans.

The DCCC was racing against the clock, as Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth plans to certify Fresno County’s election on Monday. The DCCC noted that the race was likely to be decided by a close margin. Cox led by a little more than 500 votes as of Wednesday afternoon.

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Fresno County released a statement on the lawsuit Wednesday, saying it was “dismayed that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has chosen to file a lawsuit rather than work out their information requests informally.”

The county said it had been in negotiations with DCCC attorneys, whom the county said canceled the records request then re-opened it.

“It is reasonable to believe that a simple phone call from their representative would have helped to sufficiently resolve the DCCC’s complaint,” the county said in its statement.

According to the statement, the county could not provide the requested information due to state and federal laws that protect voter privacy rights.

The DCCC did not respond to a request for comment. Cox’s campaign said it “believes that every vote should be counted and each voter deserves the opportunity to have their voice heard.”

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