Tensions flare as candidates accuse each other of ballot tampering and “foul play” in a close California congressional race

Democrat Gil Cisneros (L) is facing Republican Young Kim (R) in the open race in California’s 39th congressional district Screenshot via YouTube/Screenshot via YouTube
  • Tensions are running hot in the race for California’s 39th congressional district, formerly held by Republican Ed Royce.
  • The campaign for Republican Young Kim accused her Democratic opponent Gil Cisneros of “physically tampering” with ballots and intimidating vote counters.
  • A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office denied those allegations in a statement to INSIDER.

The 2018 midterm elections were one week ago, but tensions are heating up in several of the 10 House races that have yet to be called – including the contest for the open seat in California’s 39th congressional district, which includes portions of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties.

On Tuesday, Republican candidate Young Kim saw her lead over Democrat Gil Cisneros narrow to just 711 votes from 1, 957 on Monday as the mail-in ballots counted after Election Day have leaned heavily in Cisneros’ favour. Kim, a former state assemblywoman aide to outgoing Rep. Ed Royce, led by nearly 4,000 votes when the polls closed on Nov. 6th.

After initially accusing the Cisneros campaign of being “rebuked” by the Los Angeles Registrar and County Clerk’s offices for alleged ballot tampering on Sunday, the Kim campaign took the allegations a step further after Cisneros gained more ground on Monday.

“The Gil Cisneros Campaign has been desperate to influence and alter the outcome of this race by harassing and intimidating vote counters in Orange County,” the campaign said Monday. “Those nefarious actions reflect a campaign…that will do anything in their desperate effort to change the results.”

They also asserted that Kim’s initial lead should be reflected in the results of the mail-in and provisional ballots, adding that “anything falling significantly outside of those percentages could reflect foul play.”

As the Los Angeles Times pointed out on Tuesday, however, the distribution of the vote count in the 39th district so far is par for the course in California elections.

While older and more conservative-leaning voters make up most of those who vote early and on Election Day, younger and Democratic-leaning voters take advantage of California’s policy to count all mailed-in ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, meaning Democratic candidates usually see their vote counts increase as those ballots are tabulated.

In a statement to INSIDER on Tuesday, the Cisneros campaign accused the Kim campaign of “blatantly lying” in their allegations of ballot tampering, and further alleged that a representative for the Kim campaign had, in fact, been asked to leave the premises of the LA County Registrar’s Office for photographing and attempting to tamper with ballots.

A spokesperson for LA County Registrar denied the Kim campaign’s allegations of ballot interference and harassment of vote counters to INSIDER, also on Tuesday.

“We have not addressed anything related to ballot tampering or physical tampering with ballots,” they said. “Our process is transparent and secured.”

The office declined to comment on the Cisneros campaigns’ allegations and eyewitness reports that as many as three observers and supporters of the Young Kim campaign were escorted off the premises of the Registrar’s Office.

The Kim campaign did not respond to INSIDER’s requests for comment on the Registrar’s statement or whether they planned to retract their allegations of vote tampering in light of the Registrar’s denial of such activity.

Equality California, a LGBTQ rights group supporting Cisneros, called the Kim campaign’s allegations a “desperate, dangerous stunt to save face as her lead continues to shrink” in a Tuesday statement.

“Accusing your opponent of cheating just because you don’t like the outcome may be the norm in Florida these days, but it won’t fly in California,” the group added.

Accusations of voter fraud and disagreements over procedures for counting overseas and provisional ballots have been an issue in a number of 2018 midterm races, including the recounts of the gubernatorial and Senate races in Florida.

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Hotly contested
recounts are underway in Florida, as Georgia and Arizona scramble to finalise results in key races

In a Tuesday ruling, a judge in Florida found no evidence for claims of election fraud and illegal practices by local election authorities lodged by Republican Senate candidate Gov. Rick Scott and echoed by other Republicans, including President Donald Trump.

The judge also admonished both Democrats and Republicans to “ramp down the rhetoric” as the recounts of the Senate and gubernatorial races proceed.