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Amar Shergill (center) at the 2019 CADEM Progressive Caucus meeting.

Amar Shergill (center) at the 2019 CADEM Progressive Caucus meeting.

It is an indictment of the hubris of the California Democratic Party (CDP) Chair that on Monday night, a mostly-unknown committee is being asked to overrule Chair Rusty Hicks’ decision to disenfranchise over one thousand voters. Hopefully, they will do the right thing but, since they are appointed by the Chair, nothing is guaranteed. If they fail, the Executive Board of the Party has scheduled a meeting for March 13 to overturn the Chair’s decision. When so many urgent issues demand our attention, the Chair should not be forcing us to spend our time on this. California Democrats deserve better leadership from its chief executive.

Since many Democrats are not aware of what has been happening in their name, let’s review how we got here. In December and January, over 150,000 Democrats from across the state requested mail-in ballots to elect Assembly Districts Delegates to the California Democratic Party. For a number of reasons, some avoidable error and some not, the Party changed the ballot deadlines twice. The initial deadline was that the ballots must be received back at CDP offices by January 27. Due to CDP and USPS delays, Chair Hicks changed the deadline and required postmark by January 27 and received at CDP offices by January 30. After even more election problems, Chair Hicks moved the deadline to all ballots must be received by February 3. For reasons known only to him, he declined to follow the California legal standard of a postmarked date for ballots, followed by an allowance of 17 days for election officials to receive them.

How did the Chair of the California Democratic Party end up on the wrong side of the fundamental Democratic principle of #CountEveryVote?

As the finaldeadline approached, Democrats from across the state sent emails to Chair Hicks letting him know that the election process was seriously flawed and that many voters had not even received ballots yet, let alone been able to mail them back on time. With just days left, even some candidates in the election had not yet received a ballot to vote for themselves. Rural voters, especially, were concerned that they were being disenfranchised because their ballots were the most likely to be delivered back to the Party after the deadline. On Twitter, Facebook, email, and text message, Democrats let Chair Hicks know that his decision was disenfranchising voters and that he should #CountEveryVote. His response: silence.

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As predicted, after the deadline, ballots continued to arrive late through no fault of the voters. Even then, Chair Hicks refused to take action to #CountEveryVote. Left with no other reasonable option, the Executive Board of the California Democratic Party acted; circulating a successful petition forcing a March 13 meeting under the Bylaws which would overturn the Chair and #CountEveryVote.

Upon learning that the Executive Board was acting in the interest of voters, Chair Hicks, rather than hear the voice of the Party, admit his mistake, and amend his decision, chose instead to call for an expedited hearing of the Compliance Review Commission (CRC). The Commission, all appointed by the Chair, were never intended to act as a means for the Chair to avoid accountability for his own decisions. The CRC may very well come to his rescue but, whether they do or not, this episode is a failure in leadership from the CDP Chair.

When the Party sends out ballots late, when the ballots arrive just days ahead of the deadline (or even after it) with no opportunity to be returned on time, and when voter disenfranchisement is unavoidable, we expect the Chair to do the right thing, not hide behind arcane committees and procedural obfuscation. At the very least the Chair of the California Democratic Party should stand up for our shared values and #CountEveryVote. He is refusing to do so and it is an embarrassment. Even now, he could simply direct the Party to count the ballots.

Democrats in California are facing immense challenges as we struggle to recover from the Trump era, deliver aid to struggling families, defend against COVID, and respond to a recall challenge against Governor Newsom. The Party needs a leader that acts in good faith, admits his mistakes, and does what is best for the people of California. Chair Hicks must immediately and publicly commit to #CountEveryVote because that is what Democrats believe in.

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Finally, because Chair Hicks has not inspired confidence that he will act in the interests of voters, it falls upon Democrats in the Party to do so. We call on the CRC to side with voters that were inspired to get involved in this election. They are owed the basic respect of having their votes counted; let us make good on that promise.

Amar Shergill
CDP Progressive Caucus Chair
CDP Executive Board Member