WCKNC Elections Witness Statement

I submitted a witness statement to the city regarding what I saw happen at the April 4 WCKNC election for multiple people filing election challenges.

The following information contained herein is within my own personal knowledge and relates only to facts and circumstances surrounding the Election Challenge submitted by _____________ on ____________ regarding Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council.

My name is Yongho Kim, and I live in the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council (WCKNC) District 4. My mailing address, 900 Crenshaw Blvd #B, Los Angeles CA 90019, is my workplace where I can receive mail reliably. On April 4, 2019, at 5:40pm I voted at the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council elections at the at the polls at Seoul International Park.

As I walked to the park from Normandie following a walking ramp, I was trying to see where the polling site was located. First, I saw two booths – one with personnel who seemed Korean, and another with personnel who seemed maybe South Asian. As I walked by them and asked them “is this where I vote?”, someone at the Korean booth told me in Korean that she could help me. She gave me the voter registration form and walked me through the process. At no point during the interaction did she identify herself nor the group running the booth.

When this was done, she gave me a sheet of paper with 15 candidates’ names on it, divided by sub-district groups. 12 of them had names that sound Korean. She said “I’m giving you these names for your consideration.. just as a reference” (In Korean: “이 후보들을 고려해주세요.. 참고만 하시라구요”) So then I asked her, “are you with the official elections administration?”. She fumbled the answer, and then said “Just go in and please vote”, and again adding “consider those candidates”. The paper has no title, no contact information, no attribution to originating group or individual, and does not explain what the nature of the paper is.

The Korean booth had two official LA City flyers with LA City logos attached to the booth, and there was a sandwich cardboard in front of it that read “Neighborhood Council Election | clerk.lacity.org/elections”. The backside of the sandwich read “No Electioneering Beyond This Point”. There was an elections poster next to it as well. There was a sign in the booth table that read “Wilshire Neighborhood Council Elections Information” (In Korean: 월셔주민의회 선거 안내”) I didn’t look closely at the other one, but I assume the South Asian looking booth was set up in a similar manner.

I then walked inside the gym. As I handed in my voter registration form to the pollworker, I accidentally dropped the candidates list paper, which was still in my hands. The pollworker saw the candidates list paper and told me that I should make sure to not leave it behind inside the poll, since it’s partisan material. I also asked her about the booth outside. “Did you know that they are passing out voter reg forms and then giving people these candidates list? I thought they were official elections staff at first.” She rolled her eyes and said “yeah, they are not supposed to be doing that”.

I posted on Twitter that this seemed inappropriate, and several people replied, among them James An, a candidate who was listed in the paper, who said that he was involved in the effort that happened in the Korean booth, along with other candidates. James An claimed that everything the group did was done in compliance with existing rules.

I believe that the booth was in violation of the below two items from the list of acceptable challenges for a Neighborhood Council elections: (Attachment G of the 2019 Neighborhood Council Election Handbook)

  • Explicit use of City logo(s) for campaign materials by candidates;
  • Ongoing electioneering by candidate(s) or stakeholder(s) at a polling place on Election Day;

I also think that it’s ethically problematic for candidates to electioneer through a group while hiding the group’s identity, and to continue to refuse to identify themselves even when directly inquired. For comparison, federal election rules require every electioneering printed material to include the group’s name, registration number and some form of contact information. To claim that it is okay to mask this information because it’s not part of explicit rules is exploiting loopholes in existing rules that were made in good faith of the parties involved. Only responding when criticized as if there was nothing to hide from the beginning is not a good practice of transparency.

I believe that underhanded operations like these undermine the public trust in institutions of democracy. Normalizing this type of activity is a dangerous road leading down to electoral races becoming a matter of which candidate could yield a bigger, unofficial, stretching-the-rules type of operation – ultimately resulting in heightened voter apathy and an even lower turnout. Among the candidates, I recognize names of people who appeared in Korean media last year vociferously demanding “transparency” and “fair process” from the city on its homeless housing proposal. As we engage in politics and civic life, at the very least, we should walk the talk and practice those principles in our activities.

I encourage the city to investigate how many votes were manipulated in this way by the group and any other groups that behaved similarly, and take appropriate follow-up action based on the findings.

I have included extra information related to this statement. The attachments can also be viewed online on my blog at https://yokim.net/3556/

I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that the foregoing is true and correct. I understand that all information on this form is public record.

Attachment A: A photo of the Candidates List Paper
Attachment B: Photos of the booth
Attachment C: Twitter Conversation

Attachment A: A photo of the Candidates List Paper

Attachment B: Photos of the booth

 

Attachment C: Twitter Conversation

This is a selection of some of the conversation that ensued on Twitter.