The City of Villa Park, the Orange County Registrar of Voters and Mayor Collacott have prevailed against Councilwoman Fascenelli’s petition to remove Collacott from the upcoming City Council elections. In a case of the “tail wagging the dog”, on September 7, 2018 the Orange County Superior Court denied Fascenelli’s petition to decertify Collacott.
In the ruling the court stated that “rejecting a candidate for office…deprives both the candidate of the fundamental right to run for office, and the voters of their equally fundamental right of choosing their officials. The importance of voters’ choice is great here, where there are apparently four candidates vying for three seats; forcibly removing one of the candidates leave voters with no real choice in the election.”
“Except for very large cities, those running for city council are typically not professional politicians, but local residents willing to be involved in the running of their communities. Given this reality, minor omissions and irregularities in complying with the complexities of the Elections Code are to be expected.”
Background of Events
According to the OC Superior Court ruling, Mayor Collacott mistakenly believed the August 10 filing date had been extended. Upon realization of this mistake, while in San Diego on the filing date, he faxed his nomination papers to a third party to file. On August 13, Collacott executed original nomination papers and at the direction of a City of Villa Park election consultant backdated the papers to August 10. The Orange County Registrar of Voters verified the submitted papers.
According to the petition, Mayor Collacott “perpetrated a fraud on the election system” with a “fraudulent or otherwise fatally defective” Declaration of Candidacy. The petition further sought to decertify Mayor Collacott and remove him from the upcoming City Council elections in November.
The petition’s key arguments included:
- The nomination papers filed on August 10, 2018 were not notarized.
- The nomination papers containing an original signature were not filed until August 13, 2018.
- At the time of the filing, the signature collection declaration did not contain the dates on which the names and signatures were collected.
Response of City of Villa Park and Orange County Registrar of Voters
The City of Villa Park attorney responded in its brief to the court that it “believes that it has conducted the current election in compliance with these goals and requirements.”
Regarding the issue of missing dates on the signature collection declaration, the Orange County Registrar of Voters stated that “Though this was a deviation from our custom and practice, it was, in my opinion, inconsequential.”
Additional arguments against the petition were presented by both parties and are mostly addressed in the court’s ruling.
Orange County Superior Court Ruling
Failure to show notarization of nomination papers was required.
The principal reason for this ruling was that the provisions of the Elections Code cited in the lawsuit do not apply to general elections. The court further noted that nothing in the law shows that the submitted papers must be notarized.
“If the Legislature wanted nomination papers in municipal election to be notarized, they could have expressly so provided…”
Failure to show that a “Wet Ink” signature is required on nomination papers.
The court noted there was no known authority holding that an original “wet ink” signature was required. The signed faxed papers filed on August 10 were sufficient.
Failure to include dates of circulation invalidates nomination papers.
The court again ruled that the provisions of the Election Code cited in the petition were inapplicable, but the court did take into consideration applicable law, noting “no error, omission or irregularity shall invalidate an election if there has been substantial compliance” (Election Code 10200). The court also indicated that, despite the missing dates, the date range was clear by the actual signatures in the signature declaration. The court ultimately ruled that failure to comply on this matter was not sufficient to invalidate the nomination papers, finding that there had been substantial compliance.
“Invalidating [Collacott’] candidacy based on an inconsequential omission, would be the “tail wagging the dog.”
2018 Villa Park Election News