Lancaster man files suit challenging results of recent municipal elections
A Lancaster man is contesting the outcome of Lancaster’s recent municipal elections, saying he hopes his legal challenge will bring justice to hundreds of voters who he believes were disenfranchised.
Johnathon Ervin, 31, an engineer and Air Force reservist, filed suit in July charging discrepancies in April’s election for mayor and City Council. Allegations include violations in voting procedures and the handling of the ballot, such as absentee ballots allegedly being left unsecured and in the presence of an incumbent.
A trial is set for Dec. 13.
The defendants named in the suit are Lancaster City Clerk Geri Bryan; Vice Mayor Ron Smith, who won reelection; and newly elected Councilman Marvin E. Crist.
One of Ervin’s key contentions is that Bryan certified Victoria Zavala for the City Council race even though Zavala wasn’t a resident of Lancaster. The candidate wasn’t informed of her ineligibility to run until after the election.
Zavala garnered 2,107 votes, some of which Ervin contends could have gone to him, giving him enough votes to beat Crist and possibly Smith.
Voters were allowed to cast ballots for two candidates.
"I feel the clerk’s negligence disenfranchised over 2,000 voters from casting votes for a qualified candidate,” Ervin said. He wants the election results to be nullified and a new vote held.
“We cannot let this go by without putting up a fight,” he said.
Mike Rives, who finished fourth in the council race and in past years has run for seats in Congress and the California state Assembly, said he had never witnessed this “degree of manipulation of all my years in politics.”
Council members acknowledged the election was flawed, but the panel has since voted for the results to stand.
Lancaster City Atty. David McEwen said the judge’s setting of a trial date has nothing to do with whether Ervin has a legitimate case. “It’s purely procedural,” he said, noting that several steps remain before a trial could occur.
Smith noted that Ervin originally focused his case on the fact that an unqualified candidate was allowed to run.
"Now he’s throwing in everything but the kitchen sink,” he said.
McEwen said it was unlikely that Ervin’s challenge to an ineligible candidate being on the ballot would succeed in forcing a new election. “The law makes it very clear that you can’t challenge that after the election,” McEwen said. “You simply invalidate the votes.”
In addition, since voters were allowed to back two candidates in the council race, it is possible that Ervin already received votes from some of the ballot-casters who also voted for Zavala, McEwen said. There is no proof that any additional votes Ervin might have won would have affected the outcome of the election, McEwen added.
Ervin insisted that his election challenge wasn’t about self-promotion.
“This really isn’t about me,” said Ervin. “It’s about the people. It’s about the constitutionality of these elections.”
-- Ann M. Simmons