Kim, Cisneros Accuse Each Other of Vote-Counting ‘Misconduct’

Race is one of three 'too-close-to-call' California contests

Young Kim / Youtube

Voters in the hard-fought contest to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.) cast their votes nearly a week ago but the campaign is still operating near full throttle, trading barbs and accusations over the tedious vote-counting process.

The congressional contest in the 39th district, which was traditionally conservative but has been trending more Democratic in recent years, is just one of three California races that are still too close to call and are unlikely to be decided for days or weeks.

Democrats gained ground over the weekend in all three, with the GOP's Rep. Jeff Denham losing his lead to Democrat Josh Harder in the Central Valley by nearly 3,362 votes and Rep. Mimi Walters seeing her more than 6,000 vote election-night lead fall to 2,020 in her race against Democrat Katie Porter.

In the 39th district, Republican Young Kim is still laying claim to a slim, roughly 2,500-vote lead against Democrat Gil Cisneros with tens of thousands of ballots yet to be counted.

As the arduous process of physically counting some provisional and late ballots continues, both sides have accused the other of improper behavior with attorneys and surrogates for the two campaigns closely monitoring the vote counting.

The Kim campaign late Monday argued that Cisneros surrogates observing officials counting votes tried to intimidate them and earned at least one rebuke from the Los Angeles County Registrar over the weekend for what they called "physical ballot tampering."

"Trailing by thousands of votes, 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—and earned a rebuke from the Los Angeles County Registrar for physical ballot tampering," Patrick Mocete, Kim's campaign manager, said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

"These nefarious actions reflect a campaign that knows a majority of voters cast their ballots electing Young Kim, and as a result, will do anything in their desperate effort to change the results," he added.

There are now 173,000 total votes counted, with Kim earning approximately 53.2 percent of the vote in Orange County, 51.3 percent in San Bernardino County and 43.7 percent in Los Angeles County, Mocete said.

"The remaining ballots should nearly match those votes shares in each county," he said. "Anything failing significantly outside of those percentages could reflect foul play, and we will continue observing closely to make sure the integrity of this election remains intact."

Minutes later, Kim tweeted that the campaign is "standing up for the democratic process, the will of the majority of voters, and is emphatically committed to every legal vote being counted."

The Cisneros campaign quickly jabbed back, claiming that a Kim representative was escorted out of the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters building on Saturday, with two more representatives escorted out on Sunday.

Nic Jordan, the Cisneros campaign spokesman, accused the Kim campaign of "blatantly lying" about the incident.

In a written statement released late Monday afternoon, Jordan said a Kim representative "reportedly continually interfered with workers, touched screens and demanded more information before she was asked to leave the building at 7:23 p.m. by registrar supervisors."

"This follows reports of Kim and Republican representatives slowing down the counting process by attempting to challenge ballots with Latino surnames and obstructing employees from reviewing signatures, while thousands of votes continue to be counted in the race," he said.

He said that two other Kim representatives "were caught" by Los Angeles County employees while flipping through ballots and taking photographs on Sunday night and were asked to leave the building.

"I welcome the news that the Young Kim campaign will work to ensure all ballots are counted in an orderly and timely manner, as their actions from the last several days would suggest otherwise," he said.

The Los Angeles County Registrar did not respond to a request for comment.

The vote-counting in the 39th district is complicated because the seat is made up of a cross-section of Orange, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles counties, all of which exercise different vote-counting observation and challenge rules.

Thousands of mail-in ballots that were sent to the registrar on Election Day arrived in the days after the election, leading to some disputes. State law allows mail-in ballots to arrive as late as 8 p.m. Friday and still be counted, as long as they were postmarked no later than Election Day.

In addition, part of the late vote-counting process involves ensuring that the signature that appears on the cast ballot matches signatures used when registering to vote. Under a new California law, voters whose signatures are in dispute are sent letters giving them an opportunity to correct or verify their signatures.

The allegations surrounding vote-counting misconduct began last Thursday when Cisneros issued a statement alleging that representatives of the Kim campaign were attempting to "challenge ballots" as the Los Angeles Registrar of Voters was tallying them.

Some counties' vote-counting officials do not allow campaigns to challenge ballots while other county officials in the state allow them.

Cisneros also said his Yorba Linda home was vandalized five days before the election when someone dumped trash near his residence.

On election night, he also said someone shot an air rifle at his campaign office in Fullerton, "shattering" a window. No one was hurt in the alleged incident.

Over the weekend, Cisneros tweeted that his campaign was gaining votes in the ongoing vote-counting and claimed that momentum was on his side. He also asked for volunteers to help out to monitor the vote-counting process.