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Bid to recall LA County DA George Gascón comes up short

Nearly 200,000 of the 715,000 signatures turned in were deemed invalid for various reasons.

(CN) — The drive to recall Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has once again failed, with the county clerk announcing Monday afternoon that the effort came up 46,000 signatures short.

The recall campaign turned in just over 715,000 signatures. Nearly 200,000 were found to be invalid, leaving 520,000 valid signatures of registered voters living in LA County. The petition required at least 566,857 valid signatures in order to qualify for the ballot.

According to the clerk's office, 88,000 signatures were disqualified for not belonging to registered voters. Another 43,000 were thrown out for being duplicated signatures and 32,000 were disqualified for having the wrong address listed next to the signature. Around 9,000 signatures didn't match the signature on file, and some 5,000 signees gave addresses outside LA County.

"We are obviously glad to move forward from this attempted political power grab, but we also understand that there is far more work that needs to be done," Gascón campaign spokesperson Elise Moore said in a statement.

Tim Lineburger, spokesman for the Recall Gascón campaign, said the group will demand a review of the verification process.

"While the initial results are surprising and disappointing, the recall committee intends to exercise its full statutory and legal authority to review the rejected signatures and verification process that took place, and will ultimately seek to ensure no voter was disenfranchised," Lineburger said, adding the half a million signatures his campaign did gather amounted to nothing less than a "wholesale rejection of Gascón’s dangerous polices."

Monday's announcement likely marks the end of an effort to short circuit Gascón's tenure in office that began practically the day he took office in December 2020. Gascón was quick to push through a series of reforms aimed at reducing prison sentences that left his staff of prosecutors in a state of near-mutiny. He placed strict limits on their ability to seek the death penalty, try juveniles as adults, and seek most sentencing enhancements — special circumstances that can increase prison time. The reforms spurred a bevy of lawsuits, mostly filed by prosecutors. In February 2021, an LA Superior Court Judge ruled that Gascón had overstepped his authority in telling prosecutors not to ask for added prison time based on serious prior offenses, or "strikes." An appeals court upheld the ruling this past month.

As violent crime began to rise during the pandemic, Gascón's name became a political lightning rod, a symbol to some of a city that has become far too permissive of crime and homelessness. His counterpart in San Francisco, Chesa Boudin, faced a similar scenario, and was recalled by voters in June.

Gascón appeared to be similarly vulnerable, thanks in part to a series of news stories that showed his reforms had at times dire consequences. There was the case of Hannah Tubbs, a 26-year-old transgender woman charged with sexually assaulting a child in the bathroom of a Denny's who was allowed to plead guilty in a juvenile court since she was 17 at the time of the crime and then jailed for two years.

And then there was Justin Flores, who had been convicted of a 2011 burglary and of drug and firearm possession in 2020. Flores received a lighter sentence because of the Gascón policy barring prosecutors from filing "strike allegations." In June, Flores shot and killed two El Monte police officers.

But the Gascón recall campaign never went smoothly. The first effort fizzled last year amid petty infighting. This, the second effort, appeared to be better funded and better organized but there were still issues in the campaign. In July, a firm hired to gather signatures called Let the Voters Decide sued the campaign, saying they were owed at least $469,596 in fees. At the time the suit was filed, Let the Voters Decide spokesman David Leibowitz said he thought that there was a good chance the signature drive would fail, and that that failure could be "directly attributed to strategic mistakes by campaign."

Leibowitz criticized the campaign's use of direct mail — that is, soliciting signatures for the recall petition by mail, as opposed to by in-person signature-gatherers going to door-to-door or standing outside supermarkets.

"The return rate is terrible on direct mail," Leibowitz said last month. "It did nothing. It chewed up a bunch of resources in time and money."

According to the Los Angeles Times, some of the petitions were sent back with "profanity-laced screeds in place of a signature," and some "used the prepaid postage sent out by the recall to mail back textbooks or other heavy items," which the campaign ultimately had to pay for.

The campaign called Let the Voters Decide's lawsuit "frivolous."

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