East Palo Alto: Antonio Lopez calls for unity after winning lawsuit for alleged election violations for allegedly offering tacos near polling place.
Bay City News [BCN]. Peninsula 360 Press [P360P].
The latest addition to the East Palo Alto Council won his council seat by 69 votes.
In doing so, Antonio Lopez has won a court case filed against him after the court ruled that he did not violate election laws after offering tacos near a polling place.
Lopez defeated candidate Webster Lincoln for the third and final Council seat. After the election results were certified in December, Lincoln challenged the results and filed a lawsuit against Lopez in San Mateo County Superior Court, accusing him of electioneering, defined in state law as a visible display or audible dissemination of information advocating for or against a candidate within 100 feet of a polling place. Lincoln alleged that Lopez was giving away tacos as an incentive to get votes.
Superior Court Judge Danny Chou ruled in favor of Lopez on Wednesday, as the court found that Lopez did not violate election laws.
During a press conference Thursday, Lopez said he wanted to move on and focus on his duties as a councilman. He encouraged Lincoln to work with him so he could put the case behind him.
"I am optimistic that now that the facts of this case have been meticulously analyzed by the court, we can reorganize and work together in solidarity of all colors and creeds that make up our community," Lopez said. "Let's put this behind us," he urged.
On Election Day, Lopez and other candidates campaigned in front of St. Francis of Assisi Church, one of three polling places in East Palo Alto. The candidates campaigned in an area marked by election officials, which was less than 100 feet from a ballot box. Lopez also hired a taco truck to offer free tacos at the church..
In its decision, the court stated that the tacos were not given in exchange for votes, as there was "nothing on or near the taco truck that would indicate any connection to Lopez." Although Lopez and other candidates had campaigned within 100 feet of the mailbox, they followed the directions of election officials and moved to a more distant location following a complaint of possible proselytizing. In addition, the court found that "voter fraud is much less of a concern at a ballot box because the voter simply returns a completed ballot."
Lopez said it was offensive to believe that the community would sell out their beliefs for tacos.
"What I despise most about this case is the damage it did to our city's reputation. At a time when all the headlines should have been about the huge disparities in infection rates, about getting more funding for more testing, about advocating for more equitable vaccine distribution as soon as possible, this from a taco truck," Lopez said. "For months, we looked like a city too busy throwing itself on the ground to advocate for itself," she added.
Ann Ravel, the attorney who represented López pro-bono, said in her eyes the case was an attempt by a more powerful candidate to intimidate López.
"Unfortunately, the courts are being used to instrumentalize our elections in an attempt to undo the will of the people," Ravel said.
Lopez said the case also stoked existing racial tensions in the community. Ravel said there was racial bias in the trial and in the way people responded to the case on social media.
Ravel added that some of Lincoln's witnesses were not present at the church and had no personal knowledge of the incident.
"What they knew was what they believed and what they believed was extremely barbaric, extremely negative and a lot of it was clearly anti-Latino," Ravel said. "I think that part of the trial was perhaps the most disconcerting and I'm sure it was for Antonio as well because he really is someone who uses his role in the community to try to bring people together," he sentenced.
Lincoln did not comment on the matter.
East Palo Alto City Clerk Walfred Solorzano, who served as the city's chief election official and was also a defendant in the case, said he was glad the case was resolved and praised county officials for mitigating problems on Election Day.
"I'm very pleased that the integrity of the election was maintained. It showed that the will of the people and the participation of the voters and the use of that right to vote is really the most important way to decide who the leaders of the community are, rather than going to court," Solorzano said.
Objections to the judgment may be filed by March 17 and the court will issue a final statement by March 24. Court documents are available online at https://odyportal-ext.sanmateocourt.org/Portal-External/Home/WorkspaceMode?p=0 by entering the case number 20-CIV-05468.