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Was A Westminster Campaign Deceiving Voters, Or Assisting Them?

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Supporters and critics of an unofficial ballot collecting site in Westminster argue on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. (David Wagner/LAist)
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A skin care business in the Orange County city of Westminster became the focus of a District Attorney investigation on Election Day, after some complained that it was hosting an unofficial vote center.

The business, Apogée International, is owned by Westminster Vice Mayor Kimberly Ho, who is up for reelection. Van Tran, a lawyer for her campaign, said they’d been advertising — including on local Vietnamese-language radio — that voters could come to Ho's business to drop off their ballots or to get help filling them out.

Complaints reached the Orange County Registrar when a video circulated on social media showed a hand-drawn sign attached to an electric pole in front of the building reading "Vote Here."

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Another video showed campaign staffers throwing out trash that included scraps of paper with the Registrar's logo on it. The staffers wore shirts emblazoned with the name of O.C. Supervisor Michelle Steel, who is running for Congress in the 48th District.

The District Attorney's office dispatched an investigator to the site but didn't shut it down.

Meanwhile, representatives from groups including Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Election Protection spent the rest of the day in the parking lot outside the skin care store, directing voters to cast their ballots at an official vote center — and feuding with supporters of Vice Mayor Ho.

BOTH SIDES ACCUSE THE OTHER OF SUPPRESSING VOTES

When I talked to Andrea Bird-Steiner, a lawyer with Election Protection, she said she was concerned about whether the ballots would make it to the Registrar of Voters.

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"We're not stopping people from dropping off [ballots]” she said. “We're just giving them information to let them make their own decision about dropping it off."

Tran, the lawyer for Ho's campaign, said all ballots were either dropped off in official ballot boxes or turned in at vote centers. He said Bird-Steiner and others who approached voters outside Ho's store on Election Day had the "unintentional, or intentional, effect of voter suppression."

"They approached the campaign in a very aggressive and accusatory way, and it freaked out the voters who came by to seek help or to basically drop off their ballots," he said.

'NO INDICATION' THAT BALLOTS TOSSED OUT

Kimberly Edds, a spokesperson for District Attorney Todd Spitzer, said the .DA.'s office had initially concluded that "there is no indication that ballots were discarded or destroyed."

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Edds said it appears that what denouncers thought were ballots being thrown away were actually just the outside mailing envelopes around ballots.

She noted that helping people fill out and/or turn in their ballots is legal in California.

WHO WROTE 'VOTE HERE?'

As for the “Vote Here” sign, Tran said the campaign had no knowledge of the sign or how it got there.

"We think that somebody planted this because definitely the campaign would not make a sign that is so unprofessional," Tran said.

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