County mistakenly sent school board candidate a certificate saying she’d been elected

Local officials are blaming a proofreading error and confusion over shifting election dates after a candidate for the Long Beach Unified school board was sent an official letter telling her she had won her election even though she did not receive the majority of votes in the June 6 primary.

Primary election results show that Maria Isabel López did receive the most votes in the race to represent District 1 for the LBUSD Board of Education, but she received only 42%, meaning she still has to face a runoff in November against the second-place candidate, Nubia Flores. Local primary election rules require candidates to finish with over 50% of the vote to win outright.

However, on July 9, López received a certificate in the mail from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, which administered the election, informing her that she had been “duly elected” as the District 1 representative.

“I was puzzled by this notice and immediately contacted the registrar’s office, which again confirmed that I had been certified the winner of the June 2022 election,” López said during the public comment period at the LBUSD board of education meeting on Monday.

“I was also informed that I would not be moving to a runoff election and needed to contact the superintendent of schools to discuss next steps,” she said.

County election officials have since walked back that reported statement, but López told the Post she is now simply looking for clarity on the issue from the school board.

She suspects the confusion was because of language in the city’s charter that states that LBUSD must hold its primary election in April and general election in June, concurrent with the city’s elections, which would make the most recent election the deciding one.

“We must operate within the confines of the law in order to maintain the integrity of our election process,“ she said.

Brent North, legal counsel for the LBUSD Board of Education, confirmed at Monday’s meeting that the registrar mistakenly sent López the certificate and explained that in January, the board passed a resolution to change the dates of the school board election to align with the city and the state—meaning the general election would take place in November, not June.

Michael Sanchez, spokesperson for the Registrar-Recorder’s office, attributed his office’s mistake to “an error in proofing candidate certificates in that District who were moving forward to a runoff in November versus elected outright in the Primary.” Once the election dates were clarified with the district the issue was resolved, he said.

López, however, continued to question whether the school district underwent all necessary procedures to lawfully change the election dates without officially changing the language in the charter yet. She argued they needed to obtain a court order to overrule the charter—even temporarily.

The city and school district’s path toward changing election dates in the city charter dates back to 2020 when a court ruling put charter cities like Long Beach back in control of when local elections happen. State law had previously forced cities with low voter turnout to align their elections with the state, but when a judge ruled that requirement didn’t apply to charter cities, Long Beach and the school district had to scramble to stay on the same schedule or have it automatically revert to the charter-mandated dates of primaries in April and general elections in June.

Delays in federal Census data needed to complete mandatory redistricting and the need to coordinate with county elections officials also complicated the process, according to a Feb. 25, 2021 memo. In addition, the city has already disposed of all of its elections equipment, so if it didn’t align with county elections this year, it would have been forced to buy all new equipment to run its own contest.

Because of the unforgiving timeline, a court order wasn’t necessarily required, according to Deputy City Attorney Taylor Anderson.

“The City Council chose to pursue the option that relied on a resolution and adopt a Charter Amendment in November,” she said, but added that she can’t speak to the school district’s process.

The LBUSD did not respond to requests for comment about which route they chose and why, but a resolution passed in January states, “the Long Beach Unified School District desires that the school district primary election scheduled for June 7, 2022 be consolidated with the primary nominating municipal elections of the city.”

Both the City Council and LBUSD have moved to place a charter amendment on the November ballot, which, if approved by voters, would permanently align local election dates with the state.

López and Flores will also face off in that election, which will determine who represents District 1, The Registrar-Recorder’s office confirmed.

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Laura Anaya-Morga is a general assignment reporter for the Long Beach Post.