A second election of local Sierra Club leaders was thrown out Wednesday and the national organization recommended the chapter be suspended for four years, after voter irregularities that invalidated the first election were found again.
Issues such as multiple memberships at one address and suspicious spikes in memberships all coming from one Ventura County branch of the Los Padres chapter of the Sierra Club led to the rebuke.
“Frankly, it is a sad day when the proud tradition of member-elected leadership is called into question,” Greg Casini, the national associate director of volunteer development, wrote in an e-mail to the club’s leadership. “But we do not have confidence in one-member, one-vote in the Los Padres Chapter, nor do we have the level of confidence we had hoped for from a re-run election.”
The decision follows an acrimonious battle within the local club concerning the direction it is headed, who it spends its money on, and allegations of who is behind the voter fraud.
The December election was thrown out in February after “massive voter fraud” was found. Ballots from the second election were supposed to be counted next week.
“I’m disappointed because it means that we still don’t have a legitimate election,” said Mike Stubblefield, the chapter’s chairman who has been leading one side of the fight.
Al Sanders, who was on the opposing side, said his group merely out-hustled his opponents, drawing in new members and encouraging existing members to vote. He said the national chapter just didn’t want his side to win.
Casini’s e-mail spells out a number of problems with the election, many of them centered in the Sespe Group, which is a branch in Ventura County. The club has four branches in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Among the allegations in the e-mail:
• Since January, 53 new joint memberships were bought in the Sespe group, compared to three in the rest of the chapter. Prior to January, there were no new joint memberships in the entire Sespe group for seven months. Six years of records have never shown such a dramatic rise
• Sixteen addresses now have multiple memberships resulting in 89 votes; 15 of those 16 are in the Sespe Group.
• In April, 13 joint memberships were purchased that all list one of three P.O. boxes as the main address.
• One address represents six joint memberships, three of which were recently purchased.
• One out-of-state member who already had two joint memberships, recently purchased 10 new joint memberships.
The new memberships and multiple memberships at a few houses add up to enough votes that they could sway the election and the “integrity of this election has already been severely compromised,” Casini wrote.
He would not say if the club has a suspect behind the original fraud, the most recent irregularities, or who lives at the addresses in question. If a further investigation is warranted, it us up to the national chapter, he said.
Sanders, who represented the club as conservation chair for years and was paid to do activism work for the club, said he’s never seen any proof of fraud or irregularities, only missives from the national chapter. If anything, he said, the new memberships show how outraged people were over the first election.
“All this stuff about people registering illegally is just an excuse to invalidate the election because they didn’t like the people who are winning,” he said. “The election was fixed. There is no difference between this election and the one that went on in Iran.”
Casini said Sanders should provide proof of such allegations.
Stubblefield, who led a slate of candidates that would have toppled Sanders from his long-held position of power, said the one person who stood to benefit financially from the election was Sanders. In recent years the club had paid him $30,000 annually for his activism work at Ormond Beach, but recently decided to pull his contract.
“As far as I’m concerned, there are not two sides to this story,” he said. “There is only one side of this story and I’m one of the good guys.”
What exactly becomes of the local Sierra Club — which has worked on issues such as fighting LNG, restoring Ormond Beach and stopping unchecked development — is unclear. Casini said the national chapter will decide if it wants to suspend the chapter and if an investigation will ensue.
If the chapter is suspended, the national group could appoint leaders who would oversee the organization, which could continue with its conservation work.