Voter Fraud: If It Can Happen In Beverly Hills…

In a city in which an election was won four years ago by seven votes, every vote should count. But only the votes that should count should count. And that’s a problem in Beverly Hills.

Voter fraud is real. It’s alive. It’s happening. And we have to stop it. Whether or not it happens at the federal level, we know it happens at the local level. We have seen it ourselves and our own investigations have proven it happens.

Last night at a marathon City Council meeting, the Beverly Hills City Council at my request unanimously agreed to launch an Anti-Voter Fraud Initiative. The initiative will attempt to use every tool at the Council and City’s disposal to protect the integrity of our local election, the next of which is March 7 (and in which I and the vice mayor are up for re-election).

We will attempt to inform our own voters to help report suspected instances of unauthorized voters (“If you see something, say something”), as well as continue to lobby the Secretary of State, our DA and other officials to take the matter of suspected voter fraud seriously and to take action. The decision to launch the Anti-Voter Fraud Initiative follows a Monday meeting of the City’s Sunshine Task Force which we created to make our city a model of transparency and good government.

Yes, we are frustrated.

Our frustration and the decision to educate, lobby and take whatever local action we can to deal with voter fraud is preceded by two Council study sessions in which we discussed the matter with representatives from the local registrar-recorder and the Secretary of State, one meeting more exasperating than the other. We shouldn’t have to self-police and we are extremely limited as to what we can do locally to put an end to voter fraud.

Some background information is in order, particularly for those who aren’t familiar with Beverly Hills, beyond the stereotype, or suggest that voter fraud doesn’t exist.

In 2008 a local developer won a referendum by 129 votes which granted a controversial building entitlement. The developer spent millions of dollars prior to the election with all manner of expensive propaganda. The grass-roots group opposing the developer’s plans suspected that many voters who had voted in Beverly Hills were not bona fide or legal residents of the City, but nonetheless voted in the election.

In a Herculean effort, volunteers canvassed the city, going door-to-door to investigate the claims of voter fraud. They uncovered 569 documented cases of voters who were not entitled to vote in our local election. The group of phony voters included random people registered at unsuspecting residents’ addresses, non-U.S. citizens, Beverly Hills residents’ adult children who themselves were domiciled elsewhere, etc. That’s right: there were 569 documented cases of illegal voters in an election which had been won by 129 votes. The math is pretty simple.

The citizens’ group turned over their voluminous documentation over to the local DA’s office, which complimented them on their meticulousness and then proceeded to do… absolutely nothing. No indictments. No prosecution. No convictions. Nothing.

Fast forward to the months preceding the Nov. 2016 election: the same developer who had won the tainted 2008 election was now attempting to pass an initiative to build a 375-foot skyscraper in Beverly Hills. As in 2008, the developer spent millions of dollars in campaign propaganda (it turns out that the developer ended up spending more than $1000 per vote in a losing effort), and reports of potential illegal voters arose once again. The City received a list of over 500 voters registered at a few business addresses. As a Council colleague remarked, the limited number of business addresses makes this seem like an organized effort. We turned the list over to the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder, who sent letters out to these 500 registered voters, informing them that their voting status would be placed on hold pending their verifying that they actually lived in Beverly Hills and were entitled to vote here.

It turns out that only two of the over 500 registered voters ended up verifying that they actually live in Beverly Hills.

If we had not been provided with a list of unauthorized registered voters, which we forwarded to the registrar with the request to invalidate the registrations pending further confirmation, we could have had 500 illegal voters in the November election. This is in a City in which, as mentioned, a councilmember won election in 2013 by a mere seven votes.

At our Council study session earlier this month in which we asked for representation from the local registrar, the Secretary of State’s office and the DA, only the registrar seemed to take the problem of voter fraud seriously. The Secretary of State’s representative gave answers which actually decreased our confidence in its ability to protect the integrity of our voting process and raised the frustration levels of the entire Council. After having refused to prosecute the widespread 2008 voter fraud, the DA’s office refused to even send a representative to our Council meeting, even after I followed up the initial refusal with a letter to County DA Jackie Lacey, personally asking her to send a representative to discuss this serious issue. Their job is not just to prosecute voter fraud (something they evidently refuse to do, as was the case in 2008) but also to help us avert such crimes which undermine our electoral system. This nonchalance was both shocking and stupefying.

At that meeting, as confirmed by our City Clerk, we pointed out various ways in which voter fraud could occur and evidently had occurred: people could simply register at houses where they did not live, either with or without the bona fide residents’ knowledge or they could register at business addresses, as they had done in the past. At the polls, they could comb through the voter rolls and see who had not voted and simply get replacements to vote in their stead. There is effectively no way under our current system to avoid or deal with most of these situations, particularly if the local DA’s office is unwilling to take action.

According to today’s Washington Post: “Multiple investigations of the extent of in-person voter fraud — someone showing up to vote fraudulently — have found that it’s not a significant problem.” Well, if these “investigations” are anything like our own experience, this is a prime example of a self-fulfilling conclusion. Our Secretary of State’s office and our own DA seem unwilling to investigate or even acknowledge the problem. Small wonder that ostrich “investigators” – in opposition to grass-roots residents – are finding that voter fraud is “not a significant problem.” See no evil. Hear no evil… You get the picture.

Our situation is different from President Trump’s claims of voter fraud in that many (though not all) of the phony voters in Beverly Hills are US citizens who simply don’t live in Beverly Hills and therefore are not entitled to vote in municipal elections. But the problem remains a serious one at any level of government and we deserve to have faith in the integrity of our electoral system at all levels of government.

On Tuesday, the National Association of Secretaries of State issued the following statement: “We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the administration’s concerns.”

How about also being open to learning about the concerns of cities in which elections are won and lost by seven votes? How about taking action in instances in which voter fraud clearly has taken place and in which there are ongoing attempts to rig our elections?

Whatever the situation at the national level, we in Beverly Hills are committed to doing whatever we can to protect the integrity of our local elections, even if we do not receive the support from the authorities who are tasked with doing so. Because if the integrity of our electoral system is not protected, if bad actors know that they can literally get away with voter fraud without any consequences, then we can expect to see this phenomenon spread and grow, further undermining our democracy.

Local government, when done right, is the best form of democracy because it is closest to home. For it to mean anything, though, the elections in which the residents choose their local leaders and decide on local issues must be on the up and up. Sacramento, we have a problem.

And so the Beverly Hills Anti-Voter Fraud Initiative is born. Let’s hope other cities and municipalities join us to create a coalition against voter fraud. Our democracy is too precious to allow its very fundamentals, our elections, to be subverted.

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A Shalom from Israel, a Home Across the Sea

As famous, glamorous and cosmopolitan as Beverly Hills is, during my tenure as mayor I’ve tried to stress that for those of us who live here, it’s just home, and how we are all connected by this very simple fact.

Last month I attended the 31st International Conference of Mayors in Israel, to which I was invited along with mayors from 16 different countries around the world, from Tanzania to Taiwan, from Uruguay to the Ukraine, from Austria to America. For most of the mayors, this was a first visit to Israel.

Along with Philip Levine, Mayor of Miami Beach, I was the only Jewish mayor (the other American mayors were from Irving, TX, Trenton, NJ and Bridgeport, CT).

Beverly Hills has deep ties with the state of Israel, with a street in our City named in honor of Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. We cooperate with Israel on multiple levels, having signed an extensive MOA with Israel last year, and this year having co-hosted two summits with Israel in Beverly Hills, one on water usage and one on cyber security, both areas in which Israeli technology and innovation lead the world. It was my first visit to Israel in an official capacity and I was honored to represent our City and grateful to our residents for giving me this opportunity.

Beverly Hills is unique in many ways. We are a diverse City. But we also have a strong Jewish tradition and are likely one of the few cities outside of Israel where as a Jew our residents don’t feel like a minority, in which being Jewish is a normal fact of everyday life. For many of us, this is a true blessing.

The theme of this year’s mayoral conference was “Smart Cities” and we had a chance to meet with Israeli start-ups and tech entrepreneurs, as well as various mayors from around Israel itself. I shared with the other mayors our vision for autonomous vehicles as an integral form of public transportation.

It’s not surprising that visiting Israel feels like going home for a Jew. That’s the point. Israel is all about shalom. And while I have said in the past that home is an almost sacred concept, this notion has an extended meaning in the Holy Land.

After our group visited the wrenching Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, I was approached by three African mayors, who saw I had worn a kippah at the site. They asked me if I was Jewish. When I told them I was, they then asked me why the Jews weren’t all together, why were we so spread out over the world. It led to an interesting and enlightening discussion about Jewish history, including mention of the Uganda plan with the mayor of Kampala.

Before my conversation with the African mayors, just upon leaving the main exhibit hall of Yad Vashem, my peripheral vision somehow automatically drew me to those two words which make up the name to our City. They somehow seemed so out of place. I walked closer to discover a memorial to the half million children who perished in the Holocaust. The inscription says it was donated by Abraham and Edita Spiegel, “of Beverly Hills, California” in memory of their son, Uziel. Uziel was murdered at Auschwitz in 1944. Reading that hit me like a sucker punch and I had difficulty maintaining my composure. Under different circumstances, Uziel might have been a Beverly Hills neighbor. He might have attended Beverly. He might have been a Council colleague. Instead he was murdered at the age of two.

Outside of the hotel in Tel Aviv, I took an early morning walk one day. Again, almost involuntarily, my eyes were drawn to the words “Beverly Hills.” The park I was walking through had also been dedicated by the Spiegels. Both at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem and at the Tel Aviv park, they felt it important enough to identify that our City was now their home. From the Ukraine through Auschwitz, the Spiegels had made their way to Beverly Hills and found a home here. Beverly Hills. The Spiegels’ home. Our home.

And as if it wasn’t enough to see our City’s name etched in glass and stone in Israel’s two largest cities, at our meeting with Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, I met his advisor Yoav Adler. Yoav happens to be an alumnus of Horace Mann in Beverly Hills, the school my mother graduated from and which my son now attends.

Yes, we are all connected. Across time, like with Uziel Spiegel, and across space, like with Yoav Adler. That’s part of what Israel is about: connecting generations, l’dor v’dor, and connecting Jews and non-Jews around the world.

When I spent a couple of days in our sister city, Herzliya, it was no surprise I felt at home. Shabbat dinner at Vice Mayor Ofra Bell’s home along with Herzliya mayor Moshe Fadlon was the very definition of heymish.

And it was a pleasure to attend a basketball match of the local professional team, B’nei Herzliya, with Moshe and Ofra as they played the New York Yankees of the league, perennial powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv. Unlike in American sports, there is no revenue sharing nor luxury taxes in Israeli basketball. Maccabi’s budget is something like 15 times that of our Sister City’s team, which plays its home games in a high school gym. It’s hardly surprising that Herzliya hadn’t beaten Maccabi in 6 years. After having taken an early 24 point lead, late in the game it looked like Maccabi would come back to continue the curse, but Herzliya held on for a two point victory and bedlam ensued. Maybe there is some mazel in this Sister City relationship, which we need to do a better job of leveraging. Maybe turnabout is fair play and Moshe and Ofra could help end the Beverly Hills High Normans’ football drought.

I also had the opportunity to present Prime Minister Netanyahu with a copy of our City Council’s resolution affirming the Jewish connection, both spiritual and historical, to Jerusalem, which UNESCO idiotically had voted to deny.

It wasn’t my first meeting with him. Over 30 years ago as a student at Yale, I joined a group for a meeting at the Israeli embassy in Washington to discuss what we could do to counter the Jew hatred spread around campus, some of which was couched as “anti-Zionism.” And while there was no talk of BDS at the time, there were other knee-jerk double standards which seemed to blame the Jews for the ills of the world. Some things it seems, alas, never change.

Moshe Ahrens was the Israeli ambassador in the early 80’s, but he didn’t have the time to meet with a group of college students. Our host was the political counselor, Benyamin Netanyahu. He greeted us in a friendly manner at the entrance and then told us we would be going through a further security screening. “Please double check to make sure you don’t have anything which could be used as a weapon.” As I emptied my pockets I pulled out a kippah, which I held up. He saw it, smiled, and said, “That kind of weapon we allow.”

Netanyahu is absolutely right. The kippah and other symbols of our Jewish identity — along with our memory — are the most potent weapons we possess, shields which protect and connect us with past generations and each other, across time and space, and which allow us to forge a common future as a People.

Over 30 years since our last encounter (which there is no way he could possibly remember), I brought Prime Minister Netanyahu our resolution and assured him that we stand with Israel. I sent him greetings from all the people of Beverly Hills on whose behalf I affirmed “Am Yisrael Chai,” “Long Live the Jewish People.”

His response was to pause a second and smile, before he simply said “Shalom.”

We need to continue to safeguard our individual and collective memories. We need to continue to share our story and our stories with each other and the world.

Prime Minister Netanyahu conveyed a simple “shalom” to the residents of Beverly Hills. Shalom, indeed. To all of us and in all of our homes, now and forever. Shalom

Read More A Shalom from Israel, a Home Across the Sea