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Recall proponents allege inconsistency in city of Chico’s protocols

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The political group aiming to recall Chico Councilmember Sean Morgan and Mayor Andrew Coolidge claim that they are being held to different standards from previous recall efforts.

The group, Chico Voters, said that their initial Notices of Intention to Circulate a Recall Petition were rejected due to clerical errors which did not disqualify previous recall efforts against former Mayor Randall Stone and former Councilmember Karl Ory in 2019.

The notice of intent to recall Councilmember Morgan was rejected due to a formatting error — California election code requires signees to handwrite their names, addresses, and signatures.

In the paperwork submitted by Chico Voters, the names and addresses had been printed on the document ahead of time.

Chico Voters said they found the discrepancy after they filed a public records request to the city. They said they are also requesting all internal city communication surrounding the recall.

"This gross misconduct by the City Clerk/Election Official has cost Chico Voters over a month of valuable time," the group said in a press release. " If this delay by Presson’s office results in the recall effort becoming a Special Election, all election costs to the City and the County will be the fault of her office."

Chico City Clerk Debbie Presson said when the office validates the signatures on the notice of intent to circulate a recall petition, the City Clerk sends the documents to the Butte County Clerk’s Office for review. Presson said that the 2019 notices of intent to recall were indeed not up to election code, but the errors weren’t flagged by the Butte County Clerk's Office.

Presson said the County Clerk’s Office did flag the errors on the notices of intent to recall Coolidge and Morgan, and the notices were denied. Chico Voters amended the issue, re-submitted the notices correctly, and they were accepted.

Presson said the discrepancies in the process were not politically motivated.

"I consider myself Switzerland, I believe that I'm neutral. And I represent everyone," she said. "My role here is to help our citizens through these processes. I don't take a stand on the issues or the people that they're trying to recall."

The recall efforts in Chico follow a trend of recall attempts across the North State. A group in Shasta County attempted to recall three Shasta County Board of Supervisors earlier this year. In September, the group gathered enough signatures to trigger a special election for one — Supervisor Leonard Moty of District 2.

Ann Ravel, former Chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, said election officials need to work hard to combat mistrust in the system, given the increased scrutiny they are under.

“There's so much concern about voting … that voting is not safe or fair. There has to be a demonstration of why it is not biased in any way,” she said. “And that should be done prior to the election, not after, because people don't believe it after."

Chico Voters said it hopes to get the recall on the ballot for the general election in June. The recall petition against Sean Morgan requires 25% of voters, or 2,424 people from District 1. The recall petition against Coolidge requires 25% of voters in District 5, or 1,519 people. Presson said the group has until March 2 to gather enough signatures to recall Coolidge, and until March 14 for Morgan.