Legal fight may preclude November Senate battle

A search of state voting district databases appears to show a Democratic Senate nominee lives — barely — outside the district where he is running.The problem is, his county elections office has told him he lives inside the district.

Running unopposed, Michael Rubio easily won the Democratic nomination to succeed Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, in the 16th Senate District. But according to the Republican blog, The FlashReport, Rubio’s Bakersfield home lies in the neighboring 18th Senate District, currently represented by Senator Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield. In a posting on Thursday morning, Fleischman cited four sources: the California State Senate website, Project Vote Smart, the Kern County database and the statewide district database maintained at UC Berkeley.

All appear to show the same thing: the Rubio’s house lies almost directly across Inyo Street. from the district, one house deep into the 18th Senate District. In other words, he could easily throw a rock into the 16th District from his front yard, but doesn’t actually live there.

This would appear to prevent Rubio from being on the ballot this fall, assuming Republicans file a lawsuit to prevent him from running. According to the “Qualifications and Requirements” document for State Senate listed on the state Secretary of State’s website, one of the qualifications is that the candidate “Be a registered voter and otherwise qualified to vote for that office at the time nomination papers are issued to the person.”

That nomination period was in February and March. As Fleishman notes, a legal challenge to Rubio’s status could leave Democrats without a candidate listed.

Except Rubio says he did vote in the 16 district—twice—in the half dozen years he’s lived at the address.

“All I can tell you is that for the last six years at 320 Quincy, my ballots were for the 16th Senate District,” Rubio said. “More importantly, on the June 8 ballot, my name was on there.” 

Indeed, Fleischman acknowledges the records with the Kern County Registrar of Voters have Rubio’s house in gthe 16th Senate District, not the 18th District — though he also notes “it would appear that the Kern County Registrar is in error.”

On Thursday afternoon, the Registrar’s office put out a press release acknowledging their error. They also stated “Supervisor Rubio acted in good faith, on information provided by the Elections Office” and said “We have advised the Secretary of State of this error.” The Secretary of State also put out a statement saying they do not have the authority to remove a candidate from the ballot.

“In the elections code, it states that whenever a candidate has been nominated in a primary election, the name will be printed on the ballot unless that candidate has died,” said Shannon Velayas, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office. “This is a matter for the courts. The Secretary of State doesn’t have the authority to take a candidate’s name off the ballot.”

She added that Rubio will remain on the ballot and eligible to run, unless someone takes the matter to court and successfully has him thrown off the ballot.
The Senate also has the right to determine the legitimacy of its own members. One possibility would be a Senate bill making a one-time exception for Rubio, possible with a provision that he move into the district soon.

But the State Senate website say that its own address database is not the final say, noting: “This site is to be used for informational purposes only. To accurately determine your district please contact your local county registrar or elections department.” This may provide a legal backing for Rubio, who did everything right according to his local Registrar.

The closely-divided district is a key target for both parties this fall, especially with Democrats only two votes away from a two-thirds majority that would allow them to pass a budget and taxes without a single Republican vote.

Rubio would appear to have a slight advantage of paper. Democrats hold 52 percent to 32 percent registration advantage over Republicans in the district, which encompasses parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare Counties. A Republican hasn’t held the seat since Phil Wyman in 1994. He’s the hand-picked candidate of popular two-term incumbent Florez.

Rubio got more votes running unopposed, 26,835, than two Republicans did in a closely divided primary. Farmer/businessman Tim Thiesen got the nod on the GOP side, edging out former legislator Wyman by 968 votes out of 24,896 cast.

The oddly-shaped 16th District is heavily gerrymandered. Located mostly to the northwest of Bakersfield, he has one slim finger that comes up through parts of urban parts of the city from the South. Rubio’s home lies about 200 feet away from this finger.  

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