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Redwood City resident keeps up legal fight against County elections chief

Christopher Robell is appealing a lower court dismissal of his case alleging misleading 2022 voter information.
Redwood City resident Christopher Robell.

A Redwood City resident who sued San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Mark Church in March, for allegedly misleading voters, filed his opening brief at the California Court of Appeal on Aug. 21.

A 60-page appeal brief was filed in the state Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, in San Francisco, by Christopher Robell, a retired CFO, who claimed in an earlier lawsuit on March 29, 2023, that Church failed to reject the allegedly “misleading” 75-word ballot labels – brief summaries of the ballot measures that appear in voter guides. 

The summaries were related to Measure S, a $298 million bond for the Redwood City Elementary School District, and Measure W, a $591.5 million bond for the Sequoia Union High School District, both of which passed in the Nov. 8, 2022 general election with more than 60% voter support.

According to Robell, who opposed the two measures prior to the 2022 election, the Church committed a misdemeanor by knowingly printing or circulating a ballot that is not in conformity with the election code. 

On May 10, Judge Nicole S. Healy dismissed Robell's case with prejudice, which means the plaintiff cannot refile the same claim again in that court.

Robell's assertion was "wholly unsubstantiated," Healy wrote. His lawsuit was also untimely; Robell failed to challenge the ballot materials in court prior to the election in order to correct any defects, she said.

In addition, "a voter challenging a ballot measure must demonstrate that the outcome of the election was affected by the allegedly defective ballot materials." Robell had failed to do so, Healy wrote.

Church also didn't violate the state education code, which specifies that the bond can't be invalidated unless the amount of money stated is in error. Robell had admitted the amounts were not in dispute, Healy noted.

She also found that Robell hasn't proven the ballot labels were deficient. The labels aren't the only information provided to voters. The voter guide also contains the full text of the measures, tax-rate status, impartial analyses and arguments for and against each measure. Robell's claim, that voters only read the labels and not the content of the measures, was unsubstantiated, Healy said. She noted that Robell was one of the opponents whose arguments against the measures were published in the official literature supplied to all voters.

Robell stands by his allegation that the ballot labels were arguments in favor of the measures and were printed and circulated using public money, making the elections unconstitutional.

He also claims Healy didn't allow for a trial in which he could cross-examine witnesses, and relied on hearsay by the defendant. Moreover, he claims that previous case law doesn't prevent a post-election challenge to ballot materials.


About the Author: Sue Dremann

Sue Dremann is a veteran journalist who joined the Palo Alto Weekly in 2001. She is a breaking news and general assignment reporter who also covers the regional environmental, health and crime beats.
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