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Riverside County District Attorney responds to election interference allegations

It's been a bitter back and forth between Riverside County's Registrar of Voters, Rebecca Spencer, and District Attorney Mike Hestrin.

Spencer has accused Hestrin, of interfering with the 2020 election but Hestrin says the claims are unfounded.

Hestrin spoke with News Channel 3's Peter Daut spoke to hear what he calls "a misunderstanding."

Peter: "First off, tell us about this dispute between you and the County Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer over the security of ballots and her accusation that you showed quote unacceptable partisan behavior."

Hestrin: "Okay, well, let me, let me tell you my opinion on this dispute this back and forth, is that it comes from a misunderstanding of the role of District Attorney of my office.

As it relates to election integrity. Our role is completely reactive and what I mean by that is we respond to citizen complaints as they come up. And I can tell you that you know for example back in 2016, we received numerous citizen complaints from Democrats, Republicans and independents, that they had had their voter information changed in some way that they're, you know, prior to Election Day 2016 that unbeknownst to them and without their approval, their their registration had been changed. So we opened an investigation into that we looked into it. And we quickly found that it apparently did happen to several dozen voters in Riverside CountyAnd let me just skip ahead then to the next election 2018, where we had numerous complaints that our county registrar voter office was not accurately correctly, requiring ballot harvesters to identify themselves on the ballot.

Finally, in 2020, election and we also happened in 2016, but we dealt with multiple complaints by voters of all parties, about receiving multiple balance.

In 2016, we found that more than 70 people had attempted to vote twice. So what happened was they received the mail and they requested a mail invalid received the mail invalid. You filled it out, signed it sealed it and either dropped it in the mail or brought it to a voter drop box. And then a couple days later, or a week later or two weeks later, they would receive a new ballot. Some, the vast majority of these folks were these voters were elderly. And so they when they received the new ballot they mistakenly assumed that their first ballot had been invalid or had been spoiled or maybe they had filled it out wrong. So what did they do they filled it out again signed it sealed it dropped it off, guess what, now they voted twice. We found more than 70 people that did

So that's in a nutshell what we've been doing and, you know, unfortunately, some county officials don't like to be these things brought to the attention to their attention but, you know, nobody no county department or no county official is beyond scrutiny or questioning and, and we're gonna keep doing our job."

Peter: "I want to ask you about some of her specific allegations she alleges among other things that you demanded she removed a ballot Dropbox outside the registers headquarters in Riverside allow undercover agents at polling places and make her staff photograph the license plates of people who drop off multiple ballots but refused to identify themselves, is any of that remotely true?

Hestrin: "All those things were taken out of context, we had a meeting and a conversation where we presented to the Registrar of Voters and our concerns about the fact that Riverside County was not requiring harvesters to properly fill out the balance. And in that conversation Miss Spencer's response was, what what could we possibly do. And, and myself and one of my assistants, simply throw out options.

You could have people photographic you could do this you could do that. We never ordered any of those things we never said oh you know you've got to have an undercover agent that none of that is true.

In that sense, so these were these were. For example, the, the help we offered at one point, Miss Spencer said well I don't I don't have the resources to do these things to safeguard, you know, the ballots. And we said, well, we're glad to help. I'm sure I'm sure other county workers, people from my office could help. She quickly said you can't have law enforcement officers near ballots and we said no of course, you know, nobody would be there in uniform but if you needed help. In case you know situation arose we'd be glad to help. That that's how it came up so unfortunately those those comments are taking wildly out of context, and they're forming the basis of these accusations which are not not true in any in any shape or form."

Peter: "Spencer also wrote to county officials, 'I should be able to do my job free of political intimidation interference and retaliation, and it has become abundantly clear that the inappropriate behavior and unlawful interference by job duties and responsibilities, will not stop.' What do you think she meant by that?

Hestrin: "You know, I don't know to speculate. I you know I can tell you for me, our office, simply as I said, we simply look into voter concerns and allegations as they come up when we do so, we, we simply, contact the RV and I'll be honest, you know we are our investigators work with members of the RV to go through some of these issues as they come up around election time. And they, they work with them without a problem. So I'm not really sure what Miss Spencer's referring to there's, to my knowledge, nobody has done anything to stop her from doing her job. In fact we urge her to do her job. We urge her to, you know, uphold the law and make sure that free and fair elections that the public has the perception that we have free and fair elections. I think everybody in the county should want that

By the way all of the for the last several years all of the communications between my office the district attorney's office, and the Registrar of Voters has been an email. So, you know, harassing you, that would be written if there was somehow harassing or threatening, that would all be in writing and it's just, that's not what's happening it's simply investigators asking what about this case Can you explain that. What about this case, you know, how do we how do we assure voters that that they're not their ballots are not being misused. And, and those are fair questions to ask and by the way we've been doing them privately behind the scenes, not drawing attention. We weren't the ones or we were, we never reached out and did press releases on these things. We just answer the questions as they come."

Peter: "So then let me just ask you point blank. Why do you think she's making these very serious allegations.

Hestrin: "I don't know. You know I think you see the article that was written in the press enterprise there. You know, there's other allegations against county supervisors against other people in public office so I just don't know. I'm not the one to ask. I think that it's, you know, it could be for a lot of reasons, like I said, I think, I think from, from my perspective, I think there's a misunderstanding of the district attorney's role, but you know I don't know exactly why"

Peter: "But obviously you have to understand these accusations are very alarming for voters here in the county. So what is the message that you want people to hear and why should they believe you versus the registrar."

Hestrin: "Well, I mean, the District Attorney's Office has taken no actions whatsoever to in any way. Get involved in the handling of elections, we only, we only look after the fact. So, you know, we're not talking about us interfering in any current election, after the elections, we go back and look at what happened. And if there's a crime to be filed we file a crime, if there's not a crime to be filed and we find a flaw or a potential vulnerability. We bring that to the attention of county officials that that have the authority to run our elections. That's all we've ever done. And so I think on its face. Our actions are are appropriate. That's what and we're going to continue to do that I, you know, when citizens bring a complaint to the district attorney's office, and we look at them all. We can't, you know I don't have the luxury nor would I know do I think it's right to say, Well, I'm going to look at some complaints or I'm going to take some allegations of fraud or crime. Seriously, but I'm not going to look at others, especially when it involves, you know another county department I'm not, I don't want to do that I don't want to embarrass the county in any way, that's not that's not an appropriate way for a district attorney to do their job. I look at. I think the job of this office is to take all complaints. You know, sift through them and get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible."

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