Marleen Sacks Blows Whistle On Oakland City Clerk Krystal Sams With Elections 2022 Complaint

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This is a formal complaint alleging possible unprofessional and unethical conduct by the City Clerk’s office in Oakland, election tampering, and possible violations of the Elections Code. I am filing this complaint because I am concerned about transparency and accountability in Oakland.

In brief, I have evidence that the City Clerk’s office knowingly and intentionally backdated and misstated the time that official Mayoral candidate documents were filed with the City Clerk’s office on the afternoon of August 12, 2022. Specifically, paperwork that was required by law to be received no later than 5:00 p.m. on that date was received after 5:00 p.m., but was timestamped to make it appear that the materials were received prior to 5:00 p.m. I have spoken to three Mayoral candidates who have informed me that the time indicated on their paperwork is wrong, and that they were actually in the City Clerk’s office at a time very different than that indicated on the time-stamped paperwork. I have also spoken to the Assistant City Clerk, Krystal Sams, who admitted that the paperwork was stamped prior to 5:00 p.m. because it had to be stamped prior to 5:00 p.m., even though it was after 5:00 p.m. During that same conversation, however, Ms. Sams claimed that the time stamping machine was malfunctioning, and that this explained the fact that the timestamp was incorrect. For reasons explained in more detail below, I have reason to question Ms. Sams’ claims that the timestamping machine was malfunctioning.

As explained in more detail in a previous complaint filed by Mayoral Candidate Alyssa Victory, Mayoral candidates were originally informed that the filing deadline for their paperwork was August 17, 2022. On the afternoon of August 12, 2022, the City Clerk’s office notified multiple mayoral candidates that the filing deadline previously given was wrong, and that they all needed to file their paperwork no later than 5:00 p.m. that day. Many candidates were then left scrambling to gather signatures and organize their paperwork at the last minute.

Candidate Seneca Scott arrived at City Hall shortly before 4:30 p.m. He was told by Ms. Sams he needed to email her a document, and he did so at 4:29 p.m., indicating the time he was in her office. He finished filing his paperwork at approximately 4:55 p.m. However, his paperwork is all timestamped by the Clerk’s office with “3:54 p.m.,” which is clearly wrong.

Candidate Alyssa Victory and several members of her team arrived at City Hall as Mr. Scott was leaving. They spoke briefly, posed for photos taken by Ms. Victory’s husband, and then Ms. Victory began having her paperwork processed. According to Ms. Victory, the City Clerk’s office did not let her in the door until after 5:00 p.m. The paperwork process generally takes 20-30 minutes. However, according to a later conversation with Ms. Sams, Ms. Victory’s processing took longer, because there were issues with her name (she wanted to appear on the ballot as “Victory,” but her legal name was “Villanueva”) and other issues. Despite the fact that Ms. Victory’s paperwork was processed well after 5:00 p.m., some of her paperwork is time stamped “3:54” and other paperwork is timestamped “4:54.” I have spoken to Ms. Victory and the time stamp of 3:54 is clearly wrong. According to Ms. Sams, it took nearly an hour for Ms. Victory’s paperwork to be processed. Ms. Victory says it was more like 30-45 minutes, but Ms. Sams admitted that the paperwork is not generally timestamped unless it has been reviewed first and is in order, i.e., at the end. Therefore, it should have been stamped closer to 5:30 p.m. or later.

Candidate Sheng Thao arrived at City Hall shortly after Ms. Victory. While Ms. Victory was having her paperwork processed, at approximately 5:00 p.m., Ms. Sams saw Ms. Thao waiting outside and a decision was made to begin processing her paperwork alongside Ms. Victory’s paperwork. (According to Ms. Sams, there were three people helping with the paperwork – her, City Clerk Asha Reed, and an assistant named Britney Davis.) According to video footage clips, Sheng Thao left City Hall at approximately 6:04 p.m. According to emails to the City Clerk’s office, Ms. Thao’s paperwork was not completed until after 5:50 p.m. Nevertheless, some of her documents are stamped “3:54” and other documents are stamped “4:54.” These times are clearly wrong, as all of her paperwork should have indicated a time between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

At approximately 6:00 p.m., the last candidate of the day, Monesha Carter, was invited into the Clerk’s office to have her paperwork processed. According to her, her paperwork took 20-25 minutes to have reviewed. It therefore should have been stamped at approximately 6:25 p.m. Again, however, the time stamps are wrong, as her paperwork is stamped either 4:54 or 4:59 p.m. In my conversation with Ms. Carter, she confirmed that the time stamps are clearly wrong. (Ms. Carter was ultimately disqualified because she was unable to submit a sufficient number of signatures that day).

The following week, Ms. Victory was told that several of her signatures were not valid because they were not registered voters. Ms. Victory was told she was disqualified. Ms. Victory ultimately filed a complaint against the City and with the Secretary of State contesting this determination, and later, the City reversed its position and she is now qualified on the ballot. This issue, along with the City Clerk’s failure to provide the correct deadline to candidates, received extensive publicity and was quite embarrassing for the City and the City Clerk’s office.
As a result of the negative publicity, other concerns about improprieties in the City Clerk’s office arose. There was suspicion that Sheng Thao, one of the top candidates, had not actually arrived at City Hall and/or the Clerk’s office prior to 5:00 p.m. Therefore, a series of public records requests were filed beginning on September 8, 2022, requesting video footage of the front of City Hall, and documentation that was filed with the City Clerk’s office on August 12. Under the California Public Records Act, the City had 10 days to respond to the requests. Time was of the essence, as the election was only weeks away, and the documents were relevant to issues of election integrity.
Because of the City’s delay in responding to the CPRA requests, I filed a formal request for mediation with the Public Ethics Commission on September 29, 2022, on behalf of the people who submitted the CPRA requests. I did not receive all of the stamped paperwork that had been requested until October 24, 2022. As of today, October 25, 2022, we still have not received any of the video footage we requested.

When Mr. Scott realized that his paperwork showed the wrong date, he contacted Ms. Sams in September to ask her about it. Initially, she claimed that he had been in her office before 4:00 p.m., and had sent him an email. Mr. Scott asked her to provide him with a copy of that email, but she never did. Later in the conversation, Ms. Sams told Mr. Scott that they had been having issues with the time stamping machine that day, and this could explain why the time stamp was off.

I subsequently did a formal public records request for documents referring or relating to whether the time stamping machine was malfunctioning that day, in days prior, or days thereafter. On October 19, 2022, Ms. Sams called me to get clarification on the documents I was seeking. During that conversation, I asked her questions regarding the claims that the time stamp machine had been malfunctioning, and the chronology of the candidates coming to the office that afternoon. Below is a summary of what she told me:

I had asked for all documents time stamped August 12, 2022. Ms. Sams indicated they don’t track documents by date of time stamp date, so I asked her to just provide all of the documents received by candidates that day. Ms. Sams confirmed that there were issues with the time stamping machine. She had placed an order for a new one, and had received a new one around September 26. She said they hadn’t placed an order sooner because they were too busy with other things.

Ms. Sams said that when the candidates came in, they would stamp everything all at once, after it had all been reviewed and found to be in order. Therefore, they don’t stamp until the candidate is about to leave. Ms. Sams thought Ms. Victory came in much earlier – like around 3:30. (This was contradicted by Ms. Victory and Mr. Scott.) Ms. Victory was there for an hour, because she was missing a lot of paperwork and they had to ask her to email documents that were missing. (Ms. Victory told me that Ms. Sams actually told her not to email her anything after 5:00 p.m.).

I asked Ms. Sams why Ms. Thao’s and Ms. Victory’s paperwork was stamped at exactly the same time, down to the minute. Ms. Sams stated, “We have to stamp before 5 p.m.” She noted that while they were processing Ms. Victory’s paperwork, Ms. Thao was in the hallway, and they went out to gather her paperwork. She said again, “We stamp before 5 p.m. We had to manually change the time stamp.” Ms. Sams said that the time stamping machine was “Ordinarily very accurate.” She said that Asha Reed and Britney Davis were helping with time stamping and “they weren’t checking the times….” It appeared that she was blaming them for not catching the “errors” at the time. She went on to say, “There was so much chaos on that particular day – I know they weren’t checking the time” and that checking all the documents was their primary concern, not making sure the time stamp was accurate. She then claimed that the machine’s “motor was out – It stopped turning.” She then claimed that this happened “on both of our machines” (she indicated there was a machine at the front desk and in the back.)

She then said, “Somebody needs to look at them.” She said when the motor goes out, they have to manually adjust the time. When asked if there had been problems with the machine on days prior and after, she said that there had been, but that there was no documentation memorializing that fact. Ms. Sams concluded the conversation by saying, “It doesn’t look good, I understand that. We can’t control how it looks. But we wouldn’t allow her (Sheng) to file after 5. Our integrity is on the line.” (This was contradicted by her earlier statements of “we have to stamp before 5:00” and admissions that they were manually changing the time stamp). Finally, Ms. Sams indicated that they started stamping Ms. Thao’s paperwork at the same time as Ms. Carter’s. This was contradicted by Ms. Carter, who said they didn’t let her in until approximately 6:00 p.m.

Shortly after my conversation with Ms. Sams, I obtained documents from her in response to my CPRA request indicating that a quote for a new time stamping machine was received on September 6, 2022 (several weeks after the alleged malfunctioning occurred) and a new machine was received on September 26.

After additional delays in receiving the documents that had been requested, the Clerk’s office failed to provide any documents for Monesha Carter. I then emailed Ms. Sams about the missing documents, and she said she had forgotten about those. They were finally provided later that day.

Based on my review of the documents provided, and my conversations with the relevant witnesses, I believe that City Clerk’s office was likely intentionally stamping official election documents with the wrong time to make it appear that they were received prior to 5:00 p.m., when in fact they were not. I do not necessarily believe that the candidates who had materials stamped after 5:00 p.m. should be disqualified, particularly since the delays would have been caused by the Clerk’s office. However, what I do believe is extremely problematic is what in essence constitutes forgery of official documents, by intentionally putting the wrong time stamp on the documents. This implicates potential violation of Elections Code Sections 18203, 18202, 18201, 18204, and other laws regarding tampering with official election related documents. It also constitutes unprofessional and unethical conduct.

I am also concerned about the fact that statements made to me by Ms. Sams were contradicted not only by herself, but by other relevant eyewitnesses, and by the documents themselves. The fact that no quote was obtained for a new time-stamping machine until weeks later, after much negative publicity about the Clerk’s Office, and two days prior to an official PRA request for relevant documents, is highly suspicious.

It would seem that a malfunctioning time stamping machine would be an urgent matter, demanding immediate attention, particularly given the sensitivity of the election and the fact that three candidates were later disqualified for missing relevant deadlines.

I have copies of all of the relevant documents. However, as of today, no video footage has been provided.

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