Darrell Issa
Darrell Issa, shown in 2016, disputes one element of the voting record kept by Registrar of Voters Michael Vu. Photo by Chris Stone

Darrell Issa, the past and maybe future congressman, voted absentee 16 times in the past 20 years, according to county voting records.

Issa has joined a lawsuit in Sacramento federal court seeking to reverse a May 8 executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom that requires all 58 California counties to have mail balloting for the November 2020 presidential election.

Darrell Issa voting history since March 2000. (PDF)

Greg Blair, Issa’s press secretary, sees no contradiction.

“This is a gotcha story with no gotcha,” he said Friday via email.

And Issa told Times of San Diego in a phone interview Friday that the issue is a narrow one of Newsom’s authority — about ensuring that elected officials hew to the law.

“This lawsuit is not about the 15 million [Californians] who choose to vote by absentee,” Issa said. “And it’s not about the 5 million who are eligible.”

Issa, 66, said there’s a right and wrong way way to foster vote-by-mail, and the right way is “not only less expensive, and less fraught with the possibility of fraud, but it’s also consistent and there’s plenty of time to do it.”

Blair noted a letter Issa sent Tuesday to state Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the registrar of voters in San Diego and Riverside counties.

In the letter, Issa says: “I strongly support the right of California’s voters to vote-by-mail” and urged the officials to mail every non-permanent absentee voter an application for a mail ballot for the November 2020 election.

“During the current pandemic, many more voters may choose not to congregate at polling places and would prefer a mail-ballot,” Issa wrote. “The Governor’s Executive Order does not negate the need for applications for absentee ballots. As you are aware, the Governor does not possess the authority under the U.S. Constitution, or the laws of the State of California, to mandate the issuance of mail ballots to all voters as he has done.”

Press secretary Blair told Times of San Diego: “Millions of voters will receive ballots, with no verification as to whether they are active voters, reside at the address where they’ve received their ballot, or if they’re even still alive.”

Darrell Issa’s letter to state Secretary of State Alex Padilla and others. (PDF)

The governor’s order lacks legal foundation and is a recipe for widespread fraud, Blair added.

“The governor is free to propose a change in the law; he can’t make it reality with the stroke of a pen,” he said.

But Padilla has been quoted as saying the Judicial Watch lawsuit was “un-American, immoral and a threat to the health of every Californian.”

“Exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to justify voter suppression is despicable, even for Judicial Watch’s pathetically low standards,” Padilla said in a statement to Politico and Courthouse News.

The absentee voting records of high-profile Republicans have come under scrutiny in recent days as President Trump (an absentee voter himself) declared war on expanded mail balloting even though it’s a common practice in many states. (His new press secretary has voted by mail for the past decade, for example.)

Republican Issa, the longtime 49th District member of the House, is running to replace resigned Rep. Duncan D. Hunter in the East and North County 50th District.

Issa’s voting history, a public record, was made available upon request by Michael Vu, the county registrar of voters.

The history shows that Issa, a member of Congress between 2001 and 2019, voted in 24 of 26 elections (16 by absentee) that he was eligible for since March 2000. The record said he missed two elections — a Vista special election in 2007 and the statewide recall election in 2003.

“That’s not true,” Issa said of the 2003 balloting. “I voted in that election. … I’m sure it’s a mistake. … And quite frankly I’m pretty sure there are pictures of me casting a vote in the election.”

In fact, Issa helped bankroll Rescue California and its recall petition drive that led to the ouster of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and ushered in Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

John Franklin, Issa’s general consultant and former political director, said: “Nobody has a paper record from 17 years ago, let alone the registrar. … I was there, and I’m sure [Issa] voted. You must have been under a rock if you don’t know his involvement in that recall.”

Franklin recited his own fight to correct an error in the voting record. He said he fought Vu to make the record reflect he voted in the 2016 presidential election. (The record said he hadn’t.)

“If you ask him, he’ll tell you: ‘Yes, Franklin called me three or four times over the course of a year until I finally relented and changed the fact that he had voted in 2016’ because I did vote by absentee.”

It wasn’t the first time Issa’s voting record contained an error, said the November opponent of Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar.

“When I ran for the Senate in 1998, they did a similar record check to see whether I voted because at that time there was some people running for office who had not voted — Michael Huffington and a couple of others,” Issa said.

He said the voting record indicated he hadn’t cast a ballot in the 1992 presidential primary. He insists he did.

“Do I miss one vote every 10 years?” he asked. “No.” Did the ballot get “lost or mutilated? Yeah. That’s what happened.”

Vu, the registrar of voters, said Friday he would need to look into the 2003 issue further, “but the [record] I sent conveys that he didn’t request a mail ballot while the column under ‘Poll Voter’ for that particular election is blank. I need to look into why.”

Issa aide Franklin said: “It’s exactly these sloppy recordkeeping tactics and problems that’s part of our concern. You think the process is free from errors? It’s not.”

Issa also argues that under Newsom’s program, the state would be mailing ballots to college dorms that will be closed.

“We will be mailing to plenty of other places because there’s been nothing done to make the voter rolls more accurate,” he said. “Only a sending of 5 million unsolicited ballots, in violation of both the [state] Constitution and state law.”

In his letter to Padilla, Vu and Riverside County vote czar Rebecca Spencer, Issa said: “Pending litigation may invalidate [Newsom’s] order, and accordingly, I urge you to plan to mail absentee ballot applications to all current registered voters. By doing so, you will have legitimate authority under California law to mail ballots to all who have applied as well as all permanent absentee voters.”

He thanked the officials for “considering this request to protect the ability of all who want to vote, to do so safely, by mail if they choose.”

Asked about the letter from Issa, Vu said: “As this matter is being litigated, we will abide by the final court ruling.”

Sam Mahood, spokesman for Secretary of State Padilla (the state’s chief elections officer) was asked what he thought of Issa’s absentee voting record.

“Unsurprising,” he said without elaboration.