By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Citing “multiple election irregularities,” InterIm Community Development Association is challenging the results of last month’s International Special Review Board District (ISRD) election.
The ISRD is coordinated by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods (DON) Historic Preservation Program. It was created in 1973 to “preserve, protect, and enhance the cultural, economic, and historical qualities” of the Chinatown-International District.
The election was held on Nov. 19 with 160 ballots cast. Voters decided who will fill three positions and the results were Russ Williams, Position #1 for a Business owner, Property owner or Employee; Matt Chan, Position #2 for Resident, Tenant or Community Participant; and M. Faye Hong, Position #4 for Resident, Tenant or Community Participant.
On Nov. 26, Seattle DON director Andrés Mantilla received InterIm’s challenge of the election results within the seven-day challenge period following the election, as allowed in the ISRD Board Election Procedures.
Hong called the move “bullshit.” He called InterIm “poor losers” and said their challenge is politically motivated.
“They want to get their own people elected and they lost. Now they’re just looking for a reason to challenge it.”
Hong added that his challenger, Henry Liu, is an InterIm employee. InterIm also had another employee and candidate, Lizzy Baskerville, who was defeated by Matt Chan. InterIm has a project—Uncle Bob’s Place —that is currently under review by the ISRD board.
Derek Lum, the policy analyst for InterIm, wrote the challenge letter.
“Zhu Hua Huang, Pei Lan Wu, Hui Lan Huang, Cui Ping Zhong have all spoken to us (InterIm) about how Beth Ku and others associated with the family associations told them which candidates to vote for in both the ISRD voting room and the hallway outside.”
Lum continued, “Eliza Guan has stated that she had elders share with her that they were told who to vote for. She tried to tell the elders that they had other options, however volunteers told the elders to ignore her and continued advocating for the volunteers’ chosen candidates. Video evidence taken by city staff show that Beth Ku was present and talking to seniors, and an account by Michael Itti also show that she was in the room talking to seniors in Chinese.”
The ISRD Election Procedures state that “there shall be no campaigning or distribution of endorsement materials within 30 feet of the building housing the polling station.” Additionally, translators for the ISRD elections are “allowed to assist with voter registration or the marking of ballots, but not influence the choices of voters.”
Chiang Hwa Liu, 80, was one of the seniors who voted.
“When I went there to vote, Ms. Ku was there. She didn’t say anything inappropriate. I didn’t hear her say anything other than telling the elderly to line up properly, and not push the other voters. She was trying to keep order.”
Ku confirmed to the Northwest Asian Weekly that she was only trying to help seniors, including those 90 years or older, and those who couldn’t stand for long periods of time, move to the front of the line.
She also helped with voter registration, at the request of ISRD coordinator Rebecca Frestedt who had asked for her help two months prior.
Ku told the Northwest Asian Weekly that Anna Tang, a translator from DON, was seated just a couple feet away from her. Tang speaks Chinese and Vietnamese.
“She could hear me and if I had said anything inappropriate, she would have stopped me.”
Ku added, “Rebecca (Frestedt) who is in charge of the voting… whenever there is any issue, she will stop it right away. I don’t think a city officer will let anyone do anything inappropriate in the room.”
“No one (including Ku) was asked to leave,” asserted Hong.
Qiu Feng Peng, 88, said she did not see Ku when she arrived to vote. She stated that some seniors really needed help because they cannot read English or Chinese, and needed someone to explain the ballot to them.
Volunteers for InterIm handed out fliers to voters on the day of the ISRD election, though it is not clear if they did so within 30 feet of the building housing the polling station.
The flier included an ISRD candidate scorecard, which contained “important information on where the candidates stand on issues.” Those issues were equitable development, support small business, preserving and upholding Asian heritage and culture, and fair hotels and fair apartments for our community.
Lois Mag of the Seattle DON told the Northwest Asian Weekly, “Given the complexity and seriousness of the challenge, DON will be consulting with community members, staff, and City Attorney’s Office… to discuss next steps in response to the challenge.”
In its letter, InterIm said the city should “null this election and hold a new election because that is what is right for our community to make an informed vote on this issue. The will of many voters was unfairly compromised because of the actions of a few people, namely Beth Ku and others.”
Matt Chan, whose election to the ISRD board is now being challenged, told the Northwest Asian Weekly, “Although I am disappointed I cannot begin the important work of the ISRD board, I also believe that everyone who participated in the election process needs to believe that the results were fair and equitable.” Chan said the community needs to have full confidence in the process of how the board members were elected.
Hong said that the ISRD board should suspend all meetings and decisions until this matter is resolved, but it appears that his plea has fallen on deaf ears.
The ISRD board met on Dec. 10 with only three board members (out of the normal seven) seated. Among the items on the agenda was InterIm’s Uncle Bob’s Place project.
Ruth can be reached at email@example.com.