Charges of election fraud are flying in Little Armenia, as council candidates John Choi and Mitch O'Farrell have filed complaints with the district attorney accusing each other of stealing votes. The latest sign that something suspicious might indeed be going on is the above photo -- posted last month on Instagram -- which appears to show a large number of vote-by-mail ballots sitting on somebody's bed.
Election law requires voters to personally cast their ballots, so the photo suggests that something untoward is afoot.
The photo appears to have been posted from the Instagram account of Mamikon Sargsyan, a 19-year-old who volunteered for the campaign of Sam Kbushyan in the primary. Kbushyan finished a surprising third out of 12 candidates, thanks largely to a strong performance with Armenian absentee voters.
Kbushyan is now backing O'Farrell in tomorrow's runoff. O'Farrell's opponent, John Choi, has alleged that Kbushyan's campaign workers have been filling out ballots belonging to elderly Armenian voters and collecting them. The Choi campaign says it has 400 names of voters who say their ballots were tampered with.
The Choi campaign found the photo of the ballots on the bed on Instagram, and forwarded it to the Weekly. The Weekly attempted to contact Sargsyan to inquire whether he had posted them online, but he did not answer calls. The Instagram account includes photos of Sargsyan which also appear on his Facebook page.
The photo appears to have been posted on April 25, during the runoff campaign.
Sargsyan is Facebook friends with both O'Farrell and with Kbushyan's brother. When reached by the Weekly, Kbushyan said he believed that Sargsyan is the son of the building manager at 1428 N. Normandie Ave., which is a large apartment complex.
Kbushyan said he did not know anything about the photo.
"He's a nice kid, that's all I know," Kbushyan said. "I have a feeling that something fishy is going on."
He also that Choi campaign voters had been canvassing the complex on Normandie.
"Most of the people are really old. It was a great place to campaign," Kbushyan told the Weekly. "Most of the Armenians are elders. They are very supportive, but they are very easy to manipulate."
Renee Nahum, O'Farrell's campaign manager, said that she had not seen the photo and did not know Sargsyan.
"I've never heard of this person. I don't know who he is," she said. "He's not working for us. I'll tell you that."
Shaun Daniels, Choi's campaign manager, alleged that the photo offers clear proof of voter fraud by the opposing campaign.
"That picture speaks for itself," Daniels said. "It's up to the authorities and the press to investigate that further."
The Weekly forwarded the photo to the L.A. City Clerk's office in an effort to determine if it depicts city ballots. Holly Wolcott, the clerk's executive officer, said the photo does appear to show vote-by-mail ballots in their original envelopes -- though she could not be certain of that. In other words, it appears the ballots were collected before they got to the voters.
"We don't know of any reason why -- if they are in fact ballots -- they would be on somebody's bed," Wolcott said. "The appearance in and of itself is cause for concern."
Wolcott said she forwarded the image to the LAPD.
The district attorney's office has opened an inquiry into the Choi campaign's earlier complaints. Today, the O'Farrell campaign responded with its own complaint to the D.A., alleging that the Choi campaign had intimidated Armenian voters.
Mike Shimpock, Choi's consultant, called the complaint "a pathetic attempt to cloud the waters at the last moment when they get caught red-handed."