SD Rostra

Sheriff Watch: Politics of Ballot Designations Results in a Challenge to Duffy

From today’s Sunday San Diego at the FlashReport…

The first competitive San Diego County Sheriff’s race since 1994 enters its primary leg with three hopefuls to appear on the ballot. As well, a challenge has been filed over one candidate’s chosen ballot description.

The pool of anticipated competitors narrowed from four on Friday, when perennial candidate Bruce Ruff dropped his bid in passive fashion, simply not filing any nominating paperwork by the deadline after he campaigned for several months.

The three remaining candidates each have law enforcement experience.  Obviously, they want to tout their respective backgrounds.  Thus, their chosen ballot designations…

Jim Duffy – San Diego County Sheriff Lieutenant

Bill Gore – San Diego County Sheriff, Appointed

Jay La Suer – Retired Undersheriff, San Diego

Watchers of these types of things (hacks like me) know the general rules for this all important designation (the last and sometimes only thing many voters will truly note about each candidate prior to voting)…

-Three words max, unless it’s the official title of the elective office, then it can be longer.

-If an appointed incumbent refers to the title of the office, then “Appointed” must also be used.

-Official titles of geographic locations/government agencies are counted as one word, such as “San Diego” and “San Diego County.”

So, all of the three indicated above fly as far as the word count.  Gore appropriately refers to himself as appointed, while still packing it all into three words.

Yet, a challenge to the use of “San Diego County Sheriff Lieutenant” was filed with the County Registrar of Voters regarding Jim Duffy’s candidacy. Dominic Nguyen of La Mesa says that Duffy has not served in that capacity “since March 2008, when he took a leave of absence from the Sheriff’s Department to take the position of Chief of Staff to San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts…until August 2009, when he resigned from Supervisor Robert’s office to campaign full time for the…Sheriff’s race.”

Nguyen — or whoever coordinated the challenge with him — appears to have been ready, as the three-and-a-half page letter (attached) along with exhibits is dated March 5, one week prior to the candidate filing deadline.  He requests that the Registrar conduct an investigation to determine Duffy’s allowable ballot designation.

I asked Duffy yesterday if my understanding is correct, that when he went to work for Roberts he took an unpaid leave of absence from the Sheriff’s department, which continues while he campaigns, and thus he believes he is within his rights to use “San Diego County Sheriff Lieutenant.”  Duffy confirmed as much, with his campaign producing a March 11 letter from the County of San Diego’s Human Services Department (attached), indicating that he “has been continuously employed…since…1986,” and that he is “currently on Leave of Absence Without Pay – With Right to Return in classification “5780, Sheriff’s Lieutenant.”

While consultants and campaign folks fester over the outcome of this mini-battle, common sense tells me to take it out of the realm of the political for a minute.  If a school teacher takes a leave of absence, even a lengthy one, would that person still be described as a school teacher?

I know, those obviously much smarter than I will say that in this case, it’s way too complicated for such simplistic analogies.

Voters will likely know nothing of this intrigue, only what they see on the ballot describing the candidates.  Obviously, not always the simplest of determinations.

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