California: “A Central Valley politician was charged with voter fraud. Right-wing conspiracies took over”

LA Times:

Hicks, a real estate agent from Lodi, believes California’s universal vote-by-mail process is fraught with fraud risks, echoing unfounded messaging from the far right that election officials nationwide have worked to combat since Donald Trump and his allies began blaming his 2020 presidential loss on claims of fraud that have been shot down by numerous courts.

That paranoia is difficult to dismiss in this part of California’s Central Valley, though, after a local politician was arrested on allegations of a slew of crimes involving election fraud.

Former Lodi City Council member Shakir Khan pleaded “no contest” in January to felony charges, including election fraud, after the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office said it found 41 sealed, completed ballots in his home and about 70 people registered to vote using his address, phone number or email.

The alleged scheme, which stems from Khan’s run for City Council in 2020, is just one piece of a complex criminal case in which he also faces charges for illegal gambling, money laundering, tax evasion and Employment Development Department fraud.

Officials seemed to foresee the potential fallout after the years-long investigation, reiterating that Khan, a 34-year-old “no party preference” voter who has lived among Lodi’s vineyards since he was a child, did not appear to have ties to any broader voter-fraud plot.

“I want to make it clear that this investigation has only uncovered criminal activity in our county here, in a local election,” San Joaquin County Sheriff Patrick Withrow said at a news conference last year announcing Khan’s arrest. “It has nothing to do with and has no impact on any state or federal elections that we know of.”

Still, the case has drawn the attention of national conservative commentators, supercharged a group of local right-wing activists, sowed voter distrust in an already chaotic political environment and pushed the county to spend thousands of dollars on election security measures such as new ballot boxes and cameras to monitor them….

While running for City Council in 2020, Khan pressured people to vote for him, sometimes registering them to vote, filling out ballots for them, forging their signatures and collecting their information without their knowledge of his intent to illegally vote on their behalf, according to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, which conducted the investigation that led to his arraignment last year…..

Some of Khan’s alleged fraud victims were elderly and, like him, Pakistani immigrants, unfamiliar with the American voting process, according to police.

California’s voting system didn’t immediately flag the ballots tied to Khan because the people being registered were real citizens with legitimate information, according to Hale, who was appointed in 2022 as the San Joaquin County registrar of voters.

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