BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Not a day goes by without new reports raising — or dismissing — concerns of election fraud, particularly mail-in voter fraud.

There are horror stories from around the country.

But how prevalent are those issues in Kern County?

We examined every criminal election fraud case in Kern County in the last 34 years, with special attention to the cases involving mail fraud.

We found dozens of Elections Code violations in those 34 years, including the kind of vote-by-mail fraud President Trump describes. We found that non-citizens voted. We found people voted twice.

Overall, however, our investigation supports elections officials nationwide who say ballot fraud is extremely rare. When compared with the millions of votes cast in Kern County since the 1980s, dozens of Elections Code violations are a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the votes cast. And many of those Election Code violations didn’t even involve voting – they concerned petition gathering.

A reminder, though: Our investigation examined voting security before the November 2020 election cycle. Opponents of universal vote-by-mail say the system was more secure then, before Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered unsolicited ballots be sent to all registered voters.

Our findings:

Prosecutors filed charges in 57 cases — 13 felonies and 44 misdemeanors — in Kern under the Elections Code since 1986, the year court cases were first made available electronically.

Of those cases, 16 resulted in no contest pleas, two in guilty pleas, 32 were dismissed and seven did not have dispositions listed.

The dangers, or lack thereof, in voting by mail

Vote-by-mail fraud has proven to be very rare in Kern County, but it does happen.

In June, Lisa Hammond, 57, of Bakersfield, pleaded no contest to misuse of voter registration information after she filled out, signed and sent in her son’s 2018 vote-by-mail ballot at his request, according to court documents. The incident came to light because the son had moved to Fresno and signed a ballot sent to him there.

Hammond confirmed she signed the ballot sent to her son in Kern. “Yes, there was no ill intent, he moved and I knew how he wanted to vote,” she told investigators.

She was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay more than $500 in fines, court records show.

Another relatively recent voter fraud case involved former Bakersfield Ward 1 candidate Gilberto De La Torre, who was charged in 2018 with fraudulent voting after prosecutors said he voted by mail for another person without their authority. After De La Torre completed 70 hours of community service, the charge was dismissed.

De La Torre denied any wrongdoing. He is running again for the Ward 1 seat.

John Gerald Byrne, 29, of Bakersfield and his sister received vote-by-mail ballots for the 2016 primary election. Both ballots were signed and submitted to the Kern County Elections Division.

Investigators found that Byrne’s signature appeared to match the signature written on the vote-by-mail ballot submitted in his sister’s name, according to court filings. When confronted, Byrne told investigators he “might have signed” his sister’s vote-by-mail ballot and “accidentally mailed it back in.”

A misdemeanor charge of fraudulent voting filed against Byrne was dismissed in 2019.

Eursla Annette Wolfe was charged with voting twice in the 2002 primary after officials said she filled out two mail-in ballots, one that was sent to her under her maiden name, the other under her married name.

The charge was dismissed in 2003.

Janelle Robins, who has a hearing set for November, was charged with fraudulent voting after records showed she voted twice in two different counties during the 2018 general election. She submitted a vote-by-mail ballot in Kern County and later submitted a conditional voter registration ballot in Sacramento County.

Robins told investigators she didn’t submit a ballot in Kern because she lives in Sacramento County. Later, she said she recalled filling out the vote-by-mail ballot and her parents submitted that ballot in Kern County on her behalf, documents said.

Illegally registering to vote

As of July 3, 2020, Kern had 406,360 registered voters of a total of 528,034 people eligible to vote, according to the Secretary of State website. There were 148,032 registered Republicans, 140,380 registered Democrats and 14,814 people registered with the American Independent Party. A total of 90,900 listed no party preference.

To register to vote in California, a person must be a U.S. citizen.

About half of those charged with election-related crimes in Kern voted in an elections despite not being U.S. citizens, according to records examined by 17 News.

In most cases, the illegal voters were caught when they tried to get out of jury duty.

Just as you can’t vote if you’re not a citizen, non-citizens can’t serve on juries. But the court system uses the voter registration rolls to find prospective jurors.

So, people told judges they didn’t have to do jury service because they weren’t citizens.

But their names came from the voter registration lists, prompting investigations that led to arrests and prosecutions.

That was the story with Fernando Osorio, then 62, of Bakersfield, who voted in 2016 despite knowing it was illegal, court filings say. Investigators found he also voted in 2012 and 2014.

Osorio told investigators he knew what he did was wrong, but he did it anyway because he received election-related materials in the mail.

An investigation began after Osorio returned a jury services form indicating he was not a U.S. citizen. Officials looked into his voter registration and found that in 2012 he filled out and signed forms stating he was a citizen, according to the filings.

Osorio pleaded no contest to fraudulent voting, a misdemeanor. He was fined and given a year’s probation, according to court records.

Here are similar cases described in court records, including their age at the time they registered and their city of residence:

  • Fatongia Perry, then 40, of Wasco — a charge of illegal registration to vote was dismissed in 2008. Perry, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Democrat in 1992.
  • Louis Felipe Perales, then 35, of Bakersfield — a charge of illegal registration to vote was dismissed in 2006. Perales, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Democrat in 1992.
  • Esperanza Munoz, then 28, of Delano — a charge of illegal registration to vote was dismissed in 2006. Munoz, who was not in the country legally, registered as a Democrat in 1993.
  • Rosa Rodriguez, then 34, of Bakersfield — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2009. Rodriguez, in the country illegally, registered with the American Independent Party in 1989 and voted in 2004.
  • Mauricio Lara, then 39, of Wasco — a charge of illegal registration to vote was dismissed in 2006. Mauricio Lara, in the country illegally, registered as a Democrat in 1992.
  • Jose Graciliano, then 43, of Shafter — a charge of illegal registration to vote was dismissed in 2006. Graciliano, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Democrat in 1990.
  • Martin Aguirre Gonzalez, then 61, of McFarland — charged in 2005 with illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote. A disposition was not listed. Gonzalez, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Democrat in 2002 and voted in 2004.
  • Maria Del Pilar Lule-Varela, then 17, of Delano — a charge of illegal registration to vote was dismissed in 2006. Lule-Varela, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Republican in 1995.
  • Rodrigo Villegas Jauregui, 36, of Delano — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2006. Jauregui, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Democrat in 2000 and voted in 2002.
  • Archie Bautista Magtibay, then 20, of Bakersfield — pleaded no contest in 2005 to charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote and was sentenced to three years’ probation. A legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, Magtibay registered as a Republican in 2000 and voted in 2003.
  • Satpal Singh Manku, 39, of Bakersfield — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2005. Manku, a legal resident but not a US citizen, registered as a Democrat in 1996 and voted in 2004.
  • Javier Escobar Medel, then 17, of Bakersfield — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were filed in 2005. A disposition was not listed. Medel, who was in the country illegally, registered in 1991 and voted as late as 2004. He did not list a party.
  • Margarita Valdovino, 23, of Bakersfield — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2006. Valdovino, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Democrat in 2003, voted in the 2004 general election.
  • Alejandro Trindad, then 31, of Bakersfield — pleaded no contest in 2005 to a charge of illegal registration to vote. He was sentenced to probation for three years. Trindad, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered with the American Independent Party in 1992.
  • Jose Dolores Villa, then 52, of Bakersfield — pleaded guilty in 2005 to charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote. He was sentenced to three years’ probation. Villa, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered in 1997 and voted in the 2000 general election. He did not list a party.
  • Guadalupe Zaragoza Tapia, then 50, of Bakersfield — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2006. Tapia, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Democrat in 2004 and voted in that year’s general election.
  • Olivia Zamora, then 29, of Wasco — a charge of illegal registration to vote was dismissed in 2006. Zamora, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Democrat in 1994.
  • Maria Giron Cruz, 36, of Bakersfield — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2006. Cruz, who was in the country illegally, registered as a Democrat in 1996 and voted in 2000.
  • Mario Jesus Cazares, 33, of Shafter — pleaded guilty in 2006 to illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote. He was sentenced to three years’ probation. Cazares, who was in the country illegally, registered as a Democrat in 1998 and voted as late as 2003.
  • Merlin Baldoz Aquino, then 47, of Delano — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2006. Aquino, who was in the country illegally, registered as a Democrat in 1996 and voted as late as 2004.
  • Stuart Henry Brown, then 42, of Bakersfield — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2006. Brown, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Republican in 2000 and voted as late as 2004.
  • Margarita Garza, then 39, of Shafter — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2006. Garza, who was in the country illegally, registered in 2002 and voted that year. She did not list a party.
  • Danilo Gregorio, then 32, of Delano — charged in 2005 with illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote. No disposition was listed. Gregorio, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered with the American Independent Party in 1984 and voted as late as 2003.
  • Manjit Kaur, then 21, of Bakersfield — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2006. Kaur, an asylum seeker and not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Republican in 2003 and voted in 2004.
  • Maria Eugenia Lozano, then 36, of Lamont — charged in 2008 with illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote. No disposition was listed. Lozano registered to vote in 2003 and voted in the 2004 primary election despite not being a U.S. citizen. She did not list a party.
  • Jose Rangel, then 24, of Lamont — charged in 2008 with illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote. No disposition was listed. Rangel, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered in 2006 and voted in a special election in 2007. He did not list a party.
  • Laura Elena Marin, then 63, of Bakersfield — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2009. Marin, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Republican in 2005 and voted the same year.
  • Rodolfo Soloria, then 41, of Delano — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed in 2006. Soloria, a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen, registered as a Democrat in 1986 and voted in the consolidated primary in 2002.

Following are other cases we examined:

  • Troy Louis Gaasch — seven charges of registration of a non-existent person filed in 1986. All charges were dismissed in 1990.
  • Wesley Crawford — charges of fraudulent nomination or candidacy papers were filed in 1994. He pleaded no contest, and the charge was later dismissed after he fulfilled the terms of his probation.
  • Shanon Juanita Chamblee — charged with offering a false, forged instrument to file, forgery of a document and fictitious registration of a voter in 1997, and pleaded no contest to fictitious registration of a voter. Chamblee was sentenced to 94 days in jail and three years of probation.
  • Blanca Palominos — charged with perjury by false affirmation for aid, obtaining aid by fraud over $400 and illegal registration to vote filed in 1998. No disposition was listed.
  • John Christian Miller — charged with two counts of fraudulent voting. He pleaded no contest in 2004 to a misdemeanor count of fraudulent voting, and a felony was dismissed. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years’ probation.
  • Marc Bradburry — pleaded no contest to a felony charge of fictitious registration of a voter in 2003 and was sentenced to nine months in jail and three years’ probation.
  • Catherine Miller, pleaded no contest in 2004 to misdemeanor fraudulent voting. She was sentenced to one day of time served and placed on three years’ probation.
  • Lance Albert Armendariz — pleaded no contest in 2007 to a felony charge of fictitious registration of a voter. He was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of probation.
  • Windel Edwards — pleaded no contest in 2015 to a misdemeanor charge of fictitious registration of a voter and was sentenced to three years’ probation.
  • Monica Ann Valdez — felony charge of fraudulent voting was dismissed in 2008.
  • David Steelman — pleaded no contest in 2013 to illegal registration to vote, and felony charges of fraudulent vote and perjury were dismissed. He was sentenced to one year and four months in jail.

Following are the misdemeanor cases provided by the court:

  • Darleen Licea — charges of fraudulent voting and fraud in casting of votes were dismissed in 2001.
  • Irene Euresti and Robert Euresti — charges of illegal registration to vote and fraudulent vote were dismissed against both of them in 2002. The Eurestis in 2000 listed one home on voter registration forms but lived in another house. The home they listed for voter registration wasn’t actually theirs, but the home of the mother of a friend. That woman told investigators there was no reason the Eurestis should be using her address as their residence, and that she had received mail for them regarding voter information.
  • Rolando Villanueva — acquitted in 2003 to a fraudulent vote charge. Villanueva voted in the 2002 Arvin recall election despite not living in Arvin.
  • Hernan Casanova — pleaded no contest in 2002 to a fraudulent vote charge and was sentenced to 10 days in jail and three years’ probation.
  • Luis Fernando Gonzalez Jr. — a fraudulent vote charge was dismissed in 2003. Gonzalez voted in the 2002 Arvin recall election despite not living there. He was registered as a Democrat.
  • Diana Loya Mendez — pleaded no contest in 2002 to allowing unentitled voter registration. A fraudulent vote charge was dismissed and she was sentenced to 10 days in jail and three years’ probation. Despite living in Bakersfield, Mendez voted in the Arvin recall election, she told investigators, because she was in Arvin “almost every day” as her mother babysat her children.
  • Cassandra Mullen — pleaded no contest in 2003 to misdemeanor charges of fictitious registration of a voter and voter fraud. She was sentenced to three years’ probation. Mullen changed the party affiliation of a friend while gathering Republican voter registrations. She told investigators she didn’t know that what she did was wrong.
  • Patrick Mantle — a fraudulent voting charge was dismissed in 2004. Mantle, a Republican, voted twice in the November 2002 election. He said he forgot that he had voted absentee and that he usually votes at the polls. He noted his wife was upset with him over the matter.
  • Mark Benthin — charged in 2004 with illegal registration to vote. No disposition was listed. Co-defendant Rachelle Martin, his sister, had a charge of illegal registration to vote dismissed in 2007. Benthin and Martin in 2004 attempted to register people who were in the country illegally outside the Ranch Market in Delano. They told people being registered would make it easier to get a Social Security number and a driver’s license.
  • Vallen Ortiz — pleaded no contest in 2005 to charges of fictitious registration of a voter and petty theft and was sentenced to 120 days in jail. Ortiz was hired by “California Voter Registration 2004” to register people to vote, but signed 13 registration forms herself instead of having them filled out by the person who was registering. An official said Ortiz had problems reading and writing.
  • Monica Ann Valdez — a charge of fraudulent voting was dismissed in 2008. She voted three times by filling out provisional ballots at the Kern County Fairgrounds in the 2006 general election. She told investigators that a poll official instructed her to fill out three separate ballots, and she did so because she wanted to make sure her vote for Assemblywoman Nicole Parra counted.
  • Christopher Craddock — a charge of fraudulent voting was dismissed in 2007. Craddock voted at the polls and again by provisional ballot in the 2006 general election. He told investigators he only cast one ballot.