Leanna Louie District 4 eligibility Department of Elections
Leanna Louie protests Chesa Boudin as he speaks at Manny's cafe at 16th and Valencia on March 21. Photo by Yujie Zhou

Aspirational District 4 supervisor Leanna Louie finds herself in quite a bind. She admits to voting in District 10 while registered in District 4; Department of Elections director John Arntz has referred her to the District Attorney for alleged voter fraud. 

At the same time, she has been mandated by the City Attorney to meet in person in short order and produce voluminous documents proving her residency in District 4 to stave off accusations of residency fraud. 

These twin allegations constitute a zero-sum game. “Either way, she is trapped,” sums up Chris Thomas, the director of elections for the State of Michigan for 36 years, and now a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center. 

The more effectively Louie proves her residency in District 4, explains Thomas, the more inexcusable her voting in District 10 becomes. And if Louie can’t prove D4 residency, she figures to be struck from the ballot. 

“She’s shooting herself in the foot, both ways,” he says. 

Establishing residency fraud, Thomas goes on, is challenging. There’s the matter of your voter registration and lease and bills and insurance and whatnot. But there’s also metaphysical stuff, like your mindset. What do you consider your “domicile”? What is your intent? 

“Proving or disproving residency is sometimes like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall,” said Thomas, who had a moment in the national limelight in 2020, when he effectively rebuffed specious Republican claims of mass voter fraud in Detroit. “The courts are so liberal on it.” 

But the allegations made against Louie of voter fraud? Less Jell-O-like. Less liberal. 

Residency issues “get confusing,” Thomas continues. But the voter fraud allegations are not confusing. “She has taken registration steps and actually voted a ballot where she didn’t live,” he says. “I would say she’s got some problems.” 

This was an opinion shared by multiple attorneys and voting experts contacted by Mission Local. Louie registered to vote in District 4 on March 8. But, she went ahead and voted in April in District 10. 

Notably, April’s election was a runoff for Assembly District 17 that residents of District 4 were not entitled to vote in. Louie received a ballot at her previous District 10 residence — one that was placed in an envelope the day before she had re-registered. The ballot, mailed on March 17, likely reached Louie’s former residence within a day or two. The Department of Elections says Louie’s vote was scanned on April 7. So, a fair bit of time had elapsed. Certainly enough time for Louie to contact the Department of Elections and ask what the hell was going on. 

Louie did not make that call. Rather, she voted — and, additionally, wrote in the District 10 address on the ballot’s envelope and signed her name beneath the oath: “I declare under penalty of perjury that I am a resident of the San Francisco precinct in which I am voting … ”

The elections code in this state is very clear. “It requires that you vote in the precinct you’re registered in, and that you register where you live,” says Stephanie Smith, the former president of the City Clerks Association of California, who ran elections in Murrieta and Lake Forest for 35 years. 

“If you are not registered to vote in a precinct and you sign under penalty of perjury that you are, then you obviously have signed an affidavit improperly.” 

“It’s not a murder case. It doesn’t require a huge investigation.” 

Ann Ravel on the allegations of voter fraud made against Leanna Louie

Thomas said San Francisco should “tighten up” its system to stave off ballots being sent to voters’ former domiciles. But when asked if this excused Louie for voting in District 10 while registered in District 4, he replied “No, not at all. If an error was made sending her a ballot, as tempting as it may be to go ahead and vote it, that doesn’t absolve you. She knows she had just recently re-registered. It’s not like she did it 10 years before and forgot.” 

Louie told Mission Local that her father called her and informed her a ballot had arrived at her former home where she was no longer registered to vote. And she returned home and voted in a special election that District 4 residents were not entitled to vote in, because “I’ve got to vote. It’s my civic duty.” 

She told the Chronicle a rather different story. Louie said that, because she hadn’t completed her move from District 10 to District 4, she felt she was entitled to vote in District 10: “I got the ballot, so I voted, because I was still in transit.” 

Louie posted this on Facebook after April’s election — potentially indicating a motive for voting in that election other than confusion.

When one registers to vote, as Louie did in District 4 on March 8, he or she fills in a form reading “The address where you live.” This document is signed under penalty of perjury.  

So, these are head-scratching responses from Louie; they’re the sorts of thing you’d expect Herschel Walker to say. You don’t have a civic duty to vote in out-of-district elections. And your registration determines where you vote, not the status of whether you’ve fully moved your record collection to your new home. 

“Possibly she had some furniture yet to move, but I think that is a very weak argument,” said Ann Ravel, a University of California, Berkeley, law school lecturer and a former member of the Federal Election Commission. And, while this matter has been referred to the DA for investigation, Ravel isn’t sure much investigating is necessary. 

“It seems pretty straightforward. She clearly voted in what was not her district,” Ravel says. “It’s not a murder case. It doesn’t require a huge investigation.” 

Photo by Loi Almeron,

While being registered in District 4 and voting in District 10, Louie additionally co-owns a home in District 11. What’s more, a stipulation in her loan agreement dictated that the borrowers should make this home their primary residence for one year’s time. 

Misery loves company, and it turns out other politicians had similar setups. Last week, journalist Susan Dyer Reynolds published a story noting that Board President Shamann Walton, who represents District 10, co-owns a home in Vallejo. 

That seems like a good get! It turned out, however, that it wasn’t a surprise to the City Attorney. Walton texted Mission Local that he has “been counseled by the City Attorney ever since prior to purchase in Vallejo.” And the City Attorney confirmed this. 

“Supervisor Walton contacted us in 2019, and we provided him advice about the residency rules that apply to Supervisors,” wrote City Attorney spokeswoman Jen Kwart. “We confirmed that purchasing a house outside San Francisco would not make him ineligible for City office as long as he remained a resident of District 10. This advice is consistent with the public memo we issued on this topic in 2009, regarding former Supervisor Daly’s residency.

When asked if he could prove his residency in San Francisco, as Louie is being made to do, Walton texted, “of course I can.” Nobody has yet, officially, asked him to do so. 

Considering the Vallejo purchase was overt and vetted and greenlit, the city’s powers-that-be do not seem concerned with Walton’s residency issues. But it turns out that, like Louie’s, Walton’s lending agreement stipulated that the home be his primary residence. Will either, or both, of them face the wrath of their lending institutions? 

Probably not, mortgage experts tell Mission Local. 

Board President Shamann Walton, pictured here in 2019. Photo by Joe Eskenazi.

How literally do lending institutions take the owner-occupied requirements? “In most cases, it’s very liberally interpreted,” says Thomas Tarter, a banking and finance consultant. For the most part, what lenders really want is to determine whether or not a property will be on the rental market: “There is greater risk associated with rental properties, and it would impact the capacity or potential willingness of a borrower to make payments,” explains Tarter. “Also, if it’s intended to be a rental property, there may be a higher down payment required.” 

Tarter describes the clause about owner-occupation as “boilerplate.” 

Banking consultant Doug Johnston, Jr., adds, “I can’t recall a time I’ve experienced a lender enforcing this.” Lenders, you won’t be surprised to learn, are most concerned with borrowers making their payments.

The city may (or may not) be concerned with Louie or Walton’s mindset and intentions and behavior and residency. So, their home purchases and lending agreement stipulations could be a factor in that. But experts stress that the actual lending institutions will likely not make an issue of this unless the money runs dry. 

The discussions you have during the purchase process matter. And it also matters to the lending institutions what the houses are being used for. Louie declined to discuss her District 11 home with Mission Local. Walton declined to speak with us about this, but last week penned a statement in which he claimed that he was doing no wrong by “creating generational wealth for my family in purchasing a non-income-generating property outside of the county.” 

This is certainly a roundabout way of putting things. But if Walton is implying that he has family members living in the Vallejo home, then the financial experts contacted by Mission Local didn’t foresee pending legal woes. 

Regardless, it’s all something of a mess. And, says Thomas with a sigh, “It gets messier by the moment.” He laughs: “But that’s what makes a good story.”

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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17 Comments

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    1. Sir — 

      In point of fact, the City Attorney found that he did indeed live in the condo. If there was a rental agreement, that would likely have come to light. If you have proof of your accusation, you should probably disclose it.

      JE

      1. my bad, “rented” was a poor word choice. I live in the same complex, my perception of the coming and goings of a unit in a small mixed income housing development is totally unacceptable. I voted for him.

  1. That Walton “vetted” buying a second home is irrelevant – my guess is that the City Attorney wasn’t made aware that he was buying it under a primary residence mortgage vs. as an investment property. Whether lenders care or not, the City Ethics Commission should. Louie probably isn’t subject to their jurisdiction since she’s not elected to anything yet, but will be if she wins (which seems unlikely).

  2. If you’ve ever met Leanna Louie in real life you’ll know she legitimately has a screw loose. This is the LAST person that should hold any kind of public office.

  3. Well, that simplifies the D4 race — Joel Engardio’s the far stronger candidate against Gordon Mar anyways.

  4. Campers,

    When I worked on Adriel Hampton’s campaign for Congress in the East Bay he lost to John Ghiarmondi (sp) who did not actually live in the district but had a piece of a pasture there or something and apparently that’s cool.

    They change rules all the time.

    Used to be that living in an SRO was considered bridge housing and homeless.

    You could live there (44 Mc Allister) and run from any district legally.

    I ran in D-2 against Newsom there and when I entered from there to run against Chiu in D-3 they changed the law and made SRO’s in ‘Permanent’ housing and thus, voting address.

    No problem.

    I ran for Mayor from there and School Board and D-6 Supe twice.

    “Your father was a rolling stone …
    wherever he laid his hat was his home … … ”

    h.

  5. Really crazy that someone could’ve accidentally voted from an old residence after we implemented this amazing universal mail-in system. Truly inconceivable

  6. It’s fine to keep hammering at Leanna Louie, but please don’t give Shamann Walton a pass because you agree with him politically. He is a powerful city official and she is not.

      1. Was the City Attorney made aware that he took out a primary residence mortgage? Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with owning an INVESTMENT property elsewhere, but that’s not what this is.

  7. This is totally a biased piece. The legal question before the City Attorney’s office was not one as to whether or not he committed fraud. So they did not green light the purchase and clear him of any wrongdoing in that regard. He also likely has an FHA loan which does require owner occupancy. They do not want investors or those “building generational wealth” to be utilizing this program. What a terrible piece of yellow journalism.

    1. If you read the part after the City Attorney, you’d realize that part of the vagueness of “owner occupied” does not mean what you think it means in terms of residency.

      Please re-read the article and know the difference between City Attorney opinion of “residency” and mortgage “owner-occupied”.

  8. Should Louie be locked up like Ed Jew, or should she be confined in a mental health treatment enclosure so that she cannot harm herself or others?

  9. Here’s the real reason Walton told the bank it would be his primary home: the interest rate is higher if you tell the bank you’re buying the house and it’s an investment. If you tell them that it’s your primary residence it’s usually .5 – .75% lower. That’s a lot of money over 30 years.

    Now, what I want to know is are his kids enrolled in Vallejo schools? That would tip the scale more into the lying part of the meter if they are. I have a hard time believing he lives with his family in SF and his kids go to school in Vallejo.

    1. The ridiculous triple-flop by Louie is a combination of arrogant and determined lying and demonstrated voter fraud at the very least, already, so anyone trying to make false equivocations about Walton’s property purchase that the Attorney’s office cleared really have to learn how to read before they try to trot that out in daylight.

      Your assumptions about his children’s schooling arrangements (that you have admittedly no actual basis for either way) and then falsely concluding (based on that nothing guess, also incorrectly) that it would somehow prove something either way about whether he spent 6 months and a day in his district, all of that is nonsense talk. He is cleared of wrongdoing by the city and lenders are not concerned either way.

      This is why we read carefully before we start pretending to be characterizing who is lying or committing fraud or not. You don’t just make it up like that.

      1. You act like the City Attorney’s office is a trustworthy institution. It’s the same entity who let Mohammed Nuru do what he wanted for years until the DOJ stepped in and made them take some actions to save face.

        Them “clearing” the purchase of this home means nothing.