One of the two Republicans who jumped into the race to challenge Democratic Congressman Mike Honda at the last minute has been disqualified and will not appear on the ballot.
But the Sacramento County Superior Court judge who found irregularities in Vinesh Singh Rathore's nominating petition did not find that any responsibility lay with Democratic challenger Ro Khanna, as a lawsuit had claimed.
"There was never evidence to support the ridiculous claim and it was dismissed yesterday by the judge who examined it," Khanna campaign manager Leah Cowan said Thursday. "It's obvious that the defenders of the status quo feel threatened by the momentum behind Ro's change campaign and now they've resorted to old-style political attacks and dirty tricks."
The race in the 17th congressional district has captured national attention as Khanna, a former Obama administration official who lives in Fremont, tries to unseat seven-term incumbent Honda to represent the first majority Asian-American district in the continental 48 states -- and the heart of Silicon Valley.
The well-funded Khanna has been campaigning for about a year, but the entry of Republican Vanila Singh at the start of this year and the entries of Rathore and Joel Vanlandingham this month threw the race's electoral calculus into a tailspin.
Jeffrey Wald of Fremont, an Alameda County Republican Central Committee member, sued the voter registrars in Alameda and Santa Clara counties as well as the Secretary of State's Office, arguing that Rathore and Vanlandingham should be kicked off the ballot.
"Khanna recruited candidates to enter the race as Republicans to split the Republican vote three ways, effectively diluting votes that would otherwise be cast in favor of (Vanila) Singh," the suit claimed.
Judge Allen Sumner heard the case Wednesday afternoon. Pat Smith, one of Wald's attorneys, said Thursday that Sumner had reviewed nominating petitions brought to court by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters and found it irregular that several signatures on Rathore's petition were in the same handwriting. Without those signatures, Rathore didn't meet the 40-signature minimum and thus can't appear on the ballot, the judge found.
Rathore, 35, a Google product attorney, insisted Thursday that all those who signed his nomination papers were legitimate voters.
"Judge Sumner ruled to remove me from the ballot because there were instances where a husband filled out his wife's name and address on the nomination papers (though both signed on their own behalf)," he said in an e-mail. "I would have gladly produced signed affidavits from my signatories supporting my candidacy, but I was literally given a few hours notice to respond to the complaint. So much for due process."
Rathore said the ruling denies his supporters and him the right to participate in the democratic process. "The sad irony is that I wanted to speak out on the corruption and cronyism that permeates our political system. I never expected to be a victim of that corruption so early in my campaign. But unless regular people get involved in politics, we're going to continue to have a system of the few, by the few and for the few."
Honda's campaign declined to comment.
Peter Smith, another of Wald's attorneys, said Sumner also considered that Manorama Kumar — a registered Democrat from Newark -- had both signed one of Khanna's nominating petition and circulated one of Vanlandingham's petitions. The attorney called this "irregular. I've never seen that before, and you really wonder why it was done that way."
But Smith acknowledged there is no state law against this; Sumner's order made no mention of it.
"Launching baseless attacks that smear an opponent is the kind of politics that Ro is fighting to change," Cowan replied. "Fortunately, the legal system worked, the allegations were dismissed and the case is now closed. Rather than restating their discredited attacks, the perpetrators owe Ro and the voters an apology."