Crime

Atascadero woman charged with electioneering at polling place

A video screen shot shows Republican activist Edith “Edie” Knight of Atascadero talking on the phone in the lobby of the Elks Lodge on Election Day, June 7, 2016. She is faces two charges of electioneering at a polling place.
A video screen shot shows Republican activist Edith “Edie” Knight of Atascadero talking on the phone in the lobby of the Elks Lodge on Election Day, June 7, 2016. She is faces two charges of electioneering at a polling place.

State prosecutors are taking a prominent local Republican activist to trial on charges of unlawful electioneering after a YouTube video allegedly showed the 86-year-old woman calling would-be voters from a polling place during the June 7 primary election.

On April 17, the California Attorney General’s Office filed two misdemeanor charges of electioneering where voters may be casting votes against Edith “Edie” Knight of Atascadero, who ran successfully in the June election for a seat on the Republican Central Committee.

If convicted of both counts, Knight could face up to a year in San Luis Obispo County Jail.

In his criminal complaint, Deputy Attorney General Abtin Amir alleges that Knight unlawfully solicited a vote while a voter was casting a ballot, and audibly disseminated information that advocated for or against a candidate or ballot measure within 100 feet of a polling place.

It is illegal to participate in any campaigning or electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place.

In the video, posted to YouTube on June 16, Knight is seen sitting on a sofa in the lobby of the Atascadero Elks Lodge, where ballots were being cast, speaking on the telephone and holding what appear to be voter rolls.

“Were you planning on coming down?” Knight is heard saying. “Because I have a list here. … We look at the lists from the voting rolls.”

Knight says she’s “at the polling place,” and appears to begin to say that she’s “outside” before saying, “I’m just checking things.”

“You can’t do that in here,” the man filming Knight tells her. Knight is seen waving the man off before the phone call ends.

In a description of the video, the unnamed author wrote: “I was so shocked she was doing this I videotaped her conversation. What I missed was that she started the call with I am calling on behalf of the campaign to elect Debbie Arnold. Even without that introduction it is clear what she is doing.”

Incumbent District 5 County Supervisor Debbie Arnold was, at the time, running for re-election against Democratic challenger Eric Michielssen. Arnold defeated Michielssen 53 to 46 percent.

Amir declined to comment Tuesday, but Knight’s attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, said Knight has long been active in the local Republican campaigns but was not campaigning in the video.

“My client is completely innocent,” Funke-Bilu said. “We are rushing this to court as quickly as possible so that she can be vindicated.”

A spokesman for the county District Attorney’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment about why the state is prosecuting the case, but a review of campaign finance reports shows that Knight contributed $837 to the 2014 campaign of District Attorney Dan Dow, who is also a registered Republican.

A member of the California Federation of Republican Women, Knight has also contributed to the campaigns of supervisors Arnold, Lynn Compton and John Peschong, and is a financial backer of the Lincoln Club of San Luis Obispo County.

According to Funke-Bilu, the case is scheduled to go to trial May 30 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

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