Woman on trial for electioneering ‘wasn’t thinking’ when she made calls at polls

Edith “Edie” Knight of Atascadero listens with defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu on Wednesday during her trial for misdemeanor electioneering at a polling place.
Edith “Edie” Knight of Atascadero listens with defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu on Wednesday during her trial for misdemeanor electioneering at a polling place.

The 86-year-old Atascadero woman on trial for misdemeanor electioneering charges told the jury Thursday that she “wasn’t thinking” when she allegedly made campaign-related cell phone calls within 100 feet of a polling place.

Edith “Edie” Knight took to the stand on her own behalf on the trial’s second day at San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, saying she thought she had merely broken an election rule but not the law when a poll worker confronted her at the Atascadero Elks Lodge polling place, sparking an investigation by the California Attorney General’s Office.

“I didn’t think it was anything against the law,” Knight said.

She later acknowledged that electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place is against the law, but she denied doing so and said she was unaware cell phone calls were prohibited.

Under cross-examination by Deputy Attorney General Abtin Amir, Knight said she made “maybe 30 or 40” voter calls that day before being confronted by Stephen Williams, who was working as a poll watcher for San Luis Obispo County supervisor candidate Eric Michielssen.

Knight — an elected member of the Republican Central Committee and member of the California Federation of Republican Women — identified herself to Williams as representing the campaign of incumbent county Supervisor Debbie Arnold, who defeated Michielssen.

When Atascadero Police Sgt. Jeffrey Wilshusen called Knight a few days later to discuss allegations of electioneering, after Williams made a police report, Knight said, “Yeah, it was probably a mistake,” according to the police report and her testimony Thursday.

“At the time I was tired, I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry,” Knight said.

Knight’s testimony came one day after Amir called Williams to the stand.

“I had no idea why he was videotaping me at the time,” Knight testified Thursday.

Knight’s attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, had her walk through the events of the day and the context of the conversation she was recorded having.

Knight said that’s when Williams confronted her and told her “you’re going to jail.”

Knight said she apologized to Williams and then left the polling site in great distress. She told the jury she then went to the Arnold campaign headquarters, where she said she became very emotional.

Under cross-examination, Knight acknowledged her involvement in Republican party politics and local elections for more than 30 years, that she herself was on the ballot in the June 7, 2016, primary election and that she was working as a campaign volunteer for Arnold on the day in question.

However, Knight denied having significant training as a poll watcher.

Knight faces one misdemeanor count of electioneering. Judge Craig Van Rooyen dismissed a second count Thursday.

After both Amir and Funke-Bilu rested their cases, Van Rooyen sent the jury home for the weekend to return for closing arguments Monday afternoon.

Amir declined to comment on the status of the case or Van Rooyen’s decision to dismiss one count.

Said Funke-Bilu: “I never rest until the jury returns a verdict.”

Knight said she was pleased to have one count dismissed.

“But actually, I’m just tired,” she said.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler