East Palo Alto city councilmember and Stanford Ph.D. student Antonio López was cleared of all illegal campaigning charges brought against him by former opponent Webster Lincoln on Wednesday. The decision denies Lincoln’s request to annul López’s election certificate.
“This is not just a personal victory for me, but for the city of East Palo Alto,” López said during a press conference on Thursday. “It is a reminder that losing candidates cannot sue their way into office.”
López defeated Lincoln for an East Palo Alto city council seat in November by a slim 0.4% margin — just 69 votes — after trailing him on election night.
The decision from the San Mateo Superior Court comes 93 days after Lincoln filed a Dec. 7 lawsuit against López and East Palo Alto City Clerk Walfred Solorzano, who is responsible for certifying the city’s election results. Lincoln, a data scientist at Genentech, accused López of electioneering and corruption of voters by campaigning within 100 feet of a vote-by-mail ballot drop box and bribing voters with free tacos, respectively. A third charge, added later, alleged that López’s taco truck directly interfered with the ability of some voters to submit their ballots by blocking handicap parking spaces and forcing voters to enter the polling place through a parking lot.
Ann Ravel, a former commissioner on the Federal Elections Commission and López’s attorney, described the allegations as “not very well founded” and “a clear attempt at intimidation of a young Latino candidate by a more powerful and wealthy opponent.”
“Unfortunately, the courts are being used to weaponize our elections in an attempt to undo the will of the people,” she said.
Lincoln’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Solorzano’s view, the case mirrors claims made by former president Donald Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. “It is always a concern when a topic appears that may damage the integrity of an election,” he wrote in a statement to The Daily. “We saw the former president file frivolous lawsuits to tamper with election results; it created a distrust of the elections process in parts of the country.”
López believes that the election results speak for themselves. “Our residents are intelligent, are civically engaged, and listened to all the candidates,” he said. “Frankly, it is insulting and racially offensive to believe that the people of East Palo Alto, a city predominantly working-class and of color, would sell their principles, their beliefs, their entire political stance, for the estimated price of a taco.”
Though the court’s decision is not final — Lincoln has until March 17 to file an objection — both López and Ravel are optimistic moving forward. In particular, López plans to focus his attention on equitable and efficient vaccine distribution, which he felt he was unable to fully do while preparing for trial.
From a personal standpoint, López is striving to heal divisions within the community. “I extend the full invitation to Mr. Webster Lincoln to get involved in our community,” he said. “Let’s put this behind us.”