A candidate for a state Assembly seat representing part of Riverside County is not registered to vote in the district he’s seeking to represent, according to voter registration records and county officials.
Bilal “Bill” Essayli, 36, is running as a Republican in the November general election for California’s newly drawn 63rd Assembly District, which includes Norco, Canyon Lake, Menifee and Lake Elsinore as well as parts of Riverside, Eastvale and Corona.
But on June 7 — the day of California’s primary election, Essayli registered to vote in Orange County, public records reviewed by the Southern California News Group reveal. Essayli said he’s still a valid candidate in the 63rd District.
No part of the district, which took shape through political redistricting in 2021, is in Orange County. Essayli was registered to vote in the 63rd when he filed paperwork to run for Assembly, and Riverside County on Feb. 16 affirmed his ability to run in the 63rd’s primary.
Essayli advanced out of the primary to the general election. Riverside County Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer said via email that after the primary results were certified, her staff entered Essayli’s name as one of the candidates on the November ballot and received an error message stating Essayli no longer lived in the 63rd.
The county executive office and county counsel reviewed the matter and decided to consult with the California Secretary of State, which produces the official candidate list for the 63rd, Spencer added.
Richard Hasen, an election law expert at UCLA, said it’s not clear to him that someone running for California’s legislature must live in the district before the election.
“I’m just not sure how that question is treated,” Hasen said via email.
In an emailed statement, Essayli said: “I’m in full compliance with all residency requirements under the law and I look forward to representing my hometown in Sacramento this November.”
He added he plans to establish permanent residency in the 63rd district before the election.
Essayli also accused Spencer of “spreading misinformation targeting my campaign.” He did not elaborate.
“The registrar, who has previously publicly attacked Republicans, is again demonstrating that she is unfit for her nonpartisan position. My campaign filed a public records request for her communications and we will hold her accountable,” Essayli added. “Riverside County voters deserve a competent and ethical registrar of voters. Rebecca Spencer should resign.”
Spencer said via email she wasn’t sure “why Mr. Essayli is launching a personal attack on me for simply performing my job duties.”
“I have worked at the Riverside County Registrar of Voters office since 1999 and I have never come across a situation where a candidate has moved out of the district between the primary and general election,” she said. “When it was brought to my attention by staff, I could not simply ignore it.”
Spencer added: “I have always taken and will continue to take my job and election integrity very seriously. I will continue to comply with California elections codes and administer fair and accurate elections for the citizens of Riverside County.”
Essayli contends he was a registered voter in the 63rd when he received and submitted his nomination papers.
He said he was in escrow to buy a new home outside the 63rd before the new district lines were drawn. Essayli said construction of the home wrapped up after the nominating period for the 63rd ended and at that point, he moved into the home and updated his voter registration.
Riverside County records show Essayli registered to vote at a Riverside address in the 63rd District on Dec. 30, 2021. Before that, he was registered to vote in Irvine, according to records.
Riverside County Community College District board President Bill Hedrick, a Corona resident who lives in the 63rd, said he filed complaints about Essayli’s eligibility to run in the district with the Riverside County district attorney as well as the secretary of state and attorney general.
If Essayli is not qualified to run, he should be removed from the Nov. 8 ballot, said Hedrick, a registered Democrat who ran against Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, in 2010.
“We need a member of the Assembly who is a resident and committed to our communities and clearly it appears that Mr. Essayli was committed and is committed to Orange County,” Hedrick said in a telephone interview Friday, Aug. 12.
Hedrick said he wasn’t motivated by partisanship.
“Whether you qualify for the ballot or not shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said. “Either you’re a resident or you’re not.”
Joe Kocurek, a secretary of state spokesperson, said via email the issue of Essayli’s voter registration “has been referred to us and we’re looking into it.”
An attorney who ran unsuccessfully against Assembly Member Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside, in 2018, Essayli finished second out of three candidates in the June primary for the 63rd. Democrat and Western Municipal Water District Board Member Fauzia Rizvi finished first.
He defeated Republican and Eastvale Mayor Clint Lorimore for the right to take on Rizvi in November. Republicans hold a 4-percentage-point edge in the 63rd’s voter registration, according to Political Data Inc., and Essayli and Lorimore combined for 60% of the vote in June, a sign the seat could be ripe for the GOP’s taking.
“We deserve a representative in Sacramento who understands the needs of our communities and puts people first, not themselves,” Rizvi said via email.
“Now we know that Bill Essayli is an Orange County resident who cannot reasonably represent us,” she said. “It is shocking and disappointing that someone running in this district would not even vote for themselves in the June primary to represent our communities. We deserve better.”
Staff Writer Alicia Robinson contributed to this report.