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Looking Back to 1956: Board of Supervisors candidate charges votes were illegally counted 

Looking Back Paso Robles

This look back at Paso Robles history comes from local newspapers in the Paso Robles Area Historical Society collection. News for this column is selected with the assistance of the society’s Vice President Nancy Tweedie and Research Director Jan Cannon.

Excerpts from Thursday, December 27, 1956 Paso Robles Journal

Coburn charges ‘surprise’ to Roland Gates

– Supervisor-elect Roland Gates expressed his “surprise and concern,” Wednesday, over charges made against the election boards of the first supervisorial district by Grover Coburn.

Coburn, a candidate in the November general election for the supervisor’s post, filed a statement Friday asking for a recount of the ballots. In the statement Coburn charged:

“(A) That the precinct board or any member thereof was guilty of misconduct.”

“(D) That illegal votes were cast.”

“(E) That the precinct board, in conducting the election or in canvassing the returns, made errors sufficient to change the result of the results of the election as to any person who has been declared elected.”

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Coburn also states, in the document filed with County Clerk A.E. Mallagh.

“That certain legal votes cast for the Contestant (Coburn) were illegally counted for Leo Shetler and/or E.R. Griswold, and if said legal votes had been counted for Contestant, he would have been shown to have received the highest number of votes and would have been entitled to be declared elected to the office of supervisor. That certain votes for Leo Shetler and/or E.R. Griswold, defendant (Gates) would have been shown not to have received the highest number of votes and therefore would not be entitled to have received a certificate of election.”

Gates said this morning that “we are continuing to study the statement filed by Coburn and to say the least, are rather surprised and concerned over the charges he is bringing against the election boards.

“We are not aware of any ‘malconduct’ on the part of the boards.”

Gates is scheduled to take office on January 7, 1957—the day before he will appear in court to answer to the contest instituted by Coburn. The supervisor-elect said the contest “has not altered my plans to be sworn into office at the appointed time.”

Gates, elected as supervisor was announced on November 23, when absentee ballots brought his total vote 1382. Coburn received 1369 votes, and write-candidate Leo Shetler 1333. A second “write-in” E.R. Griswold received one vote.

19 fires blaze in five hours

Officers comb area for firebug suspect

Nineteen separate fires—“all of incendiary origin” —kept alarm bells clanging steadily for five hours Tuesday night, as regular and emergency State Forestry crews fought to halt the spread of the conflagrations.

One home was completely destroyed in the series of blazes that started at 6:30 Christmas night, an unestimated acreage of grassland between Paso Roble and Templeton was blackened, and a fire in the Southern Pacific depot at Atascadero was brought under control after causing a minor amount of damage.

The home destroyed in the series of fires, an unoccupied six-room frame structure on the Old Creek Toad, west of Templeton, was owned by E. Peterson of Morro Bay.

The first fire was reported at 6:30 on South River Road, about midway between Paso Robles and Templeton. Minutes later a second fire flared on the same road, approximately a mile south of the first fire, and the blazes continued to flare at widely separated points along South River Road, Creston Road (leading from Templeton) and the “Back Road” from Templeton to Atascadero during the next five hours.

The conflagration that leveled the Peterson home, nineteenth in the series, was reported to State Forestry at the same time that the Atascadero Fire Department responded to a call from Southern Pacific Depot. Officials were unable to say this morning whether there was any connection between the two fires.

“These fires undoubtedly were of incendiary origin,” Robert J. Odgers, assistant State Forestry Ranger in charge of the Paso Robles station, on South Highway 101, said this morning. “They were set for purely malicious reasons. We are unable to determine any other motive, at least at this state of the investigation.”

“The sheriff’s office and California Highway Patrol investigators are assisting us in the probe,” Odgers continued, “and we have several leads which are being checked out today. Obviously the person or persons starting the fires was moving about in a car, and moving fast.”

“And, believe me, he kept us moving, too.”

Odgers pointed out that the unoccupied Peterson home did not have electrical or gas connections, thus eliminating the possibilities of the blaze having been started accidentally by a short circuit or overheating.

The “Christmas Night Series” came just two months after local police and state investigators conducted a city-wide search for an arsonist believed to have set six “alley fires” that caused damage estimated at between $30,000 and $40,000. Officers said this morning that “it is impossible to determine at this time whether the same person is responsible for both series of fires.”

Read previous Looking Back articles

Thank you to sponsors of Looking Back

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.