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County Ordered to Tighten Rules for Voter Registration : Elections: Action is taken after reports that accused assassin Mario Aburto had received cards twice in L.A.

March 30, 1994|SHAWN HUBLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stunned at reports that accused Mexican assassin Mario Aburto had registered twice to vote in Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday ordered county staffers to find ways to prevent such a thing from happening again.

In a sharp reaction to news accounts that Aburto had lived on both sides of the border and had registered to vote here, the board demanded an accounting from county Registrar-Recorder Beatriz Valdez.

Valdez confirmed that in 1990, Aburto, 23, had picked up a voter registration card at a San Pedro post office, filled it out, affiliated himself as a Democrat, and mailed it in. A glitch in the way he had signed his name forced the county to mail him a new card so he could re-register, she said.

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An affidavit on the form asks the signer to swear under penalty of perjury that they are, among other things, a U.S. citizen. Aburto signed the affidavit using his Mexican appellation, Mario Aburto Martinez, Valdez said.

When 1992 arrived and he had not voted, the county mailed a routine card to his address in an attempt to update voter rolls, she said. The card was returned, indicating he had moved, and a blank voter registration form was sent to the address to remind the new resident to re-register.

Valdez said it is unclear whether Aburto used that blank card or another that may have landed in the mailbox of his new address, but in any case, he registered again in 1993. This time, she said, he used the Americanized version of his name, Mario Aburto, and conscientiously noted on the form that he had registered before as Mario Aburto Martinez.

That registration was processed, Valdez said, but when a new voter registration card was mailed to Aburto's address, it was returned to the county. Following the county's policy, Aburto's registration was canceled.

Aburto's friends and relatives said this week that his decision to register in 1990 and again in 1993 was based more on a desire to become a legal U.S. resident than any fervent interest in politics.

He believed that being on the voter rolls would assist him in obtaining papers to remain in the United States and work legally, his relatives said.

"He thought that would help him become a citizen," said Ruben Aburto, the accused assassin's father, who lives in San Pedro. "He wasn't interested in politics."

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Valdez confirmed that according to county records, the man accused of killing Mexican presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio last week had never voted in the United States.

Moreover, she added, such fraudulent registrations are rare.

"I've been here for 37 years," she said, "and (in that time), we have had less than a dozen incidents in which a non-citizen has registered."

Valdez said that accusations are constantly being made, but evidence of non-citizens registering to vote is rarely produced.

"There's a perception that a lot of non-citizens are out there voting, and we get a lot of calls alleging that," she said. "But when we ask for names, no one can ever provide them."

Nonetheless, in a written motion, Supervisor Deane Dana expressed concern about "the possibility of such illegally registered voters casting ballots and influencing the outcome of American elections."

Dana also noted that "status as a registered voter can be used by those in the country illegally as a form of identification, indicating citizenship which would allow the the use of public services . . . to which they are not entitled."

Dana instructed Valdez and her staff to find ways to prevent such fraud. But Valdez said the assignment could be difficult.

Voter registration forms, she noted, are based on an honors system, and, beyond the address of the applicant, very little of the information on them is double-checked.

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New voter registration forms, due out next month, should help, she said. The forms ask the applicant whether they are citizens, and then instruct them not to finish the questionnaire if they are not.

But beyond that, Valdez said, state laws would have to be changed, and more extensive verification would interfere with the ability of voters to register by mail, an option they have had since 1976.

Times staff writers Patrick J. McDonnell and Frederick M. Muir contributed to this story.

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