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Democrats Want Polls Monitored : Elections: Local party leaders seek federal observers in Latino precincts. Justice Department rules that out and declines comment on other options. GOP says it has no plans to challenge voters.


Orange County Democratic Party leaders said Saturday that they have formally asked the U.S. Department of Justice to monitor local polls on Election Day, fearing that voter intimidation tactics might be used in heavily Latino precincts in central Orange County.

A letter requesting the monitors was sent to the Justice Department on Friday, the same day the agency announced that federal observers would not be sent to Orange County on Tuesday because the county does not meet the eligibility requirements set out in the Voting Rights Act.

But a Justice Department spokesman would not comment on whether the agency was still considering other options, such as dispatching a civil rights attorney or federal marshals to monitor the voting.

Orange County is believed to be the only area in Southern California where monitors have been formally requested.

Despite the Justice Department's refusal to respond publicly, the letter from the Orange County Democratic Party and its fund-raising arm, the Democratic Foundation, noted, "We are heartened to know that your staff will take every possible step to monitor the election process closely . . . and we hope that you will be prepared to take immediate action to ensure that no voter is deprived of his or her rights by Republican goons."

Bill Christiansen, executive director of the Orange County Republican Party, said Saturday that the party has no plans to post guards or attempt to intimidate voters.

"We would love it if everybody went out to vote," Christiansen said, adding that the Democrats' release of the letter Saturday might be a publicity ploy.

The Democratic Party's request follows a similar appeal made last September by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, after state Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) proposed posting volunteer poll watchers in Santa Ana. Conroy said he believes Democrats have registered non-citizens to vote.

Conroy's spokesman, Jim Bieber, said last week that volunteers will not approach voters or challenge their qualifications Tuesday but will investigate the voter rolls after the election.

Furthering Democrats' fears of potential voter intimidation is a plan by one of the leaders of the pro-Proposition 187 campaign to post signs reading "Only citizens can vote!" at polling places. The initiative, which proponents call "Save Our State," would deny social services, education and all but emergency health care to illegal immigrants.

Save Our State committee member Barbara A. Coe of Huntington Beach distributed the flyers throughout the state, with instructions to volunteers that they be posted 100 feet from polling places, in accordance with state electioneering laws.

Coe said she "absolutely" favors federal monitoring of Tuesday's election.

"The one thing that is our primary concern is that illegal aliens are going to stuff the ballot box," Coe said. "I would find it fantastic that (voters) were being monitored; as long as (the Justice Department is) monitoring fairly."

Orange County Registrar of Voters Donald Tanney said Friday that he does not think federal monitors are needed.

"I would hope everyone keeps a cool head (on Election Day)," Tanney said. "I don't think it's necessary."

The plans of Conroy and Coe have reopened old wounds from the 1988 election, when Republicans posted uniformed security guards in heavily Latino precincts in Santa Ana. The guards held signs in English and Spanish warning non-citizens that they could not vote.

Democrats claimed Latino voters were intimidated by the guards. Republicans subsequently paid $400,000 to settle a lawsuit over the issue.

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