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Gingrich Asks for Inquiry by Panel

House: Speaker wants Oversight Committee to begin looking into Dornan contention of voter fraud. Only one election has ever been overturned by panel.

November 14, 1996|MATT LAIT and GEBE MARTINEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Newt Gingrich has asked the House Oversight Committee to begin looking at Rep. Robert K. Dornan's allegations that noncitizen voters may have caused his apparent defeat, a spokeswoman for Gingrich said Wednesday.

Under federal law, the committee has the power to investigate contested congressional elections and recommend that results be overturned. If such a recommendation is made, the entire House would have to vote on the matter.

Gingrich made the request after allegations by Dornan (R-Garden Grove) that voter fraud may have led to his apparent loss. Dornan said he did not have enough money to contest the election and asked that Republican Party leaders finance a challenge on his behalf. The cost would include a recount of ballots prior to any investigation.

Gingrich's request appears to be the first step in contesting Democrat Loretta Sanchez's seeming victory over Dornan for the 46th Congressional District seat. Committee staffers said it was unclear whether the Republican Party is going to back a full-fledged appeal or how far Gingrich intends to pursue his request for an investigation. Furthermore, they said it was highly unusual for the party to contest an election on behalf of a candidate.

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However, even before Gingrich's request, staffers from the congressional committee Wednesday were prowling around the Orange County registrar of voters office, laying the groundwork for any potential investigation. Committee staffers said representatives were sent to several closely contested races throughout the nation, including Dornan's.

So far, no improprieties have been discovered in Orange County, according to one committee staffer.

"My discussion with the registrar led me to believe there were no signs of problems with registration at all," said Bob Brauer, who works for a Democratic committee member. Two other staffers, working for Republican members, declined comment.

Although the committee has looked into numerous elections in the past, it has only overturned one in the 27 years since the Federal Contested Election Act was passed. That occurred in 1984 in Indiana's 8th Congressional District. Although Republican Richard D. McIntyre apparently won a narrow election day victory, the Democrat-controlled task force turned the seat over to their own party member, Frank McCloskey. Some committee Republican Party members cried foul, contending that partisan politics were played.

Rep. Bill Thomas, (R-Bakersfield) chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said such shenanigans would not occur under his leadership. He said that if the committee does fully investigate the Dornan and Sanchez race, the outcome would be based strictly on the legitimacy of the votes for both candidates.

"When you get a race that's [within] several hundred to several thousand, there's always some instances of less-than-a-completely-perfect-ballot-cast situation," Thomas said. "The question is how many [illegal votes were cast], and were there sufficient numbers to have changed the outcome."

Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday agreed that it was unlikely the committee would reverse the election results in the Dornan and Sanchez race because the burden of proof is so great. Not only would the committee have to find voting irregularities, but it would have to prove that the votes went to Sanchez and that the number of faulty ballots was sufficient to have changed the results.

Shelley Moskowitz, who helped organized Sanchez's get-out-the-vote drive, said she is confident that Dornan's allegations will not be supported.

"Bob Dornan is just flailing around trying to save his seat," she said. "I think he'll end up on talk radio."

Also contributing to this report was Times correspondent John Canalis.

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