SACRAMENTO — Secretary of State Bill Jones has launched a formal investigation into complaints of voter fraud lodged by Rep. Robert K. Dornan, the Garden Grove Republican who narrowly lost his reelection bid last month to an upstart Democrat.
Jones said in a letter Wednesday that his investigators would immediately begin looking into Dornan's allegations of fraud, including voting by illegal immigrants, lax ballot box security, people voting repeatedly and registering at phony addresses.
"As a result of our review, we have now opened an official investigation of these specific allegations, effective immediately," Jones wrote.
Dornan, a nationally prominent and vocal conservative who was seeking his 10th term in the House of Representatives, lost to Democrat Loretta Sanchez by 984 votes. He has demanded a partial recount, claiming that thousands of absentee ballots were illegally cast.
Patricia Fanelli, Dornan's district director, said the congressman was pleased by Jones' announcement.
"The congressman wants to emphasize he is not doing this for himself," Fanelli said. "Nearly half the people in his district voted for him, and nearly half the district has pleaded with him to press for the investigation. He knows the overwhelming majority of voters in all parties want our elections to be fair."
Sanchez could not be reached for comment. Earlier this week she expressed disappointment that Dornan refused to accept defeat and continued to "show disdain for the will of the people."
Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for Jones, said that discovery of voter fraud might not change the results of the Nov. 5 contest. Jones and other state officials have no power to overturn the election, but could report any findings of fraud to Congress, which has the sole authority to seat or unseat one of its members.
"If we find evidence of X, Y or Z, that could be shared with Congress, and then they could act as they deem fit," Miller said. "We don't proceed under the premise that we can overturn an election."
Miller said she knows of no recent episode where Congress refused to seat a member because of voter fraud. Even if Dornan's allegations prove accurate, questions about whether fraud changed the outcome of the race might remain impossible to answer, she said.
She had no estimate of how long the fraud probe would take or how many secretary of state investigators would be assigned, but said the case was "a top priority." Any findings of voter fraud would be turned over to the Orange County district attorney.
In recent weeks, Dornan has buried state election officials with reams of evidence he says prove his allegations. They include affidavits from voters who observed improper procedures at the polls, and from a campaign precinct walker who discovered that numerous voters didn't live where they had registered.
In one instance, a voter was registered at a school playground. Another was registered at a vacant lot. Several were on blocks that didn't exist. One person said they discovered 26 voters who had registered at a padlocked building.
Dornan also alleges that "hundreds" of recently naturalized citizens who voted had perjured themselves at their swearing in by not revealing their prior criminal records. He also contends an organized campaign was conducted to register noncitizens to vote.