GARDEN GROVE — Seeking to substantiate allegations of voter fraud, Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) is planning to send volunteers into the streets of Santa Ana and Anaheim on Saturday to interview voters in the 46th Congressional District election, which he lost last month to Democrat Loretta Sanchez.
The precinct walkers will primarily be trying to determine if there were irregularities in the casting of absentee ballots, Dornan said, but will also look for evidence that noncitizens voted in the election. The nine-term congressman has charged that voter fraud--particularly a wave of last-minute absentee ballots--cost him the race in the central Orange County district.
No evidence proving these allegations has yet surfaced.
However, Secretary of State Bill Jones' office last week began investigating Dornan's claims. In addition, investigators for the district attorney's office met early this week with a member of Jones' team to discuss how they might participate in such an investigation, said Assistant Dist. Atty. Wally Wade. He characterized the district attorney's review of Dornan's claims as an inquiry, which falls short of a formal investigation.
A spokesman for Sanchez decried the planned precinct walk, calling it "highly inappropriate" and an effort to intimidate Latino voters. Sanchez trailed Dornan by 233 votes after ballots were counted on election day, but tallies of late absentees and other special ballots gave her the victory by 984 votes.
Dornan met Thursday at his district office with several strategists and a small group of Latino supporters to plan the weekend effort. Dornan supporters will create walking lists today and go into the streets on the weekend with a group of Spanish-speaking volunteers, said Pat Fanelli, Dornan's district director.
Dornan said he suspects "that I lost this race in walk-in absentee ballots and that those were the fruits of registration fraud" or a violation of the election code specifying that only an immediate relative may turn in an absentee ballot for a voter.
For a vote to be counted, the law requires that the voter must mail or personally deliver an absentee ballot to a polling place or the registrar's office. The only exceptions are for illness or disability. In such a case, only an immediate relative of the voter may turn in the ballot, but he or she must sign the envelope and indicate the relationship to the voter.
In addition, Dornan said he wants to learn if anyone filled out ballots for voters or coached or intimidated voters while they were completing ballots at home, or if ballots were retrieved from voters and mailed for them.
Chris Sautter, a voting specialist hired by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to observe the recount, criticized the Dornan plan, saying "this whole process has been one extended fishing expedition and he has yet to come up with anything substantial" showing fraud, misconduct or negligence.
"You have got to question what his motives are at this point," Sautter said. "I think it is highly inappropriate to interview voters who voted in good faith and might be intimidated by such activities and may be intimidated in the future. It is long past time for Bob Dornan to put up or shut up."
The recount process, which will cost Dornan $10,000 to $15,000, has provided information that volunteers will be able to use during the weekend precinct walks, including the names of 1,500 voters whose ballot envelope may have been turned in by someone else.
"Basically, they will be instructed just like in 'Dragnet,' to ask for 'Just the facts, ma'am,' " Dornan said.
* SANCHEZ SUPPORTERS
A variety of contributors allowed Democrat to outspend incumbent. B10