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ORANGE COUNTY ELECTION INQUIRY

Q & A

March 15, 1997

Q: When did the investigation of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional start?

A: It began Oct. 15, when the Orange County registrar of voters filed a complaint with the district attorney's office. The complaint detailed at least one instance in which a person in the process of becoming a citizen--but not yet sworn in--allegedly was improperly registered to vote at Hermandad's Santa Ana offices, according to court records.

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Q: How did the secretary of state's office determine the number of people who appear to have registered or voted unlawfully?

A: Officials examined 1,160 voter registration forms that had been signed out by Hermandad Mexicana Nacional and compared them against citizenship lists kept by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Among other things, INS records show when legal residents become citizens.

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Q: What effect do the results of the secretary of state's investigation have on the challenge to the election of Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez by Republican Robert K. Dornan, who lost by 984 votes in the 46th Congressional District?

A: Impossible to determine. At this point, the secretary of state alleges that of the 721 who registered to vote improperly, 442 cast ballots in the November election. However, the votes were cast from all around Orange County, not just in the 46th District. Hermandad Mexicana Nacional registered about 560 people who voted in the 46th District. Even if all were found to have registered improperly, that would not equal the margin of victory by Sanchez.

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Q: Because of the large number of improper voter registrations, Secretary of State Bill Jones is calling for a review of Orange County's 1.3 million voter registrations in November's election. What authority does the secretary of state have to do this?

A: Jones is California's chief election officer. In a letter to the INS outlining his findings, Jones said that he has an obligation under state law of ensuring "the integrity of all aspects of the elections process in California, including the investigation of crimes relating to the elections process." He asked for the cooperation of the INS in pursuing a criminal investigation.

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Q: Has such a wide-scale review ever been done before?

A: Apparently not. James Sweeney, chief counsel to Jones, said he found no precedent for a request from a state official asking the INS to participate in such a massive examination of an entire county's voter rolls. "We are making a request of the INS for a legitimate law enforcement activity authorized by state statute," he said. "We believe they are obligated to cooperate." INS District Director Richard K. Rogers said he didn't see a problem with the request but would have to check with INS headquarters in Washington. A spokesman for Jones said that the secretary of state assumes the INS will cooperate, but added that Jones would consider filing suit to compel cooperation from the federal agency.

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Q: Wouldn't this be a violation of privacy rights?

A: Voter registration records are public documents subject to review at any time. However, information held by the INS regarding the immigration status of individuals is protected by the Privacy Act, and can be released only if it serves an overwhelming public interest. INS officials in Washington said they will study Jones' request carefully before determining whether to release the information.

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Q: Isn't this examination of the voter file by fellow Republican Jones actually a thinly disguised effort to help Dornan?

A: "I am not doing it for him," Jones said. "I am going to do it for the people of California. Based on the evidence of voter fraud, we have asked a question that ought to be answered and Bob Dornan does not have anything to do with that." Jones also said his office wants the review "as a deterrent against future voter fraud."

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