Pressing ahead with its investigation of the 46th Congressional District election, the House Oversight Committee is seeking voting and immigration records containing signatures of more than 4,700 people it believes may not have been citizens when they registered to vote.
The committee will probably use the records to compare signatures in an attempt to determine who was ineligible to vote in the contested 1996 election won by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), according to sources involved in the investigation.
For 11 months, a three-member task force of the Oversight Committee has been considering a challenge to Sanchez's 984-vote victory filed by former Rep. Robert K. Dornan, whom she defeated.
A committee spokesman declined to discuss the signature issue, but confirmed that the panel has talked with the Orange County registrar of voters about sending oversight staff to Santa Ana to assist with a request for copies of 4,762 registration affidavits.
The registrar is already making copies of the affidavits, which contain voters' signatures, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service has been approached with a similar request.
The INS and the House committee have had "informal discussions about obtaining additional materials within the naturalization file that contain signatures," said an INS official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
House staff members also have talked to INS staff about "getting outside handwriting experts to review the material," said a government source involved in the investigation.
However, no formal request for the immigration documents has been made, an INS spokesman said.
Democrats and Republicans disagree sharply over whether it is possible to verify that someone was ineligible to vote by matching his or her county voting registration record with INS records.
Contending that INS records are replete with errors, Democrats have maintained that only by doing interviews is it possible to verify that a voter may have registered prior to becoming a citizen. INS officials have supported that view.
Republicans, however, have insisted that it is possible to get a verified match of a voter with INS records, including names, birth dates and addresses.
This is the first time that congressional officials have suggested using a signature check as a further way of verifying whether a voter was legally entitled to cast a ballot.
Wylie Aitken, attorney for Sanchez, said use of handwriting matches "would raise as many questions as it will answer." Aitken said signatures change over time and may vary depending on the circumstances.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Democratic supporters of Sanchez failed to craft a deal with some friendly Republicans on Friday.
Members of the Republican and Democratic leadership have talked repeatedly over the past several days, but Oversight Committee Chairman Thomas said Friday, "There was and is no offer of a deal by the Republicans."
Times staff writer Jodi Wilgoren contributed to this story.