The California Republican Party has suspended its fee-based voter registration program while prosecutors in San Bernardino and Orange counties investigate possible registration fraud connected to private firms hired by the party, GOP officials said.
The suspension came after election officials in the two counties discovered thousands of flawed registration forms and received complaints from residents who said they had been improperly registered as Republicans.
Officials in both counties have turned over the forms to local prosecutors and contacted the California secretary of state.
The voter registration program, in which the GOP paid private contractors $3 for each new registration submitted, was credited with adding 750,000 Republican registrations to state voter rolls in the last three years.
"It provides us with no benefit to wrongly register voters," said GOP spokesman Hector Barajas, adding that the party would continue to register voters using volunteers.
For three decades, the state Republican and Democratic parties have accused each other of voter registration fraud, said Bruce Cain, director of UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies.
But the process has evolved since party volunteers collected most of the registration forms.
"When you switched from party activists to paid people, the possibility of carelessness or fraud goes up because they're doing it for a buck," Cain said.
State Democrats also run a so-called bounty program, but pay $4 per registration form only to volunteers affiliated with party clubs or committees, said party Chairman Art Torres.
In Orange County, the allegations center on a subcontractor working for Bader & Associates, a Newport Beach-based signature collection firm run by Thomas Bader.
Contractor Christopher Dinoff appeared to be connected to the 100 or so cases of allegedly improper voter registration that elections officials turned over to the district attorney's office last week, Orange County election officials said. Dinoff did not return calls seeking comment.
About three dozen Orange County Democrats complained that they were signed up as Republicans, and a number of the voter registration forms submitted to the registrar's office had invalid phone numbers and addresses, election officials said.
Bader, the firm's owner, ran voter registration programs for the state Republican Party from 2003 to 2005 and for the San Bernardino County GOP for about six years, party officials said.
"We tried to clean it up, but you put yourself at risk because all [workers] out there have to do something a little shady, and all you can do is enforce the standards and not pay people when you catch fraud," Bader said Tuesday. Bader said he wanted to get out of the voter registration business, but would remain as a petition circulator.
Bader said he had hired Dinoff in Orange County and also John Burkett of Riverside, who took charge of the San Bernardino County GOP's voter registration program this year.
Officials say Burkett has turned in thousands of allegedly flawed voter registration forms to the San Bernardino County registrar's office.