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11 voter recruiters face charges

The defendants in the felony registration fraud case were working for Republicans in O.C.

October 27, 2006|Christian Berthelsen and Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writers

The Orange County district attorney's office has charged 11 people with fraudulent voter registration stemming from a Republican registration drive this year that resulted in dozens of Democrats unwittingly being signed up as Republicans.

Those charged had been paid as much as $10 for each voter they registered as part of a Republican Party effort to recruit more voters in central Orange County. The area includes the district represented by Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a regular target of Republicans, and a competitive state Senate race.

The cases were filed Tuesday, and three defendants were arrested Wednesday and Thursday. They are in custody and are scheduled to be arraigned today and Monday. The district attorney's office refused to release any information about them, including details usually available, such as the names and charges.

Sources said a news conference was scheduled for Monday, a week before the Nov. 7 election, with Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, who is locked in a tight election battle with Democratic state Sen. Debra Bowen.

"The only thing I can say is it is our policy to not make comments on pending matters, and I don't have any information to share at this time," said Susan Kang Schroeder, spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas. "That's all I'm saying."

A spokeswoman for McPherson declined to comment.

Frank Barbaro, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, issued a statement Thursday congratulating Rackauckas on the arrests.

"Hopefully, these arrests are a good first step toward discouraging those who would wish to suppress the democratic process, and we are hopeful that more preemptive action will be taken in the future," Barbaro said.

The prosecution highlights problems that can occur with signature-gathering and voter registration campaigns in which the workers are paid by the signature. Campaign watchdogs have derisively called it a "bounty hunter" system that creates incentives for often transient, low-paid workers to pad their results to make more money.

The case has been an embarrassment for the Orange County Republican Party since it first became known in February. The charges come as the party finds itself reeling from a letter linked to GOP congressional candidate Tan Nguyen that was sent to Latino voters this month in what has been described as an effort to keep them from the polls in next month's election.

Nguyen is running against Sanchez.

In both cases, Republican officials have quickly distanced themselves from the actions.

The voter registration charges cover at least 37 instances in which Democratic and Green Party voters and even one noncitizen were registered as Republicans. Each defendant was charged with felony counts of fraudulent completion of registration affidavits. The defendants are all low-level workers who circulated registration cards.

No charges have been filed against the companies or executives whom the Republican Party hired to conduct the registration drive, or party officials.

As many as 100 cases were turned over to prosecutors. In other cases, invalid phone numbers and incorrect addresses had been filled in on the forms.

Orange County election officials discovered the allegedly fraudulent registrations during a routine review in February, and Democrats conducting their own registration drive found more. Barbaro said he forwarded 500 complaints to prosecutors.

Scott Baugh, the chairman of the county Republican Party, said he received complaints from people who received letters welcoming them to the party and that registration workers were fired for being too aggressive or submitting faulty paperwork. The actions did not benefit the party, he said, because the voters would not vote Republican, and it cost the party money to pay the signature gatherers.

The recruiters were working for Bader & Associates, a Newport Beach petition consulting firm contracted by the Republican Party to register voters, and a subcontractor.

Tom Bader, the company owner, said Thursday his firm was never under investigation and cooperated fully.

*

christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

christine.hanley@latimes.com

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